The United Mine Workers of America has been instrumental in changing the way in which companies and workers regard each other and in improving labor relations between the groups.
By organizing the workers in the coal
On January 22, 1890, in Columbus Ohio, the Trades Assembly Number 135, the miners’ branch of the Knights of Labor, and the National Progressive Union of Miners and Mine Laborers merged to form the United Mine Workers of America. The membership consisted of bituminous coal miners and other workers in and around mines in the United States and Canada. The group took the American Federation of Labor (AFL) as its model and affiliated with it. The UMWA was one of the first AFL affiliates to accept all ethnic groups. The union concentrated on building its strength and gaining recognition. Its goals included an eight-hour workday, increased wages for miners, standardized weighing of coal, and the right to collective bargaining.
UMWA president John L. Lewis (right) discusses the coal situation with Representative John Nolan, chair of the Labor Committee of the House of Representatives, in 1922.
The miners’ working conditions were anything but desirable. They worked long hours for pay as low as 80 cents an hour, with no health or
When non-English speaking immigrants–Italians, Poles, and others–arrived in the United States, the mine owners began replacing their Irish, Welsh, and other English-speaking workers. The mine owners reasoned that these workers would understand less about what was happening and be easier to control. The scheme failed as the new workers, unhappy with the harsh conditions of their work, joined the Irish, the Welsh, and the others in protest.
The strongest means of protest for the miners was striking, which the UMWA used repeatedly. However, the
The strikes brought about significant improvement in company-miner relations. With John
In 1960, Thomas Kennedy became the union president but died in 1963. Under the next president. W. A. “Tony”
Brisbin, Richard A., Jr. A Strike Like No Other Strike, 1989-1990. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. This discussion of UMWA’s strike against Pittston Coal Group looks at miners’ strategies, the corporation’s strategies, corporate power, and the role of the judicial system. Dubofsky, Melwyn, and Warren Van Tine. John L. Lewis: A Biography. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1986. This biography describes Lewis’s life and contains information on his role in the UMWA. Martelle, Scott. Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West. Piscataway, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2007. An unbiased account of the chasm between mine operators and miners, the strategies of each, and life in an early twentieth century company town. Selected bibliography, appendixes, and index. Mother Jones. Autobiography of Mother Jones. Edited by Mary Field Parton. White Fish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2007. Contains Mother Jones’s account of miners’ working conditions, strikes, and efforts to organize labor. Introduction by Clarence Darrow. Shogan, Robert. The Battle of Blair Mountain: The Story of America’s Largest Labor Uprising. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004. A detailed account of a conflict between West Virginia miners and mine owners. Bibliography, photographs.
Coal strike of 1902
John L. Lewis