Conflict at Coal River Collieries:
The UMWA vs. the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers
By Thomas J. Robertson and Ronald L. Lewis
One of West Virginia's most unusual strikes began on April 1, 1924, when union miners walked out at the Coal River Collieries. Miners often went on strike in West Virginia during the early 1920s, but this strike was exceptional because the Coal River Colliery Company (CRC) was an investment venture of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE). The company's stock was owned by members of the Brotherhood, and chairman of the board Warren S. Stone was also the Grand Chief Engineer of the Brotherhood. The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), called the miners out of CRC mines because the company refused to pay the current union wage scale. That a union would be compelled to conduct a strike against a union-owned company for refusing to pay the union scale sparked a controversy which called into question the principles and goals of both labor organizations.
The bitter feud that developed over CRC between Stone and UMWA President John L. Lewis illustrates a little understood cleavage in capital-labor relations: the instance when a labor union operates a business and, in the performance of their duties, union leaders assume the roles of businessmen. Craft unions, such as the BLE, retained a nineteenth-century conception of themselves as individual producers collectively protecting their "privileged" positions by controlling access to the skills of the craft through a policy of exclusion. Industrial unions, on the other hand, were products of twentieth-century mass production where specific skills were less important in shaping working conditions within the industry. Industrial unions, such as the UMWA, followed an operational philosophy of inclusion, in which all workers in an industry must be organized into the union or all workers in that industry were vulnerable.
In this context, "labor capitalism" seemed perfectly reasonable to Stone and the Engineers. Given their assumptions, it also seemed reasonable for the BLE to invest in the CRC and to operate non-union to compete effectively in a non-union coalfield. The premise for investment in the CRC was to maximize the financial returns to its investors. Viewed from the perspective of Lewis and other industrial unionists, whose world view was shaped by "labor solidarity" rather than "labor capitalism," the policy followed by Stone and the BLE at the Coal River Collieries was tantamount to treason.
On the surface it seems ironic that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the first permanent trade organization for railroad workers in the United States, would develop a non-union operation. Founded in the early 1860s, the Brotherhood was established as a mutual aid society which created a variety of accident, death and burial insurance programs for Brotherhood members. In 1867, the Brotherhood also established the Locomotive Engineers' Mutual Life Insurance Association to provide assistance to disabled members, widows and orphans.1 The Brotherhood negotiated contracts with railroad companies, signing the first known, written railroad labor agreement with William Vanderbilt of the New York Central in 1875. By the 1920s, the Brotherhood had negotiated numerous contracts with "detailed provisions for guaranteed wages, mileage and hour limitations, fixed rest periods, compensation for overtime, extra service, and excessive delays, as well as seniority rights and grievance and disciplinary procedures."2
Although committed to securing the best conditions for its membership, the Brotherhood was considered a maverick organization by the rest of the labor movement. The Brotherhood remained unaffiliated with the American Federation of Labor (A. F. of L.) by the 1920s, refusing to surrender its authority in jurisdictional matters as required by the Federation. In this self-imposed independence, the Brotherhood turned to "labor capitalism" to insure its self-sufficiency.3 According to one BLE official, it was "the Brotherhood's aim in its financial enterprises to show its members and workers generally how they can become capitalists as well as workers."4 By the second decade of the twentieth century, the BLE had created three "parent companies" through which the union controlled over thirty-five banking and investment businesses.5
These financial enterprises were influenced by the writings of the banker and essayist Walter McCaleb who advocated that labor "expand its limited horizons by organizing and managing banks."6 In response, the Brotherhood's 1915 national convention authorized Stone and the Advisory Board to study "the advisability of forming a bank at an opportune time." Five years later, in November 1920, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers' Cooperative Bank was formed in Cleveland, Ohio.7 The great success of the bank, reaching over $1 million in deposits within two months, further encouraged the BLE to open banks in other cities, such as Hammond, Indiana, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Spokane, Washington.8 The BLE further diversified its investments during the early twenties with the establishment of the Brotherhood Holding Company in 1922, and the Brotherhood Investment Company in 1923. With these two companies, and the subsequent addition of the B. of L.E. Realty Corporation, the union became immersed in a wide variety of capital investments, one of which was the Coal River Collieries.9
The Brotherhood's ventures into labor capitalism were due in large part to the leadership of Warren S. Stone. As Grand Chief Engineer of the Brotherhood (the office was subsequently renamed President of the Brotherhood), Stone's personality and union philosophy played a central role in the CRC controversy. Warren Stone was not the typical labor leader. For example, in 1910 Stone declared that it was "Un-American" to force workers into a union. While admitting that organized labor had improved the condition of workers, Stone also believed that if a worker "wants to join a union, all right, but it is contrary to the principles of free government and the Constitution of the United States . . . to make him join."10 The ultimate goal of a union, according to Stone, was not simply to achieve a living wage but to move to a "higher type of living." Political action was one vehicle available to workers for attaining this higher status in society, but only if they voted for politicians who served their interests. In short, workers should be political independents rather than loyal to a single political party.11 Stone also supported the Plumb Plan, proposed by attorney Glen E. Plumb, noted for his work in railway legal matters, which advocated public ownership of the railroads. Given his prominent position with the Locomotive Engineers, Stone undoubtedly saw an important role for himself in the management of the railroads under this plan.12
For all his seemingly progressive ideals, however, the thrifty and tenacious Stone was described by some BLE officials as "a Czar" who ruled the BLE financial and industrial empire with "an iron hand and strong arm."13 One segment of the BLE investment empire where the "strong arm" certainly was exercised was the CRC which operated four drift mines along the Coal River in Boone County.14 Situated between Kanawha County, where the UMWA had a strong membership, and the virulently anti-union bastion of Logan County, Boone County was one of America's top fifteen coal-producing counties in 1923 and a predominately non-union bifurcation of its two neighbors. Some UMWA officials initially saw a strategic advantage in the penetration of a union-owned coal company into this non-union district where the UMWA was locked in a bitter struggle for survival.
The early twenties was a time of great turmoil in southern West Virginia where the UMWA's efforts to organize the coalfields collided with the determined opposition of mine owners. Bitter strikes in Logan and Mingo counties led to violent confrontations between strikers and "gun thugs" hired by the companies. In 1920, these agents of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency murdered Sid Hatfield, the popular police chief of Matewan, in revenge for his involvement in the "Matewan Massacre," which left seven Baldwin- Felts guards dead. Hatfield's murder in full public view prompted thousands of miners, many of whom had just returned from fighting in World War I to "make the world safe for democracy," to arm themselves and organize a march to free Logan and Mingo counties of "gun thug rule." They fought a pitched battle for days on Blair Mountain, before being turned back by state militia and federal troops.15
These now-famous events were only the most colorful threads in the pattern of capital-labor conflict which prevailed in the West Virginia coalfields in 1920 when John L. Lewis became president of the UMWA. Such warfare must have exerted considerable influence in shaping, or at least confirming, Lewis's conviction that the miners must unify along lines of strict occupational solidarity to confront the allied forces of non-union companies and a hostile government.
The major uprising of the union miners in 1920-21, which led to the dramatic March on Logan and the Battle of Blair Mountain, occurred only months before the CRC mines opened. With the state and federal governments firmly aligned with the operators, the union miners were defeated. A series of injunctions and the widespread use of "yellow-dog" contracts frustrated the organizing efforts of the UMWA in the coalfields of southern West Virginia.16 Success against the miners in 1920-21 emboldened the operators to persist in their assault against the UMWA, therefore the miners initially viewed the establishment of the CRC as a boon to the union cause. But in the spring of 1923, that optimism faded into deep concern.
On March 21, 1923, Percy Tetlow, President of UMWA District 17, informed Philip Murray, acting president of the UMWA while Lewis was in Europe, that the CRC did not plan to abide by an earlier agreement to operate the mines on a union basis. Tetlow believed the "understanding" reached between UMWA President John L. Lewis and BLE President Warren Stone called for the UMWA and the Brotherhood to negotiate a contract based on the union wage scale once construction work in the mines had been completed.17 With this understanding, the UMWA had given permission for miners on strike at other mines to work at the Coal River site.18
On the morning of March 21, 1923, just as the mines were opened for construction, general manager of the CRC Harry Leaberry wrote to Tetlow that the company in fact did not intend to negotiate with the UMWA. Leaberry suggested that if John L. Lewis and Warren Stone had entered such an agreement, then Lewis should take up the matter with Stone. Tetlow had "notified the miners that by reason of the company's attitude we cannot permit these men to continue to work with the flat declaration from the company that they are going to run the mine non-union."19 Philip Murray agreed with Tetlow's decision and apprised Stone that Tetlow intended to "call the men out, providing a sincere effort . . . is not made to negotiate a contract at an early date."20
Four days later, Warren S. Stone wrote the first in a series of letters to UMWA officials concerning the Coal River Collieries. With regard to Tetlow's intention to call a strike, Stone explained to Murray that he had "been in the game too long to be scared by any threat like that," and in any event the mines were still under the control of the contractor, not CRC. The general manager of the company had been instructed to pay the union scale of wages once operations began.21
Stone discussed how miners working for the CRC would "live under better conditions than any miners in West Virginia have lived before." The Coal River camp was to be a "model camp," with "lathed and plastered" houses having "electric lights, sewers, running water, and in the near future . . . natural gas." Nevertheless, Stone refused to instruct the manager to institute the check-off system, declaring that he fully intended "to have a say as to who can and who cannot work in these mines." The UMWA would not "keep a man in our employ who either uses booze or dope and who does not behave himself and act like an American citizen should act," Stone vowed, and "the boast of some agitators in some parts of the country that `they will tell us who we can work and who cannot work,' is a mistake." Stone concluded this letter to Murray by reiterating that the CRC would pay union scale "or better," and "give the miners better treatment than any other mine in the country."22
In his response, Philip Murray heatedly refuted "the inferences . . . that the members of the United Mine Workers of America are un-American," denouncing them as "the common, everyday expressions of the non-union coal operators in the Logan, McDowell and Mingo County fields of West Virginia." Stone's refusal to sign a check-off agreement with the UMWA was tantamount to refusing union recognition, Murray charged. Having come to the conclusion that Stone and the CRC had decided not to negotiate a contract with the UMWA, Murray instructed Percy Tetlow "to exercise his best judgement" as circumstances demanded.23
Throughout April 1923, relations between the two unions became increasingly strained and the correspondence between them increasingly shrill. On April 7, 1923, Stone wrote to Murray suggesting that if he would "sit down and deliberately and quietly read my letter without any excitement, you will, I think, look at it in a different light." Stone claimed he had not meant to cast aspersions on the UMWA or its officers, for whom he held the utmost respect, but he took issue "with some of the threats made by the field men" and with the union's check-off system. "I have been handling a labor organization for over twenty years, and if you will pardon the ego, I think I have handled it successfully," Stone declared, "but if I handled the Brotherhood of Railroad Engineers along the lines that you insist your organization shall be handled, the railroads would not do business with us for a single day." The Grand Chief Engineer's principle objection to signing "an iron-clad agreement with the United Mine Workers is once this is done we have no control over our own camp." Stone reiterated that representatives of the CRC would meet with representatives of the UMWA, but admitted that an agreement was unlikely if the UMWA insisted on the check-off system.24 Nevertheless, Stone argued, the miners should trust the CRC because the leadership of the BLE had always supported the UMWA and "the wonderful fight they have made in West Virginia." Stone reminded Murray that during the 1919-21 miners' strikes the Brotherhood "helped feed and clothe the miners for several months and . . . contributed to their support more than any outside organization." While Stone reminded Murray of the BLE's support of striking miners in 1919-21, he failed to mention the Brotherhood's reluctance to assist the UMWA during the strike of 1922-23.25
Percy Tetlow was not impressed with Stone's intonations, and on May 29, 1923, he called the Coal River Collieries miners out on strike. Several days later, R. W. Shumway, Chief Engineer of the company's "Warren S." mine, reported to Harry Leaberry that the mine had become "the mecca of a bunch of radicals" many of whom had "been living for the last year or two in tent colonies on rations from the UMWA on Cabin Creek and Paint Creek." Shumway admitted that the radicals and agitators were disruptive, but he observed the attitude of county and state officials, and even the general public, was "very strongly opposed to the UMWA's organization." For that reason, he did not believe that the UMWA could successfully "pull off a real strike at our properties."26 Despite Shumway's prediction, the strike continued.
When Lewis returned from Europe in June, he and Stone agreed that John C. Lewis of the Iowa State Federation of Labor would serve as mediator in the dispute. John C. Lewis visited CRC, surveyed the situation and ordered John L. Lewis and Warren Stone to call a joint conference of three representatives from each side.27 Meeting in Chicago on July 6, 1923, the participants fashioned an agreement acceptable to officials of both parties and the miners returned to work. The agreement established an elaborate grievance system whereby problems unresolved locally were to be referred to Stone and John L. Lewis for resolution. The parties also agreed that the check-off and wage issues would be settled in a new contract to be negotiated between the CRC and the UMWA before April 1, 1924.28
By the end of March 1924, a new agreement still had not been negotiated between the CRC and the UMWA, although other events in the coal industry during the winter of 1924 made a contract with the CRC all the more important to the UMWA. In February 1924, the UMWA and coal operators in the Central Competitive Field (western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois) negotiated a three-year contract known as the Jacksonville Agreement. The CRC refused to accept the terms of the Jacksonville Agreement, and announced to stunned UMWA officials that the company intended to cut wages.29 Without a new contract, and trying desperately to maintain the viability of the Jacksonville Agreement, the UMWA again called a strike at the CRC mines. Stone tried to deflect the blame for the strike to the UMWA, claiming the miners refused to negotiate after the April deadline had passed, forcing the CRC to shut down the mines.30
Again mediator John C. Lewis met with Stone, but was unsuccessful in persuading the Chief Engineer to change his policy. Stone and the CRC used the on-going labor strife in the West Virginia coalfields as leverage against the UMWA. During a meeting with CRC officials in August, Percy Tetlow was informed that "no agreement would be made by your company unless the UMWA reps could get other coal operators in that district to agree to make a similar settlement." With the failure of the August meeting, John L. Lewis chastised Stone for using tactics similar to those of the vehemently non-union Kanawha Coal Operators' Association of southern West Virginia. While acknowledging that the CRC was not a member of the KCOA, and was not evicting striking miners, Lewis charged that the CRC nevertheless was following the Kanawha Operators' lead. Such action, Lewis informed Stone, "is an intolerable position for a coal company whose stock is largely owned and whose affairs are directed by union men to occupy."31
Stone's reply to Lewis provides insight into the BLE leader's union philosophy and his motivation for taking this seemingly paradoxical position. Blaming the UMWA's failure to negotiate after the April 1 deadline as the reason for closing the mines, Stone claimed that if the CRC accepted the terms of the Jacksonville Agreement, the non-union mines would undersell CRC. The Chief Engineer reminded Lewis that the striking miners continued to live in company houses rent free and receive credit at the company store. Stone accused Lewis of laboring under the erroneous impression that CRC operated "wholly and solely for the benefit of your organization." Quite the contrary, he declared, "the members of the BLE, who have invested over $3,000,000.00 in these properties, are entitled to some return on their investment." Stone was convinced that non-union mines in the Kanawha field were underpricing the CRC, and "if it comes to the point that we have to pay 13 cents more a ton than we can sell the coal for after its loaded on the cars, without considering any return for our investment, and without taking care of our overhead, we are up against a serious problem, and I think you must realize it."32
In his response, Lewis reminded Stone that wage rates were set by the UMWA convention, and that he was not empowered to "deviate therefrom at the pleasure of the CRC any more than at the request of other coal companies which have made similar demands." In Lewis's view, the problems of competition confronting CRC were the result of poor management and inefficient production, a combination which "forever confronts one who elects to become a coal operator." The crux of the matter was clear and simple to Lewis: would CRC sign an agreement along the lines of the Jacksonville Agreement or not? Lewis put the issue to Stone in blunt terms: "Will you settle or will you fight?"33 The Chief Engineer did not respond to the UMWA President's challenge.
This exchange of letters between Stone and Lewis illuminates the different principles and goals of the two union officials. Of course, Stone was correct in his assertion that non-union mines would undersell the CRC mines if they charged a higher price per ton for coal. John L. Lewis also recognized the ability of non- union operators to undersell union mines, and for this reason the UMWA sought to organize entire fields, and ultimately the entire coal industry. Therefore, as long as non-union operations undersold coal from union mines, the UMWA and non-union coal operators would be in direct conflict.
During this flurry of correspondence between Lewis and Stone, the CRC controversy gained a wider audience. With neither a reply from Stone nor an effort from the BLE to negotiate the issue, Lewis and the UMWA began to disseminate information about the controversy to build pressure within the union movement against the BLE and its Chief Engineer. A pamphlet containing the correspondence between the UMWA and Stone was printed and distributed to UMWA members and other labor organizations. The UMWA partially succeeded in its effort to create public pressure against the BLE. The West Virginia State Federation of Labor passed a resolution supporting the UMWA and sent a telegram to Stone urging him to negotiate.34 Many UMWA locals passed resolutions and published circulars denouncing Stone and CRC. The UMWA gained a considerable public relations advantage when members of its Local 5597, who worked in the CRC mines, issued a statement specifically refuting many of Stone's assertions. They charged that CRC twice had come to the miners with proposals offering much lower wages than were provided by the Jacksonville Agreement. Furthermore, these CRC miners contended the company's claim of extending credit at company stores was a pure fabrication. "As far as we know," the miners declared, "the company has not contributed one cent toward the relief of any of our members on strike, or their families." In fact, when several miners performed some necessary construction work on the mine, the "company held their wages or the principle part of their wages, for house rent, not leaving as much as ten cents for some of the men to draw on pay day."35
During the fall of 1924, the CRC began to evict striking miners and import strikebreakers to reopen two of the four CRC mines. An agency for distributing and selling CRC coal was established in Cleveland, Ohio. Rumors of gun thugs and private mine guards hired by the CRC circulated among the miners further heightening the tension.36 These and related events received extensive coverage in the United Mine Workers Journal during the fall and winter of 1924.
The BLE countered the UMWA maneuvers with propaganda of its own. Stone and the BLE not only defended their actions, but also questioned the motives behind the high-profile UMWA propaganda campaign. Since 1924 was a presidential election year, and Stone supported the third-party candidacy of Robert LaFollette, whereas Lewis backed Republican candidate Calvin Coolidge, Stone and other BLE officials were convinced that the UMWA attacks on the CRC were politically motivated. An article in the New York Times quoted a Republican party official who claimed the CRC controversy had hurt the LaFollette candidacy.37 In his monthly "President's Page" in the Locomotive Engineers Journal, Stone aired his suspicions regarding the CRC strike:
We are wondering who paid for the voluminous printing of this propaganda that is being scattered broadcast over the country. We are wondering if the Republican party, which has all kinds of money to spend, is not perhaps back of it, and we are also wondering if there is not the vague probability of a cabinet position being held up as a possible reward for services well done.38
Stone warned BLE members against being taken in by such propaganda. "The BLE as a labor organization was in existence years before any of these other organizations were thought of . . . and will probably be in business long after some of these other so-called labor organizations are forgotten."39
Stone's suspicions that political motives and Republican money were behind the UMWA propaganda campaign were not unreasonable. John L. Lewis had, in fact, built a strong relationship with the Coolidge administration. Lewis's work on the Jacksonville Agreement won the praise of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who urged Coolidge to congratulate Lewis for his efforts in negotiating the agreement which was intended to produce stability in the industry. Using his Washington connections, Lewis "acted as the nation's most eminent labor Republican," and was appointed to the Advisory Committee of the Republican National Committee. The UMWA president was also one of those talked of for vice-president and for secretary of labor. The A. F. of L. added fuel to the political fire by endorsing Lewis for the position of Secretary of Labor. Even though he did not receive a major political appointment, Lewis's standing with the Coolidge administration was, nevertheless, "unsurpassed among trade unionists."40 While links between the UMWA and the Coolidge administration have not been uncovered, such an association is not beyond possibility.
Given Lewis's political prominence within the Republican party, many BLE officials suspected the UMWA propaganda was directly supported by the Coolidge campaign, and that attacks on Stone and the CRC were due to BLE support of LaFollette. Just prior to the election there was a flurry of negative publicity directed at the CRC. Several trade unions and labor federations attacked Stone and CRC labor policy, and UMWA officials scurried about speaking against the CRC, the BLE and Stone to union meetings and other workers' organizations. In Cleveland, home of the BLE headquarters, UMWA officials induced the Central Labor Union and the Cleveland Federation of Labor to pressure Stone and the CRC to revise its labor policy.41
After the election, the CRC issue refused to go away. The A. F. of L. issued resolutions criticizing Stone and the CRC. While there was some concern that the issue would only "wash dirty linen in public," resolutions were passed without debate or dissenting vote proclaiming that if Stone did not change his policy toward the CRC and UMWA, the A. F. of L. would inform the membership of the Federation "of all the facts in the premises," a euphemism for a boycott.42 According to the A. F. of L. Committee on Boycotts, which was chaired by UMWA official Frank Farrington, a boycott by the A. F. of L. would include "the withdrawal of trade unions from association in all capacities with the engineers' financial enterprise, such as banks and mines."43
As the pressure intensified, Stone fought desperately to deflect criticism of the CRC and drum up financial support for the troubled coal company. Repeatedly he insisted that any miner, union or non-union, could secure employment with CRC and denied there was any discrimination whatsoever against union miners. The company simply could not pay the wage scale dictated by the Jacksonville Agreement and remain in business.44 Referring to the CRC as a "cooperative" venture where the miners were stockholders and shared in its earnings, Stone professed that "there are no better satisfied men employed anywhere than in the Coal River Collieries." Stone wrote he had the CRC payroll in his hand, and wished "it were possible for each member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers to secure the amount of money paid the lowest class of workmen in the mines," citing wages of $22.50 to $27.50 a day for machine cutters and $10.00 to $12.50 a day for loaders. Stone's figures were false because the basic rate set by the Jacksonville Agreement was $7.50 for an eight-hour day which he claimed the CRC could not afford.45
As was common among many operators in southern West Virginia during this time, Stone's counteroffensive against the UMWA blamed the intransigence of the miners' union for CRC's financial problems. Stone also claimed there were tremendous overhead costs at CRC mines. The Chief Engineer wrote of a "rough and mountainous country" where it was "necessary to clear off the timber on a lot of land, ship in all kinds of material to construct the plant, experience more or less delay in receiving same, then purchase equipment and build residences for the help, together with hundreds of other things, before operation began." The outside plants did not include "cheap wooden tipples which would have lasted eight or ten years," but rather "good fireproof tipples" which would last for years with less upkeep and lower insurance rates.46 Given the successful financial and real estate empire controlled by Stone and his exaggerated wage figures, such hand-wringing strains credibility, but as a sales pitch it was impressive and undoubtedly convinced many union investors.
Throughout the winter of 1924-25 the strike held, evictions of miners from company-owned houses continued and strikebreakers were brought in from Alabama, Virginia and Kentucky. Drawing on its own limited resources, the UMWA provided some shelter and food for the striking miners and their families. In a report to the UMWA International Executive Board, Percy Tetlow painted a grim picture of evicted miners living in shacks and tents, and the pathetic joy of their children when they received union-supplied gifts of candy, nuts and a Christmas tree.47
Members of UMWA Local 5717 issued their own report on the condition of striking CRC miners. As might be expected, they refuted Stone's proclamation of happy, contented workers, and wrote instead of being "ten miles from the post office," and that "Mr. Stone has a monopoly on the whole country and will not let us ride on his wonderful train to and from the post office." The miners also reported that the CRC had hired gun thugs, such as "Two-Gun Billy" who was "allowed to go through the camp and abuse striking miners wives" and disrupted meetings. As for Stone's wages, the machine men acknowledged they were paid $9.75 for a fourteen-hour day and maximum two-week earnings of $136.55 for fourteen hour- days. The miners closed their report with "let our watchword be on to victory."48
In accordance with the resolution passed by the A. F. of L. the previous November, Stone, John L. Lewis and representatives of the A. F. of L., UMWA and the CRC finally met in Washington, D. C. to discuss the situation at Coal River Collieries. The conference convened on February 25, 1925, and the first item of business was to create a committee charged with reaching an agreement satisfactory to both parties.49 A second committee met in Charleston in March 1925, but failed to reach an agreement.
By late winter 1925, CRC faced severe financial difficulties. From his "President's Page" in the Locomotive Engineers Journal, Stone was straightforward in his pleas for support from the membership. He assured BLE members that CRC was "making splendid headway" and that success was certain, but lamented that "a great many of our stockholders are not giving us the support we must have." Stone urged CRC stockholders to inform fellow engineers and friends of "how they can become part of this big enterprise" and reminded the stockholders of the purpose behind labor capitalism: "we are part of the same company and that we are all in it to make our investment pay dividends." Although the CRC had been operated efficiently for several years, he continued, "all that has been done so far is simply of a preliminary character, preparing for and leading up to vastly greater eventualities. Given the money and the influence there is no limit to what can be achieved." This stirring appeal was the hook for a sales pitch encouraging each stockholder to purchase additional shares of capital stock.50
During the spring of 1925, Stone and CRC officials struggled to prevent a collapse of confidence in the operation. In April 1925, Stone stressed the strength and potential of the cooperative operation of CRC. "The collieries company," according to Stone, was "substantially growing in its co-operative policy. I believe amity and co-ordination of effort will grow out of the present situation."51 He announced plans to increase production at one of the CRC mines and the decision to sell the CRC-built Coal River & Eastern Railroad to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad's Coal River Division.52
The CRC sponsored a "second annual stockholders inspection trip" to the mines. A three-page article, complete with photographs, published in The Locomotive Engineers Journal provided an interesting promotional piece to entice further investment. But the controversy did not subside. In March 1925, The Nation published an article entitled "An Inter-Union Labor Struggle." Both protagonists, John L. Lewis and Warren Stone, were given space to present their versions of the confrontation. Lewis charged that CRC was in league with the numerous other "cold- blooded, hard-boiled non-union coal companies" operating in the southern West Virginia coalfields. Stone forwarded editorials previously published in the Right-o'-Way, the newspaper of CRC stockholders, and The Locomotive Engineers Journal, which reiterated the scene of happy, contented miners earning high wages at CRC.53
The succession of W. B. Prenter to leadership of the BLE interests when Warren Stone died of acute Bright's disease in June 1925 did not alter the relations between the two unions. Relations remained strained and propaganda by both sides continued uninterrupted. Stone's death, however, brought changes to the Brotherhood. New leaders replaced those officials who ruled during the period derisively referred to by Stone's antagonists as the "Stone Age," and investigations into Stone's financial affairs revealed evidence of mismanagement. At the 1927 BLE convention, internal house-cleaning reorganized the union's financial dealings, which eventually led to the liquidation of many of the BLE's holdings.54
The new leadership effected no immediate change in the situation at CRC. The impasse in negotiations was paralleled by unchanged CRC production. The company struggled on through 1926 with a new coal sales corporation, Fuel Distributors, Inc., created to sell CRC coal, but profits from the mines remained elusive. In April 1926, Coal Age revealed that CRC had yet to pay any dividends to the stockholders.55 By the summer of 1927, CRC, like so as many other coal operations in southern West Virginia, had fallen on desperate times. Evidence of mismanagement at CRC abounded, and in August 1927 a headline in the United Mine Workers Journal proclaimed: "Busted, B'gosh!" The details of its ultimate demise are unclear, but CRC officially had entered receivership on July 14, 1927. According to company reports, the CRC's accumulated debts reached $1.77 million and with creditors to be paid first, the $2.8 million invested by the Brotherhood was in danger of being lost.56 Within the terms of the receivership, the CRC mines were ordered to remain open, but the bankruptcy signaled another failure for Stone's "labor capitalism." The UMWA, however, realized only a pyrrhic victory, for although the BLE involvement with CRC ended, the company's new management continued its non-union operation.
The Coal River Colliery controversy never reached a well- defined conclusion. Although the BLE no longer controlled the CRC, Brotherhood officials continued to agitate John L. Lewis by holding financial interest in a non-union cooperative mine in eastern Ohio.57 In the late 1920s, however, Lewis's attention was redirected by challenges to his leadership both from dissidents within the UMWA, as well as from operators and competing unions outside the UMWA.58 The struggle which threatened the very existence of the UMWA was long and bitter, but by the early 1930s John L. Lewis had emerged as the unchallenged leader of the UMWA, and perhaps the industry itself. By then the former Coal River Colliery mines had become casualties of the Great Depression.
Lewis's opposition to the BLE's venture into labor capitalism might be viewed as hypocritical since he had his own business associations. In fact, as early as September 1923, during the early stages of the CRC controversy, Lewis became president of the United Labor Bank and Trust Company. According to biographers Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine, Lewis's selection was due in large part to secure UMWA deposits for the bank. Moreover, in 1949, Lewis was instrumental in the UMWA's purchase of controlling interest in the National Bank of Washington, which, by 1964, had become the second largest bank in the nation's capital. The financial and investment records of the National Bank of Washington are unavailable, but according to Dubofsky and Van Tine, "it is clear that the institution responded to Lewis's will."59 Certainly the UMWA-BLE confrontation was a power struggle between the two titans of American labor, but Lewis's involvement in banking is better understood as an attempt to achieve financial independence for the UMWA than as a business venture in which profits were the primary motive. Lewis was not a labor capitalist, nor did he adhere to the same ideological principles of organization as did Stone. The acrimony between Lewis and Stone over the CRC illustrates one of the ideological conflicts which strained relations between craft and industrial unions during their formative years, and reveals how that fundamental philosophical difference within organized labor undermined the movement even in single-industry districts such as the coalfields of southern West Virginia.Notes
1. Walter Licht, Working For the Railroad: The Organization of Work in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983), 241-42, 211.
2. Ibid., 265-66.
3. Reed Richardson, The Locomotive Engineer, 1863-1963: A Century of Railway Labor Relations and Work Rules (Ann Arbor: Bureau of Industrial Relations, 1963), 376-77.
4. Len De Caux, Labor Radical: From the Wobblies to the CIO (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970), 142.
5. Richardson, The Locomotive Engineer, 379.
6. Philip Taft, The A. F. of L. in the Time of Gompers (New York: Harper, 1957), 463.
7. John R. Commons, et al., History of Labour in the United States, Vol. IV (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1935), 572; Richardson, The Locomotive Engineer, 377.
8. By 1924 deposits totaled over $26 million. Richardson, Locomotive Engineer, 377-78.
9. Commons, History of Labour in the United States, 573-74; Richardson, Locomotive Engineer, 378-79.
10. New York Times, 7 April 1910. Stone held a very selective attitude about labor unions. "When union pickets walked before his barbershop, he brushed past them. No `two-by-four' union, he said, was going to `bully' him." De Caux, Labor Radical, 145.
11. New York Times, 7 April 1910.
12. Labor Age 11(November 1922): 6-8.
13. De Caux, Labor Radical, 144-45. An official of the BLE admitted that Stone personally decided which BLE members would be the directors of the various companies. Stone ordered, "You will be director of this, you will be vice president of this." Ibid., 145.
14. In 1926, CRC ran a forth drift mine, Lewiston No. 6, but it was no longer listed as a CRC property in 1927. West Virginia Department of Mines, Annual Report, 1926 (Charleston: Tribune Printing Co., 1927), 16-17, Annual Report, 1927 (Charleston: Jarrett Printing Co., 1928), 17.
15. A significant body of literature exists on the southern West Virginia mine wars. See, for example: David Alan Corbin, Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922 (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1981); Howard Lee, Bloodletting in Appalachia: The Story of West Virginia's Four Major Mine Wars and Other Thrilling Incidents of Its Coal Fields (Morgantown; West Virginia Univ., 1969); Richard D. Lunt, Law and Order vs. the Miners: West Virginia, 1907-1933 (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1979); Lon Savage, Thunder in the Mountains (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1990); Ken Sullivan, ed., The Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars (Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing, 1991).
16. For more on the anti-union tactics of the operators, see Lunt, Law and Order vs. The Miners. Evelyn L. K. Harris and Frank J. Krebs, From Humble Beginnings: West Virginia State Federation of Labor, 1903-1957 (Charleston: West Virginia Labor History Publishing Fund, 1960), also provides additional background to legal tactics of West Virginia coal operators in chapters IV and V. 17. Percy Tetlow to Phillip Murray, 21 March 1923, Official Records of the United Mine Workers of America, "Containing Correspondence Between the President's Office and Warren Stone," (Indianapolis, n. p., 1924), 4, hereafter cited as "Correspondence"; United Mine Workers Journal, 1 October 1924.
18. Tetlow to Murray, 3 March 1923, "Correspondence," 5; UMWJ, 1 October 1924, also, New York Times, 30 May 30 1923. According to a delegate of the West Virginia State Federation of Labor, the construction of houses and other buildings on the CRC property were completed by non-union contractors. West Virginia State Federation of Labor, Proceedings (September 1924): 153-54.
19. Tetlow to Murray, 21 March 1923, "Correspondence," 5; UMWJ, 1 October 1924.
20. Murray to Stone, 26 March 1923, "Correspondence," 6; UMWJ, 1 October 1924.
21. Warren Stone to Philip Murray, "Correspondence," 7; UMWJ, 1 October 1924.
22. Stone to Murray, 30 March 1923, "Correspondence," 7-8; UMWJ, 1 October 1924.
23. Philip Murray to Warren Stone, 5 April 1923, "Correspondence," 8-9; UMWJ, 1 October 1924.
24. Stone to Murray, 7 April 1923, "Correspondence," 12; UMWJ, 1 October 1923.
25. Stone to Murray, 7 April 1923, "Correspondence," 10-11; UMWJ, 1 October 1924. Stone had raised the same issue in his 30 March 1923 letter to Murray. "Correspondence," 7; UMWJ, 1 October 1924. In a letter to John L. Lewis, 1 June 1922, Stone informed Lewis that the UMWA's request for assistance from the BLE during the 1922-23 strike could not be entertained because there was "no fund at our disposal from which to make this loan, and, much as we would like to do so, it will be impossible for us to comply with your request at this time." UMWJ, 1 October 1924. In a listing of the organizations which gave financial support to the UMWA during the 1922-23 strike, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers is absent. UMWJ, 1 February 1924.
26. R. W. Shumway to Harry Leaberry, 8 June 1923, "Correspondence," 17-20.
27. "Correspondence," 20-21.
28. New York Times, 7 July 1923; Maier Fox, United We Stand: The United Mine Workers of America, 1890-1990 (Washington, D. C.: United Mine Workers of America, 1990), 258; The Locomotive Engineers Journal 57(August 1923): 625.
29. UMWJ, 1 October 1924; "Correspondence," 23.
30. UMWJ, 15 November 1924.
31. "Correspondence," 23, 24-25.
32. Ibid., 25-28.
33. Ibid., 28-30.
34. West Virginia State Federation of Labor, Proceedings (September 1924): 153. While agreeing to promote the UMWA's cause, one state delegate saw futility in trying to urge Stone to negotiate: "I want to say to this convention that if they spend 25 cents for a telegram it is just 25 cents wasted to send a message to Warren S. Stone." Ibid., 153.
35. UMWJ, 25 October 1924.
36. Ibid., 1 November 1924.
37. New York Times, 25 October 1924.
38. The Locomotive Engineers Journal 58(October 1924): 730.
39. Ibid., 58(October 1924): 730.
40. Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine, John L. Lewis: A Biography (New York: Quadrangle, 1977), 108-09, 111. Even with the support for Lewis' appointment, Coolidge remained with James J. Davis as his Secretary of Labor.
41. UMWJ, 15 November 1924, 15 January 1925.
42. New York Times, 19 and 23 November 1924. At this convention another resolution was passed requesting that Coolidge name John L. Lewis as Secretary of Labor. Ibid., 19 November 1924.
43. New York Times, 23 November 1924; UMWJ, 1 December 1924.
44. UMWJ, 1 January 1925.
45. The Locomotive Engineers Journal 59(January 1925): 10-11. In a report to the International Executive Board, Percy Tetlow refuted the notion that CRC was a cooperative venture. According to Tetlow, the stock was sold predominately to BLE members. "There are not two per cent of the men working at these mines who can own any stock in the company," and the strikebreakers were not offered the opportunity to purchase stock. Miners who did hold shares of CRC stock were not guaranteed employment. Employment was contingent on accepting the 1917 wage scale, not the Jacksonville scale, Tetlow reported. UMWJ, 15 January 1925. The basic Jacksonville scale was $7.50 for a eight-hour day and $1.08 a ton for piece workers. Homer Morris, The Plight of the Bituminous Coal Miner (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1934), 13.
46. The Locomotive Engineers Journal 59(January 1925): 11.
47. UMWJ, 1 and 15 January 1925.
48. Ibid., 1 February 1925.
49. Ibid., 15 March 1925.
50. The Locomotive Engineers Journal 59(March 1925): 170.
51. Coal Age 27(16 April 1925): 582.
52. Ibid., 28(16 July 1925): 89.
53. The Locomotive Engineers Journal 59(May 1925): 338- 40; The Nation 120(18 March 1925): 287-88.
54. De Caux, Labor Radical, 142; U. S. Senate, Committee on Interstate Commerce, Conditions in the Coal Fields of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, Vol. II (Washington, D. C.: GPO, 1928), 2346-48. De Caux claimed that at the 1927 convention, "instead of ruling a $100,000,000 empire, the engineers found themselves decapitalized and in hock to capitalist capitalists for some $19,000,000." De Caux, Labor Radical, 142.
55. Coal Age 29(7 January 1926): 19 and 29(15 April 1926): 526.
56. UMWJ, 1 August 1927.
57. In early 1925, officials of the BLE launched the Goat Hill Coal Company, near Bergholz in eastern Ohio, under the name of All American Cooperative Commission. Ostensibly a "co-operative company," the Goat Hill operation was viewed by the UMWA as an extension of the non-union tactics used by the BLE at CRC. UMWA, District 6 papers, Box 2, Special Collections, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio.
58. In his struggle to maintain control of the union, Lewis branded opposition to himself or the UMWA as communist inspired. One opponent Lewis targeted was Albert Coyle, editor of The Locomotive Engineers Journal, and director of publicity for the BLE following Warren Stone's death. Lewis accused Coyle of conspiring with known communists in order to destroy the UMWA. UMWJ, 1 November 1926, 1 February 1927.
59. Dubofsky and Van Tine, John L. Lewis, 99, 506-07.
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