History of The Salt of the Earth

The Local 890 chapter of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers of Hanover New Mexico, comprised of 1,400 members of predominantly Mexican-origin laborers, staged one of the nation’s most effective and groundbreaking strikes in Grant County, New Mexico extending fifteen months from October 1950 to January 1952. The strike most strongly impacted the Central Mining District, which included the towns of Bayard, Fierro, Hanover, and Santa Rita. Women took a leading role in the Empire Zinc Mine strike to confront enduring harassment, intimidation, incarceration, and numerous civil rights violations by the dominant Anglo power structure. The legacy of loss and suffering of the workers of Local 890 still resonates in this small mining communities of Southern New Mexico. The gaping hole in the landscape outside these quaint and nostalgic old west towns of Silver City is a startling reminder of the tremendous costs, human as well as environmental, of the multi-national copper mining industry on the high desert landscape of New Mexico. The erosion of ancestral communities into company towns as illustrated in the landmark case of the now famous Empire Zinc miners’ strike inspired emerging Mexican American civil rights activists such as Vicente Ximenes with valuable models for political activism.

The Empire Zinc strike spanned fifteen months, from October 1950 to January 1952, the longest strike in New Mexico’s history. The job action of the women and men of the Local 890 captured such national attention that independent film producers, Paul and Sylvia Jerrico, were inspired to make a film based on the incident, Salt of the Earth. This website examines how Salt of the Earth complicated common stereotypes of Mexican-origin peoples in a Cold War political environment and American popular culture. With bracero worker agreements under increased scrutiny and U.S.-Mexico repatriation efforts in full force through paramilitary operatives such as “Operation Wetback,” Salt of the Earth humanized mexicano laborers, exposed exploitive work conditions, interrogated environmental impact of the mining industry, and challenged the local political structure.

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