Beckley, Central Competitive Field, coal, Fayette County, George Wolfe, Illinois Department of Mines, Indianapolis, Jacksonville Wage Scale, John L. Lewis, Logan, Logan Banner, R.M. Lambie, Raleigh County, secretary, United Mine Workers of America, West Virginia, West Virginia Department of the Mines, Winding Gulf Operators Association
From the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, comes this bit of history about John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers of America. The story is dated May 15, 1925.
WOLFE ANSWERS LEWIS’ BARRAGE; QUOTES FIGURES
Points out That Miners of Central Competitive Field Always Opposed Aims of West Virginia Miners–Tells How American Plans Gets Results
The statement of John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers of America, to the effect that it would make no difference to the coal mining industry if the wages of the miners ________________ time scale “as the public burns 500,000,000 tons of coal annually anyway” was characterized as “ridiculous rubbish” by George Wolfe, Secretary of the Winding Gulf Operators Association, of Beckley. He said that Lewis is not looking at the industry from a practical business standpoint, when he makes such a statement, but is merely blustering to hear himself talk.
“There are 24 states in the union that are producing coal and that means there is competition,” said Mr. Wolfe. “The union miners in the Central Competitive Field are banded together in an effort to keep the ‘outlying fields’ out of the market and already have an unwarranted advantage for the inferior coal mined by them in the matter of widened freight differentials. The Central Competitive Field employs the vast majority of union miners and contributes the major share of the Indianapolis organization’s finances.
“Even when West Virginia had a large union delegation its delegates had nothing to do with making the scale and passed it over to the West Virginia delegation to enforce. West Virginia is mentioned especially as one of the most affected outlying fields against which the union is fighting. It isn’t a question of union or non-union but it is a case where the miners of the Central Competitive Field led by Lewis are seeking to curtail the production of this state, which produces one fifth of the nation’s best coal.
“That’s why Lewis is lending his personal influence and sending scores of agitators into West Virginia to try and coerce satisfied miners into joining his organization. They can either work and receive satisfactory pay or join the union and strike–in the interests of the union miners of other states who want to sell their coal instead of the West Virginia fuel. They have had the nerve to say that West Virginia should never have been developed until the other older fields that now produce a coal inferior to ours had been completely exhausted. Then they could have moved down to West Virginia and done the mining that was necessary, they say. But since they can’t come right away they want to hold up West Virginia’s progress, blight the prosperous mining villages and towns that exist today, and stay the wheels of time until such time as they can come to West Virginia and handle the situation. But the miners of West Virginia are wise enough to see this and the scheme is getting them nowhere.
“One needs look no further than the annual report of R.M. Lambie, chief of the West Virginia Department of the Mines, to see that these schemes of mice and men are ganging aft agles. Not only did the West Virginia mines ship more coal last year but the tonnage per man has increased–and thus the cost of mining is being reduced, instead of being saddled with the extra costs and working conditions imposed by the Indianapolis organization. The men of Southern West Virginia are perfectly satisfied with the American plan of mining, which implies that the miners are human beings capable of making their own agreements, and not dumb driven cattle herded together by organizers.
“The miners of West Virginia have been misled before and now they alone are the ones to take an interest in their own welfare. Their jobs are the things that support their wives and families and they mean to make the most of them. They are working more consistently and turning out more coal per man. In turn getting bigger pay checks. This in turn keeps the coal moving, and they then get a bigger share of work than those mines dominated by Lewis and his Indianapolis lieutenant.
“In 1923 West Virginia operation gave employment to 121,280 miners who worked an average of 158 days a year to mine 37,475,177 tones of coal, according to Mr. Lambi’s report. Before 1924 the American plan had spread through the industry and it only took 115,964 miners, working an average of 155 days a year to mine 103,325,960 tons of coal. In other words, with fewer working days and 5,000 fewer men in the mines, the state produced 6,000,000 tons more coal in 1924.
“Compare that with the annual report of the Illinois Department of Mines. Due to the Jacksonville Wage Scale, which is so high that it closes many markets to mines operating it despite the exceptional freight rate handicaps accorded them, the union miners were not nearly as well off as the West Virginia miners working under the American plans. The Illinois men average but 140 days work during the year. The report shows that __,765 miners in Illinois produced 72,308,665 tons of coal during 1924, which was 3,205,430 tons less than was mined in 1923. And the average tonnage per man was about one-fourth of a ton less per day.
“It isn’t necessary to answer Lewis’ statement regarding ‘starvation wages’ paid miners in West Virginia. You don’t have to give a theoretical answer to that. Just note the scores of loaders and cutlers who are making from $15 to $18 a day. Note those men to Raleigh and Fayette counties who claim championships in loading, who have averaged better than $20 a day–not for one or two days but for months at a time. Then figure out what $20 a day means, in fair weather and foul because there isn’t any rain underground, and you’ll see why Southern West Virginia doesn’t have to advertise outside of West Virginia to get all the miners it needs to produce the record tonnages from this state. All we need is a chance to get to the markets under a reasonable freight rate, and our coal will do the rest, backed by thousands of satisfied miners who are making new production records daily.”