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Chapter 5 - Who is a Coal Miner?

A Description of the Occupations in and Around the Coal-Mines

THIS I. W. W. handbook for coal-miners is going to be read with interest by tens of thousands of workers, inside and outside the I. W. W., who have never seen a "tipple," much less been down in a coal-mine. The workers of our age are different from what they used to be. Craft consciousness and clannishness are disappearing more and more as production and distribution are becoming more industrialized, and the bakery worker, the garment worker, the packing house worker, the marine transport worker, etc., are beginning to take almost as much interest in the life and the work of the coal-mine workers and the workers in other industries as they take in their own. They are beginning to feel that the workers are all one class. Craft consciousness is being replaced with class consciousness. "An injury to one is an injury to all." Such mutual interest should be encouraged and cultivated, .and workers should be given an opportunity to get an industrial acquaintance with one another. For this reason we are in this handbook giving a great number of details which would perhaps make the old coal-miner smile with astonishment and ask whether we are trying to teach him his business, unless we tell him that this is done in order to make new friends for him, whose good will and moral support, perhaps even financial support, will come in handy in times of trouble. For the fighting coal-miner nothing is so important as to have public opinion in his favor. The more people know about the life and the work of the coal-miner, the more interest they will take in his battle for life.

Thus, we are in this chapter giving an alphabetical list of the occupations in and around the mine, together with a brief description of what every one is doing. But for the benefit of the entirely uninitiated we will first briefly sketch the lay of the coal-mine and the process of mining. No two mines look alike, but the following description fits them all in a general way.

The Coal-Mine

Round the mine shaft, which is sunk into the ground to a depth of several hundred feet, are clustered the mine buildings: the mine office, the engine house, the machine and repair shops, the sheds and other out-buildings, and sometime the company store. Towering above all these buildings stands the "tipple" or the tipple-tower, a tall skeleton of structural iron work, covering the mouth of the main mine shaft. Up and down this shaft the workers travel in cages or elevators. All material used in the mine, such as timber, tools, machinery, powder, coal cars, mine locomotives, mules, etc., also go down the same way. And up through this shaft also comes the coal that has been blasted or dug out of the bowels of the earth far below.

The mine itself is a vast system of tunnels, some of them so low that the workers have always to work in a stooping posture. The tunnels lead to the "rooms," at the end of which are the "headings" and the blank, black "face" of the coal-seam where the actual "mining" is done. In those headings you will meet the hand miner or the machine miner, the shot-firer, the loader and his "buddy," trip-riders, car-runners, laborers, timber-men, track-men, foremen, and possibly some others. Through the system of tunnels run great underground electric railways with a low-hanging wire, switching stations, sidings, and main belt-line. All day long large locomotives, weighing perhaps 13 tons, gather the trains from the different tunnels and drag them past the "scale house" at the bottom of the shaft. Here the weigher checks up the weight of the loaded cars to each man's credit. After being weighed the coal cars are dragged to the great pit between the rails at the foot of the hoisting-shaft, where other workers beat open the hopper-bottoms and drop the coal down into waiting bins below. From the bins, with automatic regularity, giant buckets or "skips" lift the coal for hundreds of feet, perhaps, upward to the open air, and then fifty feet more to the top of the tipple-tower, where, like a tumbling torrent, it pours down over the sorting screens into the railroad cars below, to be carried to New York or San Francisco, to Duluth or New Orleans, as the case may be.

There is also another shaft leading down into the mine, entirely separate from the main shaft, and that is the "airshaft."

Down into the airshaft, every hour of the day and night, an enormous fan in the "fan-house" at the top of the shaft, pumps air into the mine, and by means of many doors, stoppings and bridges or "over-casts," this strong current of air passes through every mile of tunneling, never crossing its own path and never stopping, until it again reaches the main entry, but this time at the foot of the hoisting shaft, through which—fouled by the gases, the dust and the impurities of the mine—it pours out, a cold blast in summer, and in winter a pillar of misty vapor that ascends far into the structure of the tipple-tower above the shaft-mouth. To keep this current of air from taking the path of the least resistance and "short-circuiting," cutting off whole sections of the mine, there is arranged a system of doors which are opened to allow the trains and the mine-cars to pass, and closed again when they have gone through. As an additional precaution to take care of this life-blood circulation, without which work in the mine would be impossible, inspectors pass constantly from place to place, testing for pressure of gas with their safety-lamps, and ever measuring the volume and flow of the air current.

Occupations of Coal-Mine Workers

We are now ready to introduce to the reader our fellow workers in the coal-mining industry, of whom some work above ground and some under ground and some work in both places. They are here mixed together and come in their alphabetical order. (From Bulletin No. 279. U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April, 1921.)

If a definition applies to an inside occupation, the word "inside" follows the name of the occupation. If it applies to outside work, the word "outside" follows the name. If the occupation is found both inside and outside the mine no modifying word is used. By the same method we indicate whether the occupation belongs to "anthracite" or "bituminous" mines.

Ashmen, outside, anthracite.—Remove ashes from beneath the fire-box of boilers, by flushing or by shoveling the ashes into cars.

Blacksmiths.—Do general blacksmithing, nearly all repair work.

Brakemen, inside.—Also known as trip riders, trailers and tailers. In anthracite mines they are called motor brakemen. They operate or throw switches; couple and uncouple cars; assist motormen in the transportation of loaded coal cars from switches or sidings in the mines to the shaft, and of empty cars from the shaft to the switches or sidings: Loaded cars are hauled by mules from rooms in which coal is mined to the switches, and empty cars from the switches to the rooms.

Bratticemen, inside.—Sometimes also called airmen. They usually work under the supervision of the fire boss, whose duty it is to see that the mine is prepared for ventilation and for protection against fire. They construct brattices of wood, canvas, stone, brick, or cement. This work is of great importance in mines affected by gas, as such mines must be thoroughly ventilated.

Cagers.—Also called bottomers and dumpers. They are stationed at the shaft inside the mine and at the top of the shaft outside the mine. Those inside the mine place loaded coal cars in the cage and take empty cars out of it. Those outside the mine take loaded cars from the cage and place empty cars in it.

Carpenters, outside.—Do general carpentry repair work on mine cars and breakers. Breakers are machines used in breaking large lumps of anthracite coal.

Car runners, inside, anthracite.—In some mines cars are run by gravity from rooms or chambers in which coal is mined, to switches or sidings, or to shafts or from switches or shafts to rooms or chambers. Cars so run are in charge of car runners, who control their speed or stop them by brakes or sprags.

Car runners, outside, anthracite.—Transfer empty railroad cars to breaker chutes and loaded cars from chutes over a section of the railroad track where scales are installed for weighing cars.

Door tenders, inside (boys), anthracite.—Also called trappers. They open ventilating doors to let cars through them to and from the shaft, and close them as quickly and securely as possible as soon as the cars have passed. In some mines there are no door tenders, as the doors are opened and closed automatically.

Drivers, inside.—Drive mules into and out of rooms in which coal is mined, hauling loaded cars from rooms to switches or sidings where cars are assembled for transportation by motor to the shaft, and empty cars from switches to the rooms. In mines where the distance from the rooms to the shaft is short, the haul is from the room to the shaft and return, no motor being used.

Dumpers, outside, anthracite.—Dump loaded cars at the tipple by hand or by operating mechanical apparatus.

Engineers.—Operate and repair ventilating fans inside the mines and breaker machinery outside the mines. Operate and inspect hoisting machinery which is used in lifting employees and loaded coal cars in cages to the top of the shaft and in lowering employees, empty cars and material from the top of the shaft into the mines.

Firemen, outside.—Keep fires burning under boilers to pro-duce steam by shoveling coal into the fire-box as needed and by keeping the fire-box clear of ashes and clinkers.

Jig runners, outside, anthracite.—Operate a jig, a mechanical contrivance or part of the breaker machine, which cleans coal by removing slate, rock, and waste material.

Laborers.—Do various kinds of unskilled inside and outside work. They push carts, assist trackmen and timbermen, shovel dirt and handle material, and do other necessary unskilled work about the mines. In anthracite mines company miners' laborers and consideration miners' laborers are not included with these laborers, because they are paid a higher wage than is paid to these.

Laborers, company miners', inside, anthracite.—Load cars and assist company miners in drilling holes into stone or coal for explosives. The drilling is done with electric or compressed-airmachines. Company miners seldom mine any coal, it being their duty to remove obstructions and prospect for new chambers or rooms. These laborers are paid a time rate which is a little lower than that of "laborers, consideration miners'."

Laborers, consideration miners', anthracite.—Load cars and assist consideration miners in drilling holes into coal or stone for explosives. The drilling is done with electric or compressed-air coal-mining machines. They become contract miners' laborers when working conditions improve and miners are able to earn on a tonnage basis more than the fixed and specified time rates of consideration miners. They are paid a time rate when working as consideration miners' laborers, the rate being a little higher than that of company miners' laborers, and are paid on a tonnage basis when working as contract miners' laborers.

Laborers, contract 'miners', inside, anthracite.—Load cars and assist contract miners in operating electric or compressed-air coal-mining machines which are used in drilling holes into coal for explosives. They become consideration miners' laborers when mining or working conditions are abnormal, due to obstructions, such as stone, slate and dirt, and when contract miners are thereby unable to earn on a tonnage basis more than the fixed or specified rate of the consideration miners. They are paid on a tonnage basis when contract miners' laborers and a time rate when consideration miners' laborers. The rate as consideration miners' laborers is a little higher than that of the company miners' laborers.

Loaders, inside, bituminous.—Shoot or blast coal from veins or beds after it has been undercut by machine miners and then load the coal into cars with coal-loading machines. In some mines they do the timbering; that is, set props or timbers to prevent the falling of slate, stone, and earth into the rooms of the mines; also lay tracks in rooms of mines and keep rooms in good working condition.

Loaders, outside, anthracite.—Load coal into railroad cars and refuse into mine cars.

Machinists, anthracite.—Install and repair machines and machinery.

Masons, inside, anthracite.—Construct necessary air bridges and walls to conduct or force air into all parts of the mine.

Miners, company, inside, anthracite.—These employees very seldom mine coal. They operate electric or compressed-air machines, drill holes into coal or stones for explosives, and load cars. They are usually engaged in removing obstructions in the mines and in prospecting for profitable mining chambers. They are paid a time rate, which is a little less than that of the consideration miners and are called company miners to distinguish them from the consideration miners.

Miners, consideration, inside, anthracite.—Operate electric or compressed-air coal-mining machines, drill holes into coal or stone for explosives, and also load coal into cars. These employees are regular contract miners who, in consequence of obstructions in their working chambers or rooms, such as stone, slate, dirt, or of bad working conditions, are unable to earn on a tonnage basis an amount equal to or in excess of a certain specified rate per day. They are paid the specified rate, which is a little more than that of company miners, until they are able to earn more on a tonnage basis.

Miners, contract, inside, anthracite.—Operate electric or compressed-air coal-mining machines, drill holes into coal for ex-plosives, and also load coal into cars. They are paid on a tonnage basis. A contract miner becomes a consideration miner when, owing to obstructions in his working chamber or room, such as stone, slate or dirt, he is unable to earn an amount in excess of a fixed or specified rate per day. He then becomes a consideration miner and is paid the fixed rate per day until he is able to earn more on a tonnage basis.

Miners, hand or pick, inside, bituminous.—Undercut coal with pick, cutting some distance from the face of the vein, separate it from veins with pick or explosives, and load the coal into cars.

Miners, machine, inside, bituminous.—Operate electric or compressed-air coal-mining machines, undercutting veins of coal and drilling holes into coal for explosives.

Motormen, inside.—Operate motors which are used in the transportation of loaded cars from switches or sidings in the mines to the shaft and of empty cars from the shaft to the switches or sidings. Loaded and empty cars are hauled to and from the switches by mules.

Motor brakemen, anthracite.—See brakemen, inside, bituminous.

Oilers, outside, anthracite.—Oil and clean machines and engines.

Platemen, outside, anthracite.—Work at the breaker machines and remove large stones from the coal before it enters the conveyors.

Pumpmen, inside.—Operate, repair and look after pumps used in pumping water from the mines.

Repairmen, outside, anthracite.—Re pair chutes and breakers and other machinery.

Timber cutters, outside, anthracite.—Cut and load props or timbers into cars for transportation into mines. They also load cars with other supplies for use in mines.

Timbermen, inside.—Cut and set timbers or supports in mines to prevent falls of slate, stone and dirt.

Trackmen.—Lay and repair tracks used in the transportation in and about the mines. At some mines outside trackmen repair tracks on the mine property.

Slaters (boys), outside, anthracite.—Also called pickers. They pick slate from the coal as it passes over the automatic conveyors or down the coal chutes.

Trappers (boys), outside, bituminous.—See door tenders, in-side, anthracite.

Importance of Detail Knowledge

The above are the occupations with which the government report of hours and wages is concerned. There are other occupations, such as weigher, section boss, fire boss, pit boss, mine manager, etc. The reason why they are not in the government report is probably that they may justly be classed as slave drivers rather than actual workers. Further, there is the usual clerical force, which is generally subservient to the slave drivers. The government investigators probably were not shown the secret payroll of the mine companies, on which they would have found the names of the hired sluggers, murderers, spies, finks, stool pigeons, provocateurs, bullies and all-around dirty work men which most every mine keeps, as well as the names of sheriffs, marshals, judges, editors, labor union leaders and other mercenary politicians. The operators add the expenses of keeping these to the cost of production of coal, rather than paying that considerable sum as increased wages to the miners.

The above list of occupations may appear superfluous in a coal-miners' handbook, but as a matter of fact, it is very useful, for two separate reasons, which we shall mention.

The first reason is that there are a large number of coal-miners who through ignorance of the language or for other reasons, are practically marooned on the desert island of their particular jobs and know little or nothing of coal-mining as an industry. And, furthermore, the miner who stays in one mine all the time, whether it be in an anthracite or bituminous mine, knows little or nothing outside of his immediate surroundings. Thus, a large part of the miners are actually ignorant of the details of their own industry. The number of miners who have a real, general survey of the industry in their minds are easily counted. It is easy to understand that such industrial ignorance weakens them collectively in their fight for a chance to live.

The second reason why we go into such details is that when we begin to conceive of the union as the future organ of production and distribution it becomes necessary for every mine worker to have at least an elementary knowledge of his industry outside his own particular job. For in the same measure that the workers possess detailed knowledge of their whole industry, to the same ex-tent will they be able to grasp control of the mines and, finally, take them over and run them without risking collapse and re-action, as we have already witnessed in Russia, and other countries, where the workers' unions again lost control, due to the inefficiency of the unions as organs of production and distribution. The best method of forestalling such a mishap is to disseminate industrial education to the largest possible extent among the workers, in order that as many as possible shall be able to under-stand the major questions of their industry, the questions of national, regional or local scope. In fact, every worker ought to acquire so much information of his own industry, that he at any moment will be able to act as a member on the committee which shall have the management of the whole industry in charge. Knowledge means success. Ignorant bungling means disaster.

On to Chapter 6

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