Wheeling Labor Conference

Wheeling Intelligencer
July 28, 1897

United Labor

Of the United States Appeals to the Country to Assist

The Miners In Their Struggle

For Wages that will Enable Earning a Mere Livelihood

Conference Was In Session

Until Midnight - Full Text of the Appeal to Organized Labor and the People of the County for Assistance for Miners in the Strike - Nearly all of the Great Labor Organizations of the Country are Represented at the Conference - President Gompers, of the American Federation, Provided.

It is rather difficult to size up the situation with reference to the coal strike following the conference of the labor, leaders of the country held in Wheeling yesterday.

Those who asserted before the conference that the result would be the calling upon the railroad firemen, brakemen and conductors to decline to man trains hauling West Virginia and other non- union coal were away off, as the conference resulted in nothing of the kind. Although the press committee appointed by the conference, through which meagre details of the proceedings were obtained, is not responsible for the statement. It is learned that the conference did discuss the advisability of making this request of the railroaders, but it was decided that the time is not ripe just yet for such a move. However, the organizations of the railroad telegraphers, firemen, brakemen and conductors are said to stand ready to aid the miners to the extent of their ability even to the point of declining to handle trains of non-union coal.

What the conference did accomplish can be reviewed in short space. It was decided to make a renewed and determined effort to make the strike general in West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania. According to Mr. Gompers one hundred organizers will be at work in these sections within the week. Every union represented at the conference will donate its organizers, which with those of the United Mine Workers, will cover the entire state of West Virginia with agitators. In addition, all the unions and sympathizers with the strike all over the country are to be appealed to for financial assistance. This appeal will find expression in every community of importance in the country on Thursday, August 5, when speakers under the direction of Mr. Gompers will be detailed and mass meetings held.

It is estimated that the conference considered what steps would be taken in the event this determined effort in West Virginia fails, but the conclusion that was arrived at could not be learned, through it is believed that failure in West Virginia will mean that the railroaders are to be called upon to redeem the assurances of support that they gave at the conference.


A Notable Gathering

The Most important Gathering of Labor Leaders Ever Held.

The conference of the executive heads of the various labor organizations now in session in Wheeling is the most important gathering of its kind every seen in this country. In the conduct of the great coal strike the differences between various labor organizations are sent to the rear and - the leaders meet just as thorough they had never fought each other with the most violent bitterness. For instance, the meeting of Sovereign and Gompers in harmony and good feeling is a striking example of this feature of the Wheeling conference. These men, the heads of rival labor organizations, which for years have fought tooth and nail, met yesterday and joined forces in their common desire for the winning of the struggle of the miners. To make the point at hand more striking. Mr. Sovereign proposed Mr. Gompers for the chairmanship of the conference.

Other organizations that have been violently opposed to each other are represented at this conference. Two of these are the rival organizations of the painters and decorators, one being represented by Mr. Rea and the other by Mr. Sullivan.

Those In Attendance

Executive Heads of Many Organizations Have Arrived.

The following is the roll of the conference, including all of the heads American labor organizations that were able to respond to the call. Many others were kept away by the limited notice given of the conference.

Samuel Gompers, of New York, president of the American Federation of Labor.

Frank Morrison, of Chicago, secretary of the American Federation of Labor.

P.H. Morrissey, of Peoria, Ills., grandmaster of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen.

W.D. Mahon, of Detroit, president of the street railway workers.

James R. Sovereign, of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, grant master workman of the Knights of Labor.

James H. Sullivan, of Baltimore president of the International Association of Painters and Decorators.

J. B. Lennon, of Bloomington, Ills., president of the Custom Trailers' Union.

J. F. Mulholland, of Toledo, Ohio, president of the International Union of Bicycle Workers.

Jesse Johnson, of Nashville, Tenn., president of the International Printing Pressmen's Union, of North America.

Theodore Perry, vice president of the International Typographical Union.

Robert Askew, of Detroit, president of the Northern Mineral Mine Workers' Union.

William McKinney, of Lafayette, Ind., president of the Brotherhood of Painters.

J.W. Rea of Chicago, second vice president of the Brotherhood of Painters.

G.W. Perkins, of Chicago, president of the International Tobacco Workers' Union.

Patrick Dolan, president of the Pittsburgh district of United Mine Workers.

M.M. Garland, of Pittsburgh, president of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers.

C.H. Watkins, of Chicago, assistant grand chief of the Order of Railway Conductors.

F.P. Sargent, of Peoria, Ills., grandmaster of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen.

V. Fitzpatrick, of Columbus, third vice president of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen.

Michael D. Ratchford, of Columbus, Ohio, president of the United Mine Workers of America.

T. L. Lewis, of Bridgeport, O., state secretary of the United Mine Workers of Ohio.

Eugene V. Debs, of Chicago, the former head of the American Railway Union.

J. Kunzler, of Pittsburgh, secretary of the American Flint Glass Workers' Union.

W. C. Pearce, of Columbus, secretary of the United Mine Workers of America.

W. H. Riley, of Wheeling, president of the National Stogie Makers' League.

M. P. Carrick, of Pittsburgh, secretary of the painters' organization.

P. J. Counahan, of Pittsburgh, secretary-treasurer of the National Plumbers and Gas Fitters' Unio.

First Session

Of the Conference Meets - Samuel Gompers Made Chairman.

The first session of the big conference was called to order in Trades Assembly Hall, on Market street, shortly before 1 o'clock, after the arrival of President Michael D. Ratchford and Secretary W. C. Pearce, of the United Mine Workers of America, who came in from the interior of the Ohio on the Cleveland, Lorain & Wheeling railroad. Nearly all of the labor leaders whose names are given elsewhere, responded to the call made by President Samuel Gompers, of the American Federation of Labor, who acted as temporary chairman. On motion of Grand Master Workman James R. Sovereign, of the Knights of Labor, Mr. Gompers was unanimously called to the chair of the conference and he is to preside throughout its meeting. Secretary Morrison, of the American Federation of Labor, was made secretary of the conference. A press committee, composed of Messrs. Gompers, Ratchford and Morrison, was then chosen, through which all information of the proceedings of the conference comes for it is being held behind closed doors.

Ex-President Michael F. Tighe, of the Ohio Valley Trades and Labor Assembly, was chosen sergeant-at-arms of the conference.

After the roll had been made up, Chairman Gompers called upon the representatives of the United Mine Workers, to state the case, condition of affairs at present, and the prospects for success. The chairman also asked the miners' representatives to make suggestions as to the best manner in which the other labor organizations can lend assistance in the struggle now being waged by the miners.

President Ratchford, the head of the strike, addressed and conference at considerable length, stating fully the causes which led to the recent general suspension of work in the bituminous mining regions of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois, and the partial suspension in the West Virginia fields. He detailed the situation of the men, their low wages, which are not sufficient for subsistence and other abuses to which they have been subject. He did not care to advance anything in way of special recommendations to the conference, preferring to leave that important matter to the consideration and action of the conference. A general appeal for assistance, however, was made by the miners' president, during which he warmed to his subject and made a powerful and convincing speech that made a deep impression on the labor leaders who listened throughout with unbroken attention.

Secretary W. C. Pearce, of the national miners' organization; Secretary Thomas H. Lewis, of the Ohio organization, and President Patrick Dolan, of the Pittsburgh district miners, also addressed the conference and spoke in about the same strain. Mr. Dolan believed that the most important point, the point where the efforts of the strikers should be concentrated is at the works of the Cleveland & Pittsburgh (De Armitt) Coal Company, in the Pittsburgh district. This he considered of even more importance than making the strike general in the West Virginia fields.

After the miners had given their story in detail, the conference adjourned, and the leaders dispersed to the hotels for dinner.

Afternoon Proceedings.

A Committee to Evolve a Plan for Assisting the Strikers.

The conference reconvened in Trades Assembly hall at 2:30 o'clock in the afternoon. Chairman Gompers in the chair. In addition to the leaders who were present in the morning, several others were in attendance, including President Jackson, of the cigar workers.

A number of telegrams from officers of unions that had been unable to come to Wheeling on account of the short notice given by Messrs. Ratchford and Gompers, were read by Secretary Morrison.

T.S. Ingraham, of Cleveland, sub-chief of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, wired: "Arthur out of the city and will not return until Tuesday."

Thomas J. Elderkin, of Chicago, president of the Seaman's Union, wired: "My attendance at the conference is impossible. The views of the seaman's union are for free men, free speech, which are the inheritance of the people. The ruling of courts on this question should have no weight with the conference. Involuntary slavery on land and sea must cease or the result will be greater evils."

James O'Connell, of Albany, N. Y., grand master of the machinists' union, "Impossible to reach Wheeling in time. We give assurance of support in this struggle for justice."

P. J. Maguire, Philadelphia, secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners: "Regret that I cannot attend the conference; notice too short. If the right of speech and peaceable public meeting is denied in West Virginia, the people of that state must assert themselves. The best way we can help the miners is by furnishing them money and organizers and sustaining families of the needy during the strike."

Martin Fox, president International Moulders' Union: "Shall submit circular to our unions and members to at once contribute and raise funds to support the miners and their families, so that the strike can be carried to success."

E. Kurzenknabe, St. Louis, secretary of the National Brewers' Union: "We are in hearty sympathy with our striking brothers and will send financial support after tomorrow's meeting of our executive board. All local unions are asked to contribute to their best ability."

A telegram from one of the miners organizers, Christ. Evans. dated at Coalburg, W. Va., in the Great Kanawha region in the lower part of the state, was read. It says: "I held a successful meeting at Coalburg last night. North Coalburg and Tonda mines are out to day.

Night Session

Of the Conference - An Appeal to Laboring People Made.

The night session of the conference was called to order at 8:30 o'clock last night. Like the other sessions it was behind closed doors. Telegrams from other leaders offering assurances of financial and moral support for the strikers were read by Secretary Morrison. They were from Secretary Henry White, of the United Garment Workers, New York; J. J. Schmalz, of Cincinnati, secretary of the American Federation of Musicians, and W. J. Gilthorpe, of Kansas City, Kansas, secretary of the Brotherhood of Boiler Makers and Iron Ship Builders.

After a long discussion in which various means for the aid of the strike had been considered the report of the special committee on ways and means to aid in a successful termination of the strike was adopted. The report is in the shape of an appeal to the country and is as follows:


A wail of anguish mingled with desperation arises from the bowels of the earth and the miners cry for relief, for some degree of justice, touching the responsive chords in the hearts and consciences of the whole people. Drudging at wages when employed which their scant earnings are denied them except through the company pluck stores, which out-Shylock the worst features of this nefarious system, is a stigma on the escutcheon of our country and a blot on our civilization.

We, the representatives of the trades unions and of all organized labor of the United States, in conference assembled to consider the pending struggle of the miners for wages sufficient to enable them to live and to enjoy at least some degree of the necessities of life, are determined to forever put a stop to a state of starvation in which they are now engulfed.

The deplorable condition of the miners is well known to all of our people. They live in hovels, unable to buy sufficient bread to ward off starvation, in many cases not sufficiently clothed to cover their nakedness, and their children unfit to attend school because of lack of food and clothing, making them a danger to the future stability of our republic.

We feel assured that all mean and women who love their own families, of who have one spark of human sympathy for their fellows, cannot fail to give all the aid in their power to enable the miners to win their present battle.

The representatives of the miners have been restrained by injunction when exercising their fundamental right of public assembly and free speech to present to the world their grievance. We as American citizens, resent this interference with the rights guaranteed to us under the constitution.

In the ordinary affairs of life all enjoy privileges and right which constitutions neither confer nor deny, but the assembly and free speech was intended to give opportunity to the people or any portion of them to present the grievances from which they suffer and which they aim to redress.

We denounce the issuance of injunction by the judges of West Virginia. Pennsylvania and other states as wholly unjustified, unwarranted and unprecedented, more especially in the absence of any exhibition or manifestation of force on the part of the outraged miners.

We call upon the governor of West Virginia and upon the governors of all other states and on all public officials for full and ample protection in the exercise of our rights of free speech and public assemblage. We have no desire to trespass upon the rights of anyone, and , and we demand protection in the exercise of those rights handed down to us by the founders of the republic.

We recommend that indignation meetings be held throughout the entire country to give expression to the condemnation of the unwarranted injunction interfering with the free rights of free assemblage and free speech, and we also extend sympathy and support to the mine workers to the utmost extent.

We hereby call upon each national and international organization of labor to send representatives to act for and by the direction of the United Mine Workers as organizers in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and such other states as may be necessary.

Fully imbued with the heroic struggle which the miners are making for pure womanhood and innocent childhood, for decency, for manhood and for civilization, and with the consciousness of the justice of their cause and of the responsibility of their actions, we call upon the workingmen of our country to lend all possible assistance to our suffering, struggling fellow workers of the mines, and to unite in defense of our homes, our rights, our citizenship and our country.


In pursuance of the plan outlined in the appeal, it was decided that sympathetic mass meetings shall be held simultaneously all over the country on the evening of Thursday, August 5. Chairman Gompers was selected as a committee of one in charge of the matter. He will name speakers for every city and town of importance in the country.

The officers of the several unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor were requested to transmit letters to their local unions and to building trades councils with reference to what is proper to do in view of the appeal made last night.

Officers of the United Pipe Workers of America were requested and have given their pledge to undertake a systematic method of agitation. It was decided to place the organizers in West Virginia and in the portions of Western Pennsylvania where the miners are not yet striking. President Gompers said after the conference had adjourned that he believed that within a week one hundred organizers, those of the mine workers and the other organizations that took part in the conference would be at work in West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania

The several railway brotherhoods, except the engineers', which were represented at the conference, expressed their hearty sympathy with miners and premised to lend all assistance in their power toward bringing the strike to a successful conclusion. The Order of Railway Telegraphers, which was not represented in person by President Powell, was pledged in favor of aiding the miners through Mr. Morrissey.

Just as the capitol clock was striking the midnight hour, the conference came to a conclusion, adjourning sine die. Many of the leaders left on the trains early this morning and very few will be in the city today. Mr. Gompers was asked where he would go from Wheeling, but declined to give any information on that subject.

The conference voted thanks to the Ohio Valley Trades and Labor Assembly, its officers and others for courteous treatment accorded the visitors during their stay in Wheeling. And so ended one of the most remarkable gatherings of recent years.


West Virginia Archives and History