This Day in History

Oct. 17, 1950: Empire Zinc Strike

Time Periods: Cold War: 1945 - 1960
Themes: Labor, Latinx, Organizing

Salt of the Earth: Grounds Students in Hope (Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryOn October 17, 1950, the local chapter of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers went on strike to protest their segregated housing and unfair wages and living conditions. The Empire Zinc Company employed both white and Mexican and Mexican American miners, yet they segregated the workers by paying the white workers more and granting them better housing. Throughout the strike, Mexican and Mexican American picketers were harassed by the police, sent eviction notices by the Empire Zinc Company, and were cut off from their credit at the grocery store.

After eight months of the strike, the Empire Zinc Company obtained an injunction that prevented the strikers from continuing their picket line. Instead of abandoning the strike, the miners’ wives and children stepped up to maintain the picket line since they were not allowed to work in the mines. The women and their children upheld the picketing for seven additional months despite frequent mass arrests, violence, and resistance from their husbands who were suddenly in charge of childcare and household tasks. In January of 1952, after 15 months of striking, a new contract was signed to improve the wages and conditions for Mexican and Mexican American workers.

In 1954, Salt of the Earth, a film based on the Empire Zinc Strike was released, directed by Herbert Biberman, one of the Hollywood Ten who was targeted for his associations to the Communist party. For an in-depth lesson based on the film, check out “Salt of the Earth: Grounds Students in Hope,” a resource provided by Rethinking Schools. Biberman’s film was blacklisted by the government and only shown in a dozen theatres across the whole country. To learn more about the government’s censorship during the Red Scare, download the Zinn Education Project’s “Subversives: Stories from the Red Scare” lesson.

This entry was prepared by Lila Chafe.