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Mexican-American miners strike for wage justice in New Mexico, 1950-1952
The Empire Zinc Company owned a company town and zinc mines in Silver City, New Mexico, a part of Grant County. On 17 October 1950, the area's Local 890 chapter of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers decided to strike, demanding an end to discriminatory working conditions and the dual wage system of two-tiered pay, different for Mexican and Mexican American workers as compared to white workers.
The workers picketed the company gates for eight months until June 1951, when the Grant County District issued a court injunction against the picketing under the threat of jail time. In response, as the miners left the picket lines, and their wives took their place, also expanding demands to include better living conditions in the town and the addition of an indoor plumbing system. While the women picketed, the men often took on household duties.
Local police arrested and harassed the women protesters, sometimes jailing children who were out on the lines as well. Instances of violence also occurred. On one occasion, strikebreakers injured three women when attempting to push through the picket line. One strikebreaker shot at the picketers, wounding one. News of such confrontations spread to other nearby mining areas, leading many of the workers in other mines to join the Empire Zinc protest.
On 21 January 1952, Empire Zinc Corporation came to an agreement with the strikers to provide better wages and benefits, ending the strike. They also began to provide hot water to the homes in the town.
In 1953, a group of filmmakers went to Silver City in order to shoot a fictionalized film chronicling the strike. The miners and their families were some of the actors in the film. The filmmakers had previously been blacklisted as communists, and, in 1954, their film Salt of the Earth became the only film to be banned in the United States. In the 1960s and 1970s, feminist and Chicano activists brought back the film and pushed for its circulation, and in 1992, the film was added to the Library of Congress's National Film Registry for its cultural and historical significance in the depiction of the Empire Zinc strike.