Appalachia, Charleston, coal, Herald-Dispatch, history, Huntington, John L. Lewis, John Mitchell, Kanawha Field, labor, Logan, Logan County, Mingo County, New River Field, Ohio, Portsmouth, Samuel Gompers, United Mine Workers of America, West Virginia, Williamson
From the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, comes this editorial regarding a visit to the region by UMWA officials in 1925. The story is dated September 4, 1925.
A STATEMENT OF INDISPUTABLE FACTS
The Sunday issue of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch contained a most interesting editorial which told the unvarnished truth about the recent visit the officials of the United Mine Workers to the Logan and Williamson coal fields. The editorial follows.
Within the past three days officials of the United Mine Workers of America have visited Logan and Williamson and some of the mining operations near these prosperous West Virginia cities. Up to the hour of this writing the visitors have made no statement either as to the purpose of their visit or the impressions they have gained from the conditions encountered.
It may be taken for granted, however, that the gentlemen representing the United Mine Workers are not highly pleased. They did not find in the miners of the Logan and Williamson fields the “serfs” and downtrodden creatures professional agitators have described. They did not find beleaguered camps of concentrados crying out for release through the medium of membership in the U.M.W. They did not find gunmen and desperadoes awaiting them at the train to turn them back with broken heads and verbal abuses. The absence of these things were disappointing.
But for the purpose of the U.M.W. the things these visitors did find were even more disappointing. They found for example miners who earn more dollars per year than any others in the bituminous fields in the world. They found more miners living in better houses than are to be found in any of the mining camps of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana or Illinois. They found miners and their wives and children better fed, better clothed and with better living conditions surrounding them than any others in the United States.
They found in Logan and Williamson fields men who are content and who are unwilling to leave steady employment, good wages, and good homes with all the comforts of life, to take up a miserable existence in the tents of professional strikers there to subject their wives and children to unwanted hardships and deprivations.
In short, they were not welcomed as needed deliverers. The miners in these fields know that it is not the purpose of these gentlemen to bring about a betterment of the conditions under which they live, but to create a condition which will cause coal production to cease. Organization is a fine thing and should be encouraged when it is for the good of the organized. But the proposal of the United Mine Workers, as it affects these miners and the business and labor interests of this section in general, is sinister and destructive. The unionization at this time of any considerable part of the Williamson and Logan fields would mean a strike. A strike, if effective, would paralyze business in all of Logan county, and in Huntington the result would be almost disastrous. An effective strike in these fields would paralyze Huntington’s wholesale and jobbing business. It would close many of the factories and worst of all would almost immediately result in unemployment for hundreds of railway shop workers and scores of train crews all the way from Charleston to Portsmouth with the brunt of the blow falling upon Huntington.
The United Mine Workers is no longer the helpful, constructive organization it was twenty years ago. Its ranks have been decimated and its policies have been so radical and unreasonable in many cases as to bring it into disrepute with the public, including the legitimate labor organizations whose members are ruled by reason. In West Virginia dues paying members have dwindled to almost the vanishing point. In strikes, fomented in an effort to destroy West Virginia coal in the interest of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois mines and the mine workers in those states, West Virginia has cost the U.M.W. millions and the officials now face the impending anthracite strike with a sadly depleted treasury.
The desperate plight of Mr. Lewis, his organizers, and well paid cabinet naturally produces its own results. The strike in northern West Virginia has had no effect other than to keep some thousands of men out of employment and deprive thousands of women and children of the comforts the pay envelope would provide. The mining of coal in the Kanawha and New River fields the Miners Union has, to use a baseball term, “struck out.” Attempts to force upon the operators a wage scale which prohibited the mining and marketing of coal at a price less than a ruinous loss have resulted in strike after strike in those fields until the union is but a band of disorganized stragglers whose representatives, when they bolted the State Federation of Labor convention in this city two weeks ago, went away unwept and were not urged to return.
If the miners of this district had any prospect, even remote, of gaining anything by organization, no self-respecting man could afford to oppose or discourage the movement. But the weight is all on the other side. If they needed the union, public sentiment would see that they got it. We are living like that today. But since they do not need it, since the movement is directed against their welfare and against the thousands of legitimate unionists and all business and all industry in this great tri-state area, the organization effort, if it is being seriously contemplated–which we very greatly doubt–has no appeal either to the miners or to public sentiment.
The Logan and Williamson miners do not want to exchange the well filled pay envelope for the miserable weekly doe from the U.M.W. treasury. They do not want to trade their comfortable, well furnished and well lighted homes for leaky tents with tallow candles. They do not want to take their families from places and stations of comfort and respectability to sloth and degradation.
Organization means strike. Strike means starvation and, if the bloody history of Mingo’s experience with the United Mine Workers is to be repeated, bloodshed, terror, and bold assassination. Mr. Lewis, by a blind and unreasoning insistence upon the impossible Jacksonville agreement, has gotten himself into a dilemma of the most embarrassing kind. He is at end of his tether. The treasury is low. The organization is in a state of decay, with miners every day discovering they are better off without it than with it.
If, instead of uttering strike threats; if, instead of trying to enforce a wage scale which is a grotesque economic absurdity and rank impossibility; if, instead of leading the miners into hardship and strike, he would lead them in the ways of peace by consenting to wage adjustments in keeping with the state of the coal market, the organization might regain public confidence, recover its vitality, and reclaim its usefulness. And Mr. Lewis himself, instead of facing the imminent danger of becoming a discredited industrial adventurer, would be acclaimed a leader, as was John Mitchell, and as was Samuel Gompers.
Katherine Wikoff said:
Interesting perspective from a key time in organized labor’s history. Thanks for posting