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Chapter 14 - How is the Product of the Coal-Mine Workers Divided?

Rent, Interest, Profit and Wages—The Hours and Days Worked

ACCORDING to Bulletin No. 279, U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hours of work in the coal-mining industry are as follows : The regular hours were 48 per week or 8 per day, 6 days a week, for approximately 98 per cent of the employees of the anthracite mines for inside work in 1919 and 1920, and 89 per cent for outside work in 1919 and 85 per cent in 1920. In the bituminous mines the regular hours were 48 per week, or 8 per day, 6 days a week, for approximately 95 per cent of the employees for inside work and for 79 per cent for outside work in 1919.

Coal-mines are not, and cannot be operated every working day in the year. According to official report from union sources the average number of days worked in the six-year period 1913-1918 was 2061/2 days. Some of the causes for closing the mines are lack of orders, lack of materials, strikes, lock-outs and "vacations," and seasonal conditions.

According to Bulletin No. 279, the average number of days worked in the different states were as follows for report periods in the years 1918, 1919, 1920:

Number of Days Worked

Anthracite       Average
in operation
Number of days

Year ending

  Pennsylvania   Jan. 31, 1919     293.8  
      Mar. 31, 1920     266  
  Alabama   Dec. 31, 1918     294.4  

Apr. 30, 1919

  Illinois   Feb. 15, 1919     256.5  
  Indiana   Feb. 28, 1919     251.4  
  Iowa   Mar. 31, 1919     251.2  

Apr. 15, 1919


Dec. 30, 1918


Dec. 30, 1919


Mar. 15, 1919

  New Mexico  

Dec. 31, 1918


Dec. 31, 1919


Dec. 31, 1919


Dec. 31, 1919


Dec. 31, 1919

  Utah   Apr. 30, 1919     251.7  

Dec. 31, 1918


W. Virginia

  Dec. 31, 1918     252  

Dec. 31, 1918


For earlier statistics see Chapter 7.

The period 1918-1920 was the record period of coal producttion, and still there must have been a number of mines where the workers had employment only about two-thirds or three-fourths of the time, in order to get the above averages. But a worker cannot live on averages. Those that have a chance to work full time may be able to get along, but the corresponding number who are far below the average must with necessity suffer, unless the wages are sufficient to tide them over the slack periods, which they are not.

This rush period of 1918-1920 has now been followed by a period of collapse. If figures were available for 1921, they would show a staggeringly low average of days worked. The U. S. Government report of unemployment for August 12, 1921, states that the number of unemployed in the mining industry is 250,000. This would include all sorts of mining. Of this figure the president of the United Mine Workers of America says in his report to the 1921 convention :

This is without doubt a most conservative estimate, and in my judgment fails to reveal the true situation. Hundreds of thousands of mine workers are idle through lack of opportunity for employment and are living under conditions which in many instances are tragic. Scores of thousands of our people are living in communities where the mines have not worked since last December and where there are no other means of employment. Sad, indeed, is their lot....

When looking at the wage tables to follow, therefore, do not multiply the daily wage with 300 to get the yearly income. Hardly anywhere are the mines working to full capacity. In most places it is perhaps half-time work, and in some places the mine workers have no income at all.

The average of days worked is by union officials estimated at two per week (1921-1922).

The Wages of the Coal-Miners

The number of coal-mine workers in the United States is estimated at 800,000. Of these the United Mine Workers claimed to have a maximum of 600,000, that is, three-fourths of the total, en-rolled in the union in December, 1920, leaving 200,000 unorganized. The organized coal-mine workers are at present working under an award made by the Bituminous Coal Commission and an agreement between the operators and the miners, based on said award. The agreement is dated March 31, 1920, and expires March 31, 1922. The wages paid in the unorganized mines are considered to be less than in organized ones.

The situation during the latter part of 1921 and the beginning of 1922 is this, that the operators do not want to live up to their "sacred contract," which, of course, to the workers is notworth the paper it is written on. To begin with, the operators of the state of Washington (District 10) tried during February, 1921, to prevail upon the union officials to accept a wage reduction, "in order to make possible profitable operation of the mines." Failing to do so they closed the mines on March 15. The U. M. W. of A. officials agreed to call it a lock-out, a violation of the sacred contract, sponsored by the Bituminous Coal Commission, which functioned under government control and under the official patronage of the President himself. This proves again that the capitalists will live up to their sacred contracts only as long as it suits them.

In another state, Kansas (District 14) the officials of the United Mine Workers of America are trying to force the members to live up to the award and agreement. The Kansas miners struck against the Industrial Court Law, regardless of the sacred contract above mentioned, and the head officials of the union furnished strike-breakers.

At the same time the organized miners of Illinois (District 12) assessed themselves to support the striking miners of Kansas, that is, they assessed themselves to fight their own national officers, who also declared the assessment illegal.

But the main point is that, the organized operators are guilty of bad faith by operating the non-union mines and shutting down union mines by the wholesale or limiting their output.

Thus we see that the joint agreement of March 31, 1920, is operative only "with some modification." In fact, the "sacred contract" is a joke on the miners.

Demands for wage reductions have been made by the operators of District 2, Pennsylvania, District 10, Washington, District 13, Iowa, District 14, Kansas, District 15, Colorado, District 17, West Virginia, District 19, Kentucky and Tennessee, District 20, Alabama, District 21, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas, District 25, Missouri, and District v0, Kentucky, and many others.

But if we consider the shutdown in Washington a lock-out, we might as well consider the shutdowns in other districts as lock-outs also, or, in other words, a wholesale violation of con-tract by the operators. As a matter of fact, the mines have an 800-million ton capacity with only a 400-million ton demand at present, and the operators limit the output at the workers' expense.

Under these circumstances it seems rather strange that the headquarters of the U. M. W. of A. should have been so strict in the enforcement of the "sacred" contract in Kansas as to send strike-breakers to break the strike.

The moral of the present lesson is this: There is no use making any contracts with the operators. They break the contracts at will by shutting down the mines, and there is no redress for the miners. The only solution is to take the mines away from them.

However, to quite some extent the agreement is operative and it is the boast of the union officials that "the mine workers are at present enjoying the highest wage scale in the history of the coal industry." We suppose they mean that those who are not getting any wages at all for some time past will anyhow enjoy the high scale to which the bosses signed their name on the sacred contract. But workers cannot eat the wage scale. In order to eat they must have wages.

The tonnage scale in the Danville, Ill., district was 61c. in 1914, whereas the scale now is $1.08, which is equal to an in-crease of 77 per cent. But it does not mean anything, or but very little. The cost of living July 1, 1921, still showed an increase over July 1, 1914, of 61 per cent. In 1914 a driver received $2.84. In 1921 he is to receive $7.50, which is an increase of 164 per cent. But this is an exception.

In the six-year period 1913-1918 the average annual earnings of the 200,000 mine workers employed in and around the bituminous mines of the Central Competitive field was $873.85. Since 1918 there has been a wage increase of 27 per cent, which would raise the above average to $1,120.78-less than $100 per month-less than $22 per week the year round. The wage rate in the same field is now $7.50 per day. If the mines were in operation every working day, which they never are, it would mean a maxi-mum income of $2,330 per year, but those fortunate enough to be employed do not average more than about one-third of that sum at present.

Professor W. F. Ogburn of Columbia University, formerly government expert and adviser, prepared in 1919 a budget of annual expenses for the average American family of five persons, and his budget showed that it required $2,243.94 to maintain a family on an American standard of decency, health and comfort. Even if the employed miner worked 300 days a year at the present wage he would not have any too much. As it is, he has not half enough. Those who are unemployed have to suffer absolute privation.

The miner should not be held responsible for the high retail price of coal. In Indiana and Illinois the miner gets only $1.08 per ton for pick mining. That is only an insignificant part of the price the consumer has to pay. The few cents that could be pared off his wages would hardly bring down the retail price appreciably. Yes, even if he were to dig the coal for nothing, it would only reduce the price per ton with a paltry dollar, and it is doubtful whether the consumer would get the benefit of it.

Consider further the danger of the calling and the unsteadiness of employment, and it will be plain that the miner, even atthe top of the wage curve, is miserably underpaid. To reduce his wages is like stealing candy from a baby. It is a shame.

The force back of the award, the agreement and the wage scale is the big coal strike of 1919. The United Mine Workers carried on the strike for six weeks. 450,000 miners were out on strike during those six weeks. They had the country at their mercy. The government was alarmed. It threw itself with all the forces at its command against the miners. The miners' officials gave in and accepted the offer of government mediation and ordered the men back to work. They got the sacred contract, which the operators did not intend to keep, as later events have shown. The miners were duped with a fine wage scale, which does not mean much just now. But the revolutionary cloud was blown away for the moment. The government and the operators ask for nothing better than to tie the miners down with contracts. The machine in power in the union helps them. They will try to write more contracts in the spring of 1922.

If the miners asserted their organized power at every moment instead of signing contracts they might be able to make a living. The union activities must hang like a Damocles-sword over the operators at all times, or the wolf will enter the miner's cabin.

And a supreme effort must be made to organize every coal-mine worker. There must not be any unorganized mines.

The latest detailed wage scale available is the one published by Washington State Coal Commission in their report dated June 30, 1921, on the coal situation in the state of Washington.

This commission, created by the U. S. Department of Labor and Industry, consisted of two operators, two representatives of the Washington Mine Workers and a fifth member, Mr. Allport, an "expert" and president of the Central Coal Producers' Association, who has written the report.

The State of Washington Wage Scale

Inside mines

      Miners 5.89 8.25
  Timbermen 5.89 8.25
  Timbermen's helpers 5.20 7.55
  Tracklayers 5.89 8.25
  Tracklayers' helpers 5.20 7.55
  Motormen 5.40 7.75
  Drivers 3.50 4.82
  Parting boys 4.00 5.32
  Parting boys 3.20 4.52
  Greasers 3.45 4.77


3.20 4.52
  Rope riders 5.40 7.75
  Locomotive engineers 5.40 7.75

Hoistmen on development work

5.20 7.55
  Cagers 5.40 7.75

Cagers' helpers

5.20 7.55
  Pumpmen 5.20 7.55
  Inside labor, not specified 5.20 7.55
  Boys working on hoist except on main slope and auxiliary slopes.... 4.10 5.42
Outside mines—Engineers    

Main hoisting engineers

5.65 8.00

Power plant engineers

5.50 7.85

Compressor engineers

5.45 7.80

Development engineers

5.15 7.50


  First class in and around mine 5.70 8.05
  Second class in and around mine 5.40 7.75

First class in and around mine

5.70 8.05

Second class in and around mine


  Electricians' and mechanics' helpers in and around mine 4.90 7.25
  Firemen 5.05 7.40


5.15 7.50

Cagers' helpers

4.75 7.10
  Teamsters 4.90 7.25
  Greasers 3.05 4.37


3.20 4.52
  Dumpers, cross-over 4.75 7.10

Blacksmiths, first

5.70 8.05
      "        second 5.40 7.75
  Blacksmiths' helpers 4.90 7.25
  Carpenters, first 5.70 8.05
      "       second 5.20 7.55


4.90 7.25


4.90 7.25
  Screeners, men 4.40 6.75
      "       boys 3.40 4.72
  Moving picking table, men 4.40 6.75
     "      "      "    boys 3.40 4.72

Outside labor

4.65 7.00

Lampmen, first class

------- 7.55

Lampmen, second class

------- 7.00

Bunker machinery tenders where washers are operating

------- 7.55

Washery men, first class

------- 7.40

second class

------- 7.20

Jig and table tenders

------- 7.00

This is fundamentally the agreement and the wage scale written into the agreement with the operators, that "sacred contract" which the operators have broken through a wholesale shutting down of the mines, which is equal to a lock-out. That contract expires March 31, 1922. The operators do not wish to renew the agreement but want a wage reduction, while the mine workers on their side cannot and will not accept any such reduction. The usual joint conference for fixing a new wage scale has not taken place. The future is pregnant with possibilities.

As noted in another chapter, the convention held in February, 1922, decided to maintain the above wage scale for the bituminous miners, while an increase of 20% is demanded for the anthracite miners. At the same time the convention demanded that a six-hour day and a five-day week shall be written into future wage agreements.

On to Chapter 15

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