The Labor Argus
The West Virginia Miners Situation
Is Ably Discussed in an Editorial in the Last Issue of the United Mine Workers Journal -
September 19, 1907
The West Virginia Miners Situation
Is Ably Discussed in an Editorial in the Last Issue of the United Mine Workers Journal - Hard Facts.
A peculiar condition exists in the mining affairs of the Little Mountain State. From time immemorial the coal operators in West Virginia (with the exception of the Kanawha District) have opposed by every method within their power the organization of their employes. Now, as a consequence, they are reaping the inevitable reward.
The officials of the Untied Mine Workers of America have devoted time and energy to the organization of the mine workers of the State, but these efforts have met with indifferent results. As a consequence of their inability to meet and overcome the opposition of the great combinations of capital which controls the affairs of the state, they have, by other methods, succeeded in diverting skilled labor to those districts where men are permitted to exercise their inalienable and constitutional rights. Thus the operators of West Virginia have, up to this time, been unable to secure the services of skilled miners and other workmen whose assistance is so necessary to the profitable and successful operation of their properties. So acute has the situation become that the operators of West Virginia, hoping to defeat the legitimate objects of the United Mine Workers of America, have sent agents to great Britian [sic] and Europe for the purpose of persuading skilled miners to immigrate to the United States and accept employment in the mines of West Virginia. To this end a former district president of the United Mine Workers of America was appointed to the position of State Commissioner of immigration, and with funds supplied by the coal operators, he was sent to Europe. While we are without accurate information as to the advices returned by him, we do know that the Governor of West Virginia has invited a large number of representative operators and miners to meet him at the state capitol building at Charleston on the 19th of this month! The purpose of this conference, we are reliably informed, is to devise means whereby practical miners may be induced to leave their homes in Europe, locate and become citizens of the state of West Virginia. Whether or not these plans will succeed is, to say the least, problematical. It is safe to say, however, that no large number of skilled miners would accept employment in West Virginia unless there shall be a radical change in the policies pursued by the coal operators of that state. No self respecting man, whether he be a native of this or some other country, could maintain that self respect while working under the conditions of life and labor which prevail in West and old Virginia. Especially is this true when men can secure employment at higher wages, shorter hours and better conditions in any oother [sic] coal producing state in America. It is probable that the officers of the United Mine Workers of America will take the necessary steps to infrom [sic] their British and European fellow-workers of the facts about the mining conditions in West Virginia.
If the operators desire skilled, sober, industrious workmen they can secure thousands upon thousands of them in America, provided they reverse their policy of relentless hostility towards the United Mine Workers of America. But not otherwise.
In connection with this subject it is strange to relate that while many of the miners in West Virginia are working land hours for low wages and living under conditions totally unfitted for human beings, destructive of all that is best and highest in mankind, they can be influenced and deceived by the specious pretexts by which the operators persuade them not to organize. Many of these men believe that the sole purpose of the United Mine Workers of America is to destroy the coal industry of West Virginia. The operators incessantly preach that the miners' organization has no interest in the workers of the Little Mountain State except so to increase their earnings that the operators would be unable to sell coal in competition with their fellow operators. The absurdity of this position will be apparent to the most superficial observer. What interest could we have in injuring or destroying in particular the industry upon which the men we seek as members depend for their live[li]hood! What we seek to do is to establish for the miners of our country conditions of life and labor which are commensurate with the work they perform (without regard to the place of their abode), and which will enable them to live lives of happiness and contentment, and develop the very best that is in them. We are equally solicitous for the miners of every state. We are desirous that the mine owners of every state should have equal opportunities in the markets. That no advantage would be taken of the West Virginia operators is demonstrated by the rules governing our interstate conferences. If the West Virginia operators and miners participated in these meetings (and they have often been invited to do so) no scale of wages and no conditions of employment could be forced upon them by agreement except by and with their own consent. That is to say, in the adoption of a scale an affirmative vote is required by the operators and miners of every district participating in such scale convention. Under these rules the operators of West Virginia, or any other district, have within their own power to defeat not only the scale for their own state, but to defeat an agreement that would apply to any other state. Hence, under these rules and these conditions, the scale of wages to be operative would necessarily be fair and competitive.
It is, of course, not necessary to say that the operators of West Virginia entertain no such fears. Their whole purpose in making these claims is to influence and prejudice the minds of the men who work for them, and just as soon as the miners of West Virginia awake to a full consciousness of their condition, just as soon as they understand that their fellow workers in other states enjoy conditions immeasurably better than they themselves enjoy, just as soon at [sic] they gather courage to assert their rights and their manhood, then, not untill [sic] then can they obtain what is their just due.
While we do not anticipate that our advice will prove potential in guiding the operators of West Virginia as to their future movements, we nevertheless suggest to them that instead of attempting to lure the organized and skilled miners of Great Britain and Europe to this country, they establish such working and living conditions in their own state as will attract the thousands of good miners in America who would gladly seek employment in West Virginia if they could do so without loss of honor to themselves.
In concrete form we suggest:
1. That the men they have employed as guards (?) be dismissed.
2. That the evils of their company ("pluck me") stores be abolished.
3. That better houses be built.
4. That men be given the right to organize.
5. That when so organized, their union be accorded recognition.
6. That mines be properly ventilated and that the mining laws be observed.
7. That the legal and constitutional rights and prerogatives of the humblest worker in the state of West Virginia be considered as are the rights and prerogatives of the coal barons, who, to a large degree, dictate the policy and control the destiny of the state.
Government and Politics