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Chapter 11 - The United Mine Workers of America

THE COMPROMISE effected between the National Progressive Union and Trades Assembly No. 135 of the Knights of Labor at Indianapolis on January 25, 1890, when the United Mine Workers of America was formed, did not awaken the American coal-miners to a sense of national unity. The intelligence of the world's workers had not yet been sufficiently leavened by socialist and syndicalist agitation and education. The two elements of the union kept nagging one another for several years, until the Trades Assembly finally was entirely discontinued as a constituent part of the United Mine Workers in 1894. For many years the membership kept declining, and the union seemed on the verge of destruction year after year, but managed to survive.

The history of the United Mine Workers is truly reflected in the size of their membership. For that reason we will here give a table showing number of members each year from the beginning until the present day.

United Mine Workers of America Membership

1890   20,912      1906   230,667
1891   17,044   1907   260,740
1892   19,376   1908  


1893   14,344   1909   265,274
1894   17,628   1910   231,392
1895   10,871   1911   256,256
1896   9,617   1912   289,269
1897   3,973 ½ 1913   377,682
1898   32,902   1914   333,333
1899   61,887   1915   311,786
1900   115,321   1916   322,911
1901   198,024   1917   367,381
1902   175,367   1918   409,844
1903   247,240   1919   391,339
1904   251,006   1920   375,447
1905   264,950   1920, Dec. 553,295
        1921   442,057

The treasurer of the union states that December, 1920, shows the maximum so far. With the 50,000 members exonerated from dues in that month. the total membership was about 600.000, or three-fourths of the number of coal-mine workers in the United States, which are estimated at 800,000. This makes it the largest union in the country and one of the largest in the world.

The great bituminous strike of 1897, when the union was about done for, became the turning point in its history. The great anthracite strike of 1900 and of 1902 caused another swing up-ward, and, finally, the great strike of 1919 seems to have been a deciding factor in the life of the union. We shall here give a list of strikes in the coal-mining industry. The figures, of course, include both organized and unorganized strikers.

The figure for 1919 is estimated and is probably too high, as the whole number did not stay out the full six weeks, nor did the whole number strike at the same time.

The above record deserves to be framed in gold. It is one great offering to the divinity of progress, one long, continuous sacrifice for the welfare of humanity. It does not signify a battle for dollars and cents for the coal-miners only. It has been the inspiration of battles all along the working class front in the class struggle. Without this battle the workers in general would still be where they were 20 or 30 years ago. The miners may not yet be able to keep the wolf from their own door, but they have helped immensely to secure unity of working class thought, spirit and action, such as it is. As pioneers of progress we of the I. W. W. scoff at the A. F. of L. for their slowness and their great mistakes, but we are not blind to the slow intellectual and spiritual mass advancement gained by the battle fought by the miners.

But just as we are advised to hammer our swords into plow-shares, changing them from fighting instruments into productive tools, so the unions should be changed from fighting organs into productive organs, after we have driven the coupon clippers away who force us to use it as a fighting machine.

Recent Events

In November, 1917, wages, hours and conditions of labor were regulated by a contract made in Washington, D. C., which was to last to March 31, 1920, or until the expiration of the war.

On September 23, 1919, the United Mine Workers' convention declared that this contract had expired because of the virtual ending of the war on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. The convention on the same day adopted a resolution demanding an increase of 60 per cent in wages, a six-hour day, a five-day week, and authorizing the international officers to call a strike, effective November 1, 1919, if a satisfactory agreement had not been negotiated by that date.

Negotiations were futile, and President Wilson issued a statement on October 25, demanding the recall of the coal-mine strike order and declaring that "a strike under those circumstances is not only unjustified but unlawful." On petition of the Government, U. S. Judge Anderson on October 31, 1919, issued a temporary restraining order to prevent miners' officials from doing anything in furtherance of a strike. On November 8, 1919, a temporary injunction was granted, and mandatory order issued requiring the rescinding of the strike order. In the meantime the bituminous miners walked out and production in all union mines ceased.

Secretary of Labor Wilson called the miners and operators to Washington and on November 21 offered as a compromise that an increase of 31 per cent be granted the miners. A few days later, after this had been considered by the cabinet, Fuel Administrator Garfield proposed an increase of 14 per cent, without any increase of price of the coal to the public. This was rejected by the mine workers.

The U. M. W. of A. officials conferred on December 6 with the Attorney General of the U. S. and it was later announced that an agreement had been reached, based on the proposal of President Wilson on December 5.

Under this plan the miners were to return to work at once and were to receive a 14 per cent increase in wages. After the resumption of work the President would appoint a commission of three, one operator, one miner, and one representative of the public, to investigate and determine, if possible, within 60 days, a basis for a new wage agreement.

The miners' representatives, after several days' discussion, accepted the proposal on December 9, 1919, and on the same day the strike was called off.

Further reference to the award and the agreement will be found in the chapter on wages, bringing the history of the organization up to date.

We have mentioned all these details about the government officials merely in order to show how nervous the representatives of the State become when the coal-miners go on strike. We saw the same thing in 1902, when President Roosevelt appointed the Anthracite Coal Commission. The coal-miners have a tremendous power if they want to use it. If they stand together and do not back down, or let their officials back down for them, they can, under favorable circumstances, get most anything they want under capitalism except freedom from wage slavery, especially if they thoroughly co-operate with the transportation workers.

Principles, Objects and Methods of the United Mine Workers

The principles and objects of the United Mine Workers of America are expressed in the preamble to their constitution, adopted in Indianapolis on January 25, 1890.

Here follows their preamble, which we reprint in full as it briefly reflects and enumerates the chief petty grievances of the coal-mine workers of the U. S. A. The big grievance—wage slavery—is accepted as a finality.


There is no fact more generally known, nor more widely believed than that without coal there would not have been any such grand achievements, privileges and blessings as those which characterize the nineteenth century civilization, and believing, as we do, that those whose lot it is to daily toil in the recesses of the earth, are entitled to a fair and equitable share of the same. Therefore we have formed the United Mine Workers of America for the purpose of the more readily securing the object sought, by educating all mine workers in America to realize the necessity of unity of action and purpose, in demanding and securing, by lawful means, the just fruits of our toil. And we hereby declare to the world that our objects are :

1. To secure an earning fully compatible with the dangers of our calling and the labor performed.

2. To establish as speedily as possible, and forever, our right to receive pay, for labor performed, in lawful money, and to rid ourselves from the iniquitous system of spending our money wherever our employers see fit to designate.

3. To secure the introduction of any and all well-defined and established appliances for the preservation of life, health and limbs of all mine employees.

4. To reduce to the lowest possible minimum the awful catastrophes which have been sweeping our fellow-craftsmen to untimely graves by the thousands, by securing legislation looking to the most perfect system of ventilation, drainage, etc.

5. To enforce existing laws; and where none exist, enact and enforce them; calling for a plentiful supply of suitable timber for supporting the roof, pillars, etc., and to have all working places rendered as free from water and impure air and poisonous gases as possible.

6. To uncompromisingly demand that 8 hours shall constitute a day's work, and that not more than 8 hours shall be worked in any one day by any mine worker. The very nature of our employment, shut out from the sunlight and the pure air, working by the aid of artificial light (in no instance to exceed one candle-power), would, in itself, strongly indicate that of all men a coal-miner has the most righteous claim to an 8-hour day.

7. To provide for the education of our children by lawfully prohibiting their employment until they have attained a reason-ably satisfactory education, and in every case until they have attained 14 years of age.

8. To abrogate all laws which enable coal operators to cheat the miners, and to substitute laws which will enable the miner, under the protection and majesty of the State, to have his coal properly weighed or measured, as the case may be.

9. To secure, by legislation, weekly payments in lawful money.

10. To render it impossible, by legislative enactment in every state (as is now the case in the state of Ohio) for coal operators or corporations to employ Pinkerton detectives or guards, or other forces (except the ordinary forces of the State), to take armed possession of the mines in cases of strikes or lock-outs.

11. To use all honorable means to maintain peace between ourselves and employers; adjusting all differences, as far as possible, by arbitration or conciliation, that strikes may become unnecessary.

This is the whole preamble, outlining principles and objects.

The methods of the union are briefly indicated in the following paragraph from the constitution : "The objects of this union are to unite mine employees and ameliorate their condition by methods of conciliation, arbitration or strikes."

The above was a pretty good trade union preamble for 31 years ago. For the present day it is obsolete. One looks in vain in this preamble for a ray of hope of ever abolishing wage slavery and making the mine worker his own master. Vainly one looks for the idea that the union, so bravely fought for, could be used for anything but reforms in the existence of a wage slave. All through its lines we note an unqualified acceptance of the master-and-slave system, and reading it aloud we can hear the chains clanking, as if for eternity, on humble and submissive slaves in old, torn, black working clothes, greasy with oil dripped from the pit lamp and hanging on their gaunt frames like rags on a scare-crow.

At this point it would be well for the reader to turn to the I. W. W. preamble on the cover of this book, in order to drive away the feeling of hopelessness created by the reading of this preamble.

The United Mine Workers is a voice from the past, a colossus on clay feet, ready to pass into history. The I. W. W. is the union of the present and future.

In regard to the methods we will say that both conciliation and arbitration and strikes have been used, but we think the members of the union can, as well as we, interpret the member-ship list given above. And it shows that it is the three or four biggest strikes in their history which made the union grow and which really resulted in some gains. A study of their history will also show that these gains have been lost and dissipated through conciliation and arbitration, necessitating periodical strikes to catch up again. We maintain that it is the sacred contract which has kept the workers down and their direct action which has lifted them up.

Considering the large membership of their union we must say that they have accomplished comparatively little. For they are today very little better off than many years ago, with the exception that they have the 8-hour day, which is admittedly a great gain. But after all the battles the mining communities are still a dismal sight of poverty and misery and squalor, hardly equalled in any other industry, and in many of them starvation is right now pinching men, women and children.

The U. M. W. of A. has in its 32 years of life enrolled three-fourths of the coal-miners, largely with the aid of the check-off system, which consists in an agreement with the operator to de-duct the union dues from the miners' pay. Instead of organizing the men they have organized the operators, and immediately the whole working force is dues-paying. If a man wants to work in a union mine he has to pay dues to the U. M. W. officials whether he approves of them or not. Thus a large part of the members belong to the union merely for the sake of the job, while the large body of so-called radicals pay dues with the understanding that they are going to overthrow the conservative machine at the top as quickly as possible.

The machine has thus gathered a large membership by methods which are more or less terroristic and questionable. In many cases in the past the relations between the employers and the union officials have been downright scandalous, and large numbers of the members have placed the union official as a parasite and an evil in the same class with the pluck-me store and the short-weighing scales. We have no space here for muck-raking, but details will be furnished on application from the office of Coal-Mine Workers' Industrial Union No. 220, I. W. W.

The bond that unites the large membership is rather brittle. It is more or less of the same kind as the bond which unites the soldiers of a conscripted army. There is little unity of spirit, except in times of strike, when the officials are temporarily swept aside, and there is still less unity of ideas and ideals. On the eve of the expected big strike of the spring of 1922 the members are exhorting one another to hold together, but the big union is cracking in many places in spite of them. District 14, Kansas, is in open rebellion against headquarters. District 12, Illinois, the largest district, is supporting the rebellious Kansas miners. District 10, Washington, is kept in line with relief remittances. The leader of the Kansas rebellion, Howat, received 132,416 votes at the last election of officers as against 175,064 for the one elected. District 14 was expelled by the machine in office, but the machine was up-held by only a small majority (2,073-1,952), and the opposition claims that the officers had to stuff the convention to get that small majority. There is, besides, a very large element inside the U. M. W. of A. who approve of the principles of the I. W. W. and wish to change its principles, objects and methods to conform with those of the I. W. W. That element was outlawed at the convention of 1919, and have been compelled to lie a little bit low in some places for the sake of their jobs and their bread, and for the sake of their wives and children. But that element is responsible for the writing, printing and circulating of this handbook. We will tell more of this element in the chapter about the I. W. W. It is about to come to the surface and throw off the insult of being "outlawed."

We will now briefly consider the form of organization of the U. M. W. of A.

The U. M. W. of A. an Industrial Union

The United Mine Workers of America is an industrial union. It is not a craft union as are nearly all other unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. It includes all the workers employed in and around the mines, except bosses and managers, irrespective of their occupations. As will be seen from the list of occupations elsewhere in this handbook, it includes not only miners and laborers but also engineers, blacksmiths, electricians, firemen, carpenters, etc. Had it been a craft union, these occupations would have each belonged to separate craft unions. The United Mine Workers do not tolerate such craft unions in their industry, and that is to their eternal credit. But the U. M. W. of A. is by no means a perfect industrial union, as we shall see later.

The National organization (or International, as it calls itself, being that it aspires to include also Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada and British Columbia) consists of more than 3,000 local unions, grouped into districts, which are largely on political lines instead of industrial.

The districts are as follows. For the sake of comparison we have given the paid-up membership of August 1, 1919, when the union was in a flourishing condition.

District Organization in the U. M. W. of A.


Paid Up Members,
August 1, 1919

    Paid Up Members,
August 1, 1919
District 1. Pennsylvania 14,184 ½ District 19. Tennessee 8,592  
" 2. Pennsylvania 40,842   " 20. Alabama 8,162  
" 5. Pennsylvania 31,888   "

21. Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas

" 6. Ohio 42,025 ½ " 22. Wyoming 8,190  
" 7. Pennsylvania 10,631   " 23. Kentucky 6,677  
" 8. Indiana Block 1,1571 ½ " 24. Michigan 1,802  
" 9. Pennsylvania 30,630   " 25. Missouri 8,617 ½
" 10. Washington 5,202   " 26. Nova Scotia Feb. 19 11,453 ½
" 11. Indiana 24,021   " 27. Montana 5,497  
" 12. Illinois 90,899 ½ " 28. Vancouver, B. C 264  
" 13. Iowa 16,285   " 29. W. Virginia 5,091  
" 14. Kansas 10,889   " 30. Kentucky .......  
" 15. Colorado 2,621          
" 16. Maryland 4.916 ½ Total August 1, 1919 426,516 ½
" 17. W. Virginia 24,790          
" 18. Canada 7,998 ½        

The local unions are industrial insofar as they include all the mine workers irrespective of occupation. If called upon to take over and run the coal-mines they would probably have to make some local changes, but on the whole they are ready for the task, formally. All they need is the idea. The kettle is there. It now only remains to fill it. The I. W. W. is trying to do that by propagating the idea of using such local industrial unions as organs of production in the future, when the operators shall have given up the attempt to run the industry.

In a locality where there are several mines the workers of each mine would have to form a branch in order to run that mine. The branches would elect a local council. Otherwise we would have to make few structural changes, adding only what job committees and local and district councils would be required.

The present district organization of the U. M. W. of A. has nothing to do with industrial organization. It is largely a political tape-worm without any plausible industrial reason for its existence. The existence of the districts connects with political traditions and activities. The present district is frequently a source of weakness rather than of strength, as, in most places, it does not correspond to any real industrial need. It divides up the workers with artificial fences rather than unites them. The districts are also frequently a cause of friction, as f. i. now in Kansas, Illinois and Washington. But it serves the leaders well. It is out of the political tape-worm that the machine is built up that controls the industrial organizations. It is another case of the political controlling the economic. The local unions are job organizations. The districts are office organizations. The two of them have different principles, objects and methods. The job organization is radical, generous, spontaneous, impulsive and always ready to fight to the last ditch. That is the part that has fought and won the great strikes. And that part is heard from in the conventions, though these also are mostly dominated by the machine. The office organization, the district machine, is conservative, sedentary, fond of parliamentarism and politics, joint conferences and arbitration boards, and likes to see the riverof "check-off" dues coming in, calm, deep and broad as the Mississippi River, unruffled by stormy strikes. They are mainly the ones who write the sacred contracts.

While the job organizations feel drawn to one another with a bond of real solidarity and are always ready to assist other unions with assessments, the districts frequently manifest a surprising disregard of other districts or states, and one district is frequently found to be scabbing on another district under the pre-tense that they produce a different grade of coal. There are many deals between operators and district officers, as well as national officers, in the past which look peculiar, to say the least.

However, as we are not in the business of muck-raking, but are out for the purpose of uniting the workers under our banner, we will leave it to the members themselves to recollect such shady deals and instances of organized scabbery.

The I. W. W. would have absolutely no use for these state or district organizations. They are as expensive as they are useless, at least most of them. We will organize districts with industrial boundaries as the need arises, the fewer of them the better.

The United Mine Workers did not succeed in becoming an industrial organization without a battle. Separate organizations of blacksmiths, engineers, carpenters and firemen were forming in one or more of the three anthracite fields of Pennsylvania prior to the strikes of 1900 and 1902. In its onward sweep the United Mine Workers drove these craft unions out of the field and forced the craftsmen to join or go. The same thing happened to the National Brotherhood of Coal Hoisting Engineers in Illinois. This case as well as the case of the Stationary Engineers' Association, was appealed to the A. F. of L., which was compelled to deny the craft principle and recognize the jurisdiction of the United Mine Workers over these crafts. It is not craft unionism that Gompers is ready to defend to his last breath, but wage slavery. If he shows any predilection for craft unions it is because they are better disrupters of labor and more effectively hold the workers down in wage slavery. The idea of turning industry over to the workers and making the union the basis of society—that is what makes Gompers wild.

Recent Events

In their reconvened convention in Indianapolis, February 14-18, 1922, the miners' delegates took the bit in their own mouth and adopted measures which are contrary to the conciliatory policy of the machine ruling the union.

Thus the delegates revived the demand of their 1919 convention for a six-hour day and a five-day week, and will require such a clause in their wage agreements, effective April 1, 1922. The idea is that the six-hour day will make work more continuous and alleviate unemployment.

This demand has been opposed by the union leaders, including the district presidents, who consider it "indefensible" and "suicidal."

As for wages the demand is for retention of the present scale in the bituminous mines and for certain increases (about 20%) in the anthracite mines, with the alternative of a general strike.

The strike and wage proposals were adopted by an overwhelming majority, but the question of a general strike was to be submitted to a referendum vote of the union membership, before any walk-out is ordered by the officials.

Among other demands of the convention we note: Removal of inequitable differentials in wages, which would result in in-creased wages in some fields; pay and one-half for overtime work; double pay on Sunday and holiday work; elimination of the anthracite penalty clause providing for fining miners or operators for violation of contracts; all new contracts to obtain for two years.

On to Chapter 12

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