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Chapter 15 - The False Argument of the Operators

THE FALSE and hypocritical argument indulged in by the "operators" of the coal-mines, as well as of other capitalists, is well typified by the argument put up in favor of wage reduction in the report of the Washington State Coal Commission of June 30, 1921. This is written by the government "expert," who incidentally also is president of a coal operators' association. For that reason it is not at all surprising that the report truly reflects the mind of the coal operator and the capitalist in general, inhuman to the point of fiendish brutality, steeped in the sweet honey of unimpeachable righteousness, apparently incontrovertible in its mathematical exactness, and redolent and resplendent with "practical" business suggestions and common sense, and withal, rotten to the core, false, lying, hypocritical, swindling—a confidence trick on the people. There were two of the mine workers' representatives on that commission, and, of course, they were not able to see through the sleight-of-hand game of the operators. Their minds are trained in the school of the American Federation of Labor and the United Mine Workers of America. That training is essentially capitalistic. Even with their empty stomachs screaming the truth to them, they retain would-be capitalist heads on their emancipated proletarian bodies.

Here is the situation. Due to the tremendous industrial crisis we are passing through, the demand for coal is greatly diminished. Some of the mines cannot find a market for their coal or they are being crowded out by competitors who are producing more cheaply. Sooner or later it becomes desirable, from a "business" point of view, to shut down some of the mines, and the ones to shut down first are, naturally, those who have a high average cost of production per ton and who are farthest from the big markets.

For geological and other reasons the mines of the state of Washington are at a disadvantage, and from a commercial viewpoint they cannot hold their own inside the state in competition with the mines of Utah and Vancouver Island. The only way the operators could run the Washington mines at a profit, they claim, would be to lower the cost of production by cutting deeply into the wages, so that they could produce as cheaply as the[se] operators. It was a good opportunity to try to force a wage reduction. Failing to persuade the miners to accept a reduction, they closed the mines or locked out the miners. The United Mine Workers refused to accept a reduction, because it was contrary to the sacred contract with the operators and because it would be the entering wedge which would bring the wages tumbling all along the line.

In the meantime the organized operators supply the state of Washington with the cheaper non-union coal of Utah and Vancouver Island.

This is how the government expert proves the case for the operators:

Exhibits of Costs and Earnings

  Five mo.

Five mo.
Oct., 1920-
Feb. 1921

Tons of coal produced 605,539 534,910
Total cost f. o. b. cars at mine $2,976,475.00 $3,027,164.00
Total income f. o. b. cars at mine 2,886.489.00 2,888,612.00
Total loss 89,986.00 138,552.00
Total investment on properties 10,566,725.00 10,566,725.00

Annual loss on investment

2.04% 3.15%
Cost per ton for labor at mine 3.10 3.55

Cost per ton for supplies

.88 1.01
Cost per ton for royalty, taxes, insurance and general expenses .55 .61

Cost per ton selling expenses

.12 .18

Depreciation, depletion and retirements per ton

.27 .31
Total cost per ton f. o. b. car at mine $4.92 $5.96

Average income per ton f. o. b. car at mine

4.77 5.40

Loss per ton f. o. b. car at mine

.15 .26

There you are. The operators have proven that for some time past they had been selling coal at a sacrifice.

Alongside of this table the report has another table summing up the "earnings" of the workers. Here it is:

Earnings of the Workers in Washington Coal Mines

  1914-16 1919 May to
Sept. 1920
Oct. 1920
Average daily wage received by day workers ........ $5.28 $6.15 $7.65
Average daily wage received by contract miners ........ 7.92 9.89 10.49

Average daily wage received by all mine workers

$3.90 6.31 7.01 8.33

The range of wages earned September, 1920, to February, 1921, is as follows:

Under Ground:


Contract miners, from $7.00 to peaks exceeding $25.00 per day.


Day scale men, $8.25 per day.


Laborers, $7.55 per day.


Boys, $5.00 per day.

Above Ground:


Day scale men, $8.00 per day.


Laborers, $7.00 per day.


Boys, $4.50 per day.

The case is made out. The report of the commission sheds tears over the collapse of one of the great industries of the state of Washington, and comes to the conclusion that the way to save that industry is to take from the wealthy miners, laborers and boys and give to the poverty-stricken operators. It is all so simple.

The report recommends that the cost of production be de-creased to such an extent that at least from 50 cents to $1.00 per ton on steam grades and from $1.00 to $2.50 per ton on Western Washington domestic grades can be taken off the pre-sent selling price.

We have given the details of this case as it is typical of the claims of the operators in all parts of the country. They all have the same excuse, more or less, and they all have the same remedy: to take from those who have hardly shirts on their bodies and give to those who have everything.

That report proposes to divide that reduction in cost among the operator, the worker and the retailer. The main thing for them is, naturally, to get the wages down. After that they will forget about the operator and the retailer. It is so easy to find xplanations for high prices.

The proposed reduction in wages would bring down the cost per ton with 50 cents to $1.00. The balance of the required decrease it will be necessary for the operators to bring about hrough "an equitable reduction in their supervising, management, sales and other expenses, and through the practice of the utmost economy in mining, marketing and sales methods."

As you will see there is no suggestion that the owners and operators surrender rent, interest and profit. On the contrary, 11 suggestions aim at reducing costs, expenses, principally wages, in order that rent, interest and profit may not be endangered. That the workers, their wives and their children are crushed in the process, that is naively ignored. The only thing considered is the continued profitable operation of the mines. That is where the brutal inhumanity comes in. Nor is the fact taken into account that the people of Washington need the fuel. Thousands are freezing or put to inconvenience because there is no coal produced. On the one end are about 6,500 mine workers and employees, with their dependents numbering about 30,000 people, who must starve and suffer because the mines are closed, and on the other end are hundreds of thousands of people who would like to have the coal. But between them stand a handful of mine owners and defy the whole population, spreading misery and social dissolution through their wantonness and greed.

Any set of figures, official or unofficial, which try to prove that the operators are right and the working people wrong, are nothing but a criminal imposition, a fraud and a swindle, no matter how subtly plausible the debit and credit side may make the operators' contention.

The subtle trick in all such figures is the circumstance that they go out from the supposition that rent, interest and profit must come first, as if ordained by "God," and be as big as possible, while wages always should come last and be as small as possible.

In the above cost table everybody gets his, everybody is provided for, as a matter of course, except the worker. He gets what is left after the others have taken what they want. He is the dog at the table, who gets the bones if there happen to be any. And they prove with incontrovertible figures that there are no bones. With the meat the worker has nothing to do, of course.

In the cost of labor are, no doubt, included the grand "salaries" which the operators have arbitrarily fixed for themselves or their kin, in the cases where they themselves are running the mines, or the high sums paid to ruthless, unscrupulous, hired slave drivers, who without compunction will short-weigh the coal cars, bully the workers and rob them in the company store or boarding house. The mansions, the automobiles, the servants, the wine, the vamps, the riotous living of the masters are somehow hidden in that "total cost f. o. b. car at mine."

In the "cost" is also included the great additional expense of keeping "guards," that is, spies, bullies, sluggers and murderers, which most operators keep, in, order to beat down the workers.

One of the reasons why the "cost" per ton is so high is that there are too many parasites in the coal business. If the mines were put on a bona fide business basis and high-priced parasites replaced with efficient men from the ranks of the workers, and if all the criminal expenses were cut out, it would bring down the cost the required amount.

Take the next item, the cost of supplies. In that cost is another "nigger in the wood pile," or rather the coal pile. Like the "cost of labor" is padded and stuffed with the mansions, automobiles, wines and vamps and the dicks and sluggers of the operators, so the "cost of supplies" is padded and stuffed with the rent, interest and profit, the mansions, the automobiles, the wines, the vamps, the dicks and the sluggers and other criminal expense of the material manufacturers and dealers. And they have, of course, to get theirs first, before the workers get their wages.

The next item, "royalty, taxes, insurance and general expense," is also padded and stuffed. And they have all got to have theirs, before the worker is taken into consideration. The people of Washington want the coal, and the miners want to make their bread. The royalty is generally paid to the original land-swindler or to some one who bought his fraudulent claim for speculation. The taxes are largely due to the criminal waste and thieving by the same capitalists in connection with the war. They are now going through the farce of paying themselves for the amounts stolen and wasted. Very little of the taxes goes for socially useful and legitimate purposes. Their friends, the politicians, see to that. But they have all got to have theirs before the worker gets his bread. The insurance millionaires have also got to have their toll of the product of the miner's labor, before he can get anything. So we can go from item to item on the list, and they have all got to have theirs first, but very little goes for actual labor added to the coal on its way from the heading in the mine to the cellar of the housewife or the bunkers of a steamer. The coal does not eat, drink or smoke, but it runs up a terrible bill from the time it leaves the miner.

There are four other gentlemen on the list, who have all got to have theirs before the poor miner gets his. They are Mr. Salesman, Mr. Depreciation, Mr. Deflation and Mr. Retirement. Pet child has many names. Not only does the capitalist want his rent, interest ,and profit, his mansions, his wine and his vamps, but he also wants his capital back safe and sound before the worker comes into consideration. And the investment is mostly exaggerated, having been watered through stock and bond juggling.

The financial rubes, the sheep of Wall Street, who have played the "investment" game and put their sacred "savings" into this watered stock are, of course, frantic with excitement and are the worst bawlers in the money-mad mob who want to crucify the mine worker. They would take his shirt away.

It is the product of labor that is being divided. The coal, when bought f. o. b. the car at the mine, brings $5.40, after some-body (the wholesaler or large industrial magnate) has already figured out his profit on the deal, to cover his rent, interest, profit, mansion, wine, etc. The difference between the basic $1.08 per ton paid to the miner and the additional bona fide cost for bona fide labor, embodied in the coal, on the one side, and the $5.96, on the other side, is given many different names, as we have seen above, but no matter what name it gets, most of it is the stolen wealth, the unpaid labor, which together forms the tremendous pile we misname the "national" wealth of the country. (See table in chapter 6.)

That figure $5.96 f. o. b. car at mine does not bear investigation. It hides the fraudulent claims to life of a great number of parasites who are ashamed to show their faces.

But we will return to the coal. We should not drop the subject before we have explained how it comes that the coal, for which the miner gets the basic $1.08 per ton, comes to cost the desperate housewife 10, 12, 14, 16 dollars per ton. We have seen how the operators managed to slap on an f. o. b. price at the mine of $5.96, and we know by this time what a lot of robbery and iniquity that sum hides under plausible names. But there is still a long jump to the price paid by the housewife. Who slaps on the balance? How does a poor ton of coal manage to absorb enough labor between the car at the mine and the cellar of the city to cover the difference between $5.96 and 10, 12, 14 and 16 dollars?

First, there is the transportation from the mine to the city. Perhaps it amounts to a dollar. Perhaps more, perhaps less. But the poor ton of coal has not absorbed that much labor in transit. The underpaid railroad workers will tell you that. The fact is that the poor ton of coal has charged up to it the rent, interest profit, depreciation, retirement, mansions, wines, vamps, sluggers and dicks, etc., etc., of the railroad capitalists, who are also pleading poverty and financial collapse. They have all got to get theirs before the railroad workers can get what they must have in order to live. Thus the railroad worker and the coal-miner are in the same boat.

The owners of the railroads also want to cut down the wages, for they also have set their minds on increasing the "national" wealth, that is, their wealth to 1,200 billions by 1940. To do that the workers would have to starve themselves and their families and accept a lower standard of living besides working themselves nearly to death. And still it would hardly be possible to repeat the performance of trebling the wealth in the nexf 20 years, as we have done before.

The poor ton of coal is now in debt over its ears, and still it has gotten no further than the railroad yard of the city.

Now the coal dealer comes to its "rescue," much as the shanghaier comes to the rescue of down-and-out seamen.

The Washington Coal Commission report describes the adventures of a ton of coal in Seattle in the following manner:

In addition to the price paid for the coal at the mine and for railroad transportation cost, the retail coal dealer receives $1.55 per ton gross margin to cover handling, shrinkage and profit and receives for delivery from $1.60 to $2.80 per ton, de-pendent upon the distance to which delivered. The average de-livery charge is about $1.55 per ton. The dealer therefore receives for coal sold an average of about $3.40 per ton for re-tailing and delivery. The cost of retailing and delivery varies considerably, dependent upon the tonnage handled by the retail operation. It ranges from $2.40 per ton in the largest yards to $3.45 in the smaller yards. The dealer's profit therefore ranges from nothing to $1.00 per ton. It should be stated here that with one or two exceptions the dealers are in what may be termed the smaller class, with profits ranging from 10 to 50 cents per ton. The packing charge, in which the dealer does not participate (the full charge made by the dealer being paid to the packer), ranges from 75 cents to $2.50 per ton, dependent upon the distance and difficulties of packing. The average charge for packing is about $1.00 per ton.

There we are again. Now the ton of coal, swaggering spend-thrift as it is, is in debt to the amount of 10, 12, 14 and 16 dollars, and the housewife comes to its rescue and gives it a home in her cellar.

This is what we call juggling with figures: The coal-mine operator loses money, the railroad loses money, and the dealer gets about 10 cents! And the price of coal is as high as ever. How do they do it?

The person writing the report for the Government is a president of a large Coal Operators' Association, but he has a heart as big as a pumpkin. Note how touchingly he slaps on that $3.40 per ton which goes to the dealer. The profit of the dealer "ranges from nothing to $1.00" per ton, and is "generally from 10 cents to 50 cents" per ton. Note how cleverly the President of the Coal Operators' Association and Representative of the Government slips over the $3.30 and hangs it all on the last ten cents—a thin, poor dime of profit to the poor dealer. After reading this report the housewife looks out through the window, sees the poor express nag hanging its hoary head over the gutter, while a sooty and ragged husky lifts the sacks off the wagon. The poor thing almost blushes with shame over her heartlessness; how could she ever get so worked up over a thin, poor dime of profit to the poor dealer doing business almost on a charity basis, if not at an actual loss. She hands over the $10, $12, $14, $16, as the case may be, without counting the bags or without scrutinizing the grade of coal she is getting. She remembers how she never was any good at arithmetic in school and promises herself never to growl at the coal dealer again.

And still, that $3.40, which the dealer slaps onto the ton of coal, is just as padded and stuffed with parasitism as the items we have before examined. The deal is "put over." The confidence game was a success. The ton of coal has been sold to the customer almost at "charity price." The shameless miner hoards his wealth, and the capitalists get a—thin dime. That is actually what the official report implies. It is nothing but operators' propaganda masked in official statistics.

In fact, with the knowledge we have of the character of operators and dealers, we unhesitatingly charge them with intentional misrepresentation. They have neither honor nor shame. Their figures are false. Were we to make a house-to-house canvass in Seattle, we would find out that they have lied. The leopard does not change its spots. Nor do the land thieves and stock swindlers change their habits.

Thus it goes with every article we make and use. Before the miner can get a ton of coal home to his own house it has added to it the burden of rent, interest, profit, depreciation, retirement, mansions, servants, wines, vamps, dicks, etc. So it is with the shoes and clothing, etc. The actual cost of labor and material may be less than a dollar, but we have to pay from 5 to 10 dollars a pair of shoes. The same with everything else. It is thus that the workers are kept penniless while the "national" wealth has grown into 400 billions.

We hope that after reading the above the coal-miners will be less apt to fall for the poverty plea of the operators. May [a line of text is missing in the original] and children! But still more we hope that the mine workers will see the necessity of adopting new principles as an organization, in order to shake off the wily parasites which have fastened themselves on production and distribution and are exacting a toll on everything. The union shall not only be an organ for fighting with the boss about hours, wages and conditions. The union should be conceived of and developed into an organ of production, distribution, administration and defense. The "operators" and all their kind are superfluous. They operate nothing. They only steal the product of the workers' toil. But we cannot get rid of them until we are ready to mine and distribute the coal ourselves, through our union.

On to Chapter 16

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