Today in labor history: The murder of Fannie Sellins

On August 26, 1919, Fannie Sellins and Joseph Starzeleski were murdered by coal company guards on a picket line in Brackenridge, Pa. Sellins was a United Mine Workers of America organizer and Starzeleski was a miner. Sellins was 47 years old. No one was ever punished for the crime.

Miners that summer were striking against the Allegheny Coal and Coke Company and there was a showdown on August 26 between company guards and the strikers outside the company’s mine in Brackenridge.

The Illinois Labor History Society includes a detailed report, here.

An account in the September 20, 1919, New Majority describes the scene:
The mine official snatched a club and felled the woman to the ground.
This was not on company ground, but just outside the fence of a friend of Mrs. Sellins.
She rose and tried to drag herself toward the gate
[The official] shouted: “Kill that –!
Three shots were fired, each taking effect.
She fell to the ground, and [the official] cried: “Give her another!”

William Z. Foster, leader of the great steel strike of 1919, called Sellins one of the best of a whole corps of organizers, with an exceptional belief in the workers. “She took the initiative and in the midst of terror went out to her work.”

Sellins was a contemporary of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, and like Jones, her work as a female labor organizer was radical, especially for that period of time, according to Anthony Slomkoski, former president of United Steelworkers Local No. 1196, in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania.

Photo: Fannie Sellins. Wikipedia Fair use



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Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.