As we celebrate Labor Day today across the United States, we should take a moment and remember the legacy of a Greek immigrant from Crete named Louis Tikas whose heroism and activism a century ago set the stage for the reforms to American labor laws and workers’ rights. Not much has been written about the story, with the exception of an important book called Buried Unsung.
Tikas was born in Crete and emigrated to the U.S. with thousands of his fellow islanders and countrymen. Official and unofficial documents point to an astonishing 40,000 Greeks working in Rocky Mountain mines, mills and railroads before World War I.
Tikas, whose full name was Elias Spantidakis, was shot and killed by U.S. government militiamen on April 20, 1914 along with more than a dozen others including women and children. The event is known as the Ludlow Massacre and involved a colony of workers — mainly immigrants from Greece, Italy and elsewhere — who were in the middle of a 14-month strike at a coal mine operated by Colorado Fuel & Iron Company owned by mogul John D. Rockefeller.
The conditions for the workers were atrocious and the immigrants, most of whom spoke no English, were taken advantage of by their American corporate bosses on a regular basis. Tikas organized a strike to demonstrate against the horrid conditions. More than 1,000 people — mostly Greek workers and their families — were immediately evicted from company housing near the mines.
They set up a make-shift camp just outside the gates of the company. Within weeks, a tent city had been created as other workers joined the strikers in protest against the Rockefeller company. As the striking miners and their families celebrated Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday, Colorado’s governor sent in the state militia at the request of the company.
Machine gun fire began to rip indiscriminately through the camp from the militia, sending the camp into chaos. The miners fought back but were eventually overpowered.
Tikas, who throughout the day was seen helping women, children and the wounded, escaped the carnage and was captured by the militia. He was found shot in the back three times and his body remained unburied for several days. The battle ended only with the arrival of federal troops and a complete burning of the camp.
The scorn of the nation was heaped on Rockefeller and his son John D. Rockefeller Jr. was forced to accept reforms and better conditions for workers.
A U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations conducted hearings in Washington and the subsequent 1,200-page report suggested many reforms sought by the unions, including the establishment of a national eight-hour work day and a ban on child labor.
Historian Howard Zinn called Tikas’ murder by members of the Colorado militia “culminating act of perhaps the most violent struggle between corporate power and laboring men in American history.”
Tikas was laid to rest on April 27, 1914, in a funeral attended by hundreds of his fellow miners in a procession that was said to be more than a mile long.
California historian Zeese Papanikolas’s critically-acclaimed book Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre tells the history of the massacre with a focus on Tikas’ story.
To mark the centennial of the event in 2014, Greek filmmakers Lamprini Thoma and Nickos Ventouras released a documentary titled “Palikari” which charts the story of the strike and Tikas’s murder as it survives in oral and family traditions as well as in official history. The filmmakers interviewed historians and artists, some of them direct descendants of those striking miners.
“Palikari” is available to purchase on DVD exclusively from The Pappas Post Market.
Watch the film trailer below
Is The Pappas Post worth $5 a month for all of the content you read? On any given month, we publish dozens of articles that educate, inform, entertain, inspire and enrich thousands who read The Pappas Post. I’m asking those who frequent the site to chip in and help keep the quality of our content high — and free. Click here and start your monthly or annual support today. If you choose to pay (a) $5/month or more or (b) $50/year or more then you will be able to browse our site completely ad-free!
Click here if you would like to subscribe to The Pappas Post Weekly News Update
As I was reviewing the content of your e-mail, I was quite interested. However, you need to change the date that Tikas was shot. It is showing as 2014.
I am guessing the date needs to be changed.
Yes! A typo that we corrected! Thank you for bringing it to our attention!
I have heard stories about my grandfather who worked in Denver Colorado during the early 1900s and was fascinated to read this article about a part of my family history that I know very little about. My grandfather moved back to Greece before starting a family so my father doesn't know much about where my grandfather lived/worked in America, but he does recall stories told to him by his father about working in Denver. I wonder if my grandfather was one of the 40,000 Greeks that worked at the Rocky Mountain mines? Thank you for sharing this history. I am interested in reading the book and watching the documentary to get a greater insight about the life my grandfather lived in 1900s America.
How can we view the documentary, Palikari (the Brave Ones)? Is it avvaible?
We will be in NYC on the 19th for a screening at CUNY (and maybe for a second screening in late October). For more details you can check our website (www.palikari.org – section screenings.). DVDs will soon be available, too. Thank you so much for your interest.
My father and his brother left Greece in 1914 and worked the mines in Colorado – many tales of this adventure and the racial hatred toward the Greeks was part of these intense stories-all Greek immigrants can relate to such incidents!!!
Please note that the laborer's image in the opening photograph is not of Tikas but of Pete Katsulis. On the contentious relationship between these two labor leaders see Zeese Papanikolas' Buried Unsung.
There is no information other than the day and time, and nothing at the CUNY Site, I would love to attend but need more info. Please Advise, & Thanks
Anthony Vandarakis it will be at the Grad Center (5th ave) at 18:30 this Friday Sept 19th. Please come and say hello!
Lamprini Thoma I won't be able to make it this Friday. Please let us know the details for the October screening when you can. Thanks.
I love all that you have posted in the Pappas Post Bravo Greg kai eis anotera
Thank you all for making such a heroic and tragic story public knowledge. I would LOVE to watch the movie here in South Africa for the older and young generations. I will make sure that I get the book , such lives NEED to be celebrated. the last time I read something important about Greek workers in the USA was Prof.Dan Georgakas articles some years ago. Thanks to Mr. Pappas and all involved in uncovering the REAL heroes.
Never heard this story and hope it comes to a theatre close to us so we can see it! All I heard was that both grandfathers had worked on building the railroad – wasn't an easy task & required much endurance, so whoever rides those trains can get a peek at the problems of their days!! Thanks fr posting!! Waiting for announcement in the Boston Area!!