This documentary, produced by the Apostolis Berdebes Non-profit Organization and directed by Leonidas Vardaros, had its premiere at the 18th Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival in March of 2016. The film tells the story of Greek immigrants to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century who, in seeking work, settled in Ludlow, Colorado, where they labored under inhuman conditions in the coal mines of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, whose principal owner was John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The Greek workers, together with immigrants from 22 other countries, staged an armed revolt that wrote a proud page of American labor history known as the Colorado Coal War of 1913-14.
It is a story not often mentioned in history books, but alive in the memory of the children and the grandchildren of the men who fought for their lives and dignity. In the film they recount their family histories with pride and anger in their voices: pride for the bravery of their forefathers and anger for the injustices that their forefathers faced.
Despite the millions of dollars that Rockefeller spent to erase the memory of this story, the real events are well documented in local newspapers of the period, in records found in the archives of local universities and historical societies, and in the work of dedicated historians and researchers.
From these hard to find but rewarding sources the producers collected the evidence – photos, videos, newspaper articles, songs – to create an engrossing and informative documentary that holds the viewer’s interest alive from start to finish.
Having begun the narration of the untold story of Greek-American radicalism in 2013 with the acclaimed documentary Greek-American Radicals, the producer, the Apostolis Berdebes Non-profit Organization, believes that LUDLOW: Greek Americans in the Colorado Coal War will become an important point of reference in that story.
Director Leonidas Vardaros
Cinematographer Prokopis Dafnos
Narration Rigas Axelos
Editor Xenofon Vardaros
Sound/Mixing Andreas Gkovas
Music Romiosyni and Teo Lazarou
Research Frosso Tsouka
Production The Apostolis Berdebes Non-profit Organization
Management Stefanos Plakas, Frosso Tsouka, Lina Gousiou
SOME ADDITIONAL WORDS ON THE HISTORY
The Coal War refers to a series of armed labor conflicts in the United States, roughly between 1890 and 1930. Although they occurred mainly in eastern United States, particularly in Appalachia, there was a significant amount of violence in Colorado after the turn of the century. The Coal War was the result of economic exploitation of workers during a period of social transformation in the coal fields. The Colorado Coal War of 1913-14 refers collectively to three important events: the Ludlow Strike, the Ludlow Massacre and the Ten-Day War.
Greek miners, forced to emigrate from their land because of the economic crisis in Greece at the end of the 19th century, misled by the false promises of the slave traffickers of the time, ended up in Colorado working under deplorable, inhuman conditions. In 1913, along with immigrants of 22 other nationalities, they took part in a strike organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which culminated in the Ludlow Massacre on April 20, 1914. During the armed conflict, Louis Tikas, the union leader of the Greeks, was killed by the Colorado National Guard along with two other union organizers and 20 women and children were burned alive in the guardsmen's attack on the strikers’ colony.
The reaction to the Massacre was a violent armed uprising known as the Ten-Day War, a war between the guerrilla army of the UMWA and the Colorado National Guard, which ended in a military victory for the miners and their ephemeral control of all Southern Colorado, from Denver to New Mexico. The federal army was then brought in to reclaim the territories controlled by the miners and the UMWA agreed to disarm.
During the war, the“backbone and sinew” of the union army, according to the April 28, 1914 edition of the Denver Post, were the 500 Greek strikers, mostly Cretans who had been trained in guerrilla fighting during their struggles against the Ottomans. To them is attributed the military superiority of the union army. As Jim Peros says in the documentary, “Many lives were saved because the Greeks were armed.”
The story of the uprising in Ludlow has been forgotten for three main reasons. First, there was the willful attempt by Rockefeller to erase completely from public memory the story and his influential role in it.
Second, the UMWA, in order to protect its members by creating a positive public image of itself, downplayed the story of the armed uprising and focused on the massacre of women and children. Although this was deemed by the union as a necessary tactic at the time, it contributed to a distorted account of the events.
And third, the fighters themselves did not talk about the war for fear of retribution against them and their families.
Because 100 years had passed before the true story could be told, recognition for the brave men that took arms to defend the lives of their families, their dignity and their basic human rights was long overdue.
Dr. Timothy Patitsas, Assistant Professor of Ethics at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, led a group of future Greek Orthodox priests to Crete, where they visited the birthplace of the Greek-American union organizer, Louis Tikas, who was murdered by state militia in Ludlow, Colorado in 1914 while defending a tent colony of striking miners and their families.
Michael Kalafatas is the author of three books, including THE BELLSTONE: The Greek Sponge Divers of the Aegean, One American's Journey Home. He was also executive producer of the film PUSHING THE LIMITS: The Story of Greek Sponge Diving. He was interviewed for the film GREEK-AMERICAN RADICALS: The Untold Story about his father’s labor left activities 1920s-1950s. Both Greek-American Radicals and LUDLOW were produced by the Apostolis Berdebes Non-profit Organization.
LUDLOW: Greek Americans in the Colorado Coal War