Insurgents Claim UMW, Miller Boots 20
December 23, 1972
AP, New York Times
Insurgents Claim UMW, Miller Boots 20
Washington - Insurgent leaders took control of the 200,000-member United Mine Workers of America Friday and swiftly dismissed a score of officials of the former regime of W. A. Boyle.
In an emotional ceremony Friday morning before about 300 partisans, bused in from the coal fields Arnold R. Miller, 49 years old, was sworn in as the 12th president in the union's tumultuous 82-year history. His term will be for five years.
Miller, who is partly disabled by pneumoconiosis, and his vice president and secretary-treasurer, Mike Trbovich and Harry Patrick, both of whom were working coal miners until they began the Miners for Democracy campaign last June to oust Boyle from the presidency, took the oath of office. It was administered to each by the president of his home local.
The happy, chaotic inaugural ceremony, opened with fiddle and banjo music by the Morris Brothers of Ivydale, W. Va., took place in a jammed basement conference room of the union's massive stone and marble building at15th and I Streets, N. W.
The place was formerly the Washington University Club, and its echoing corridors and huge, paneled rooms still seem redolent of cigar smoke and overstuffed leather armchairs. The building has been virtually off-limits for years to most of the union membership. Critics and dissenters were labeled "traitors" by Boyle and were simply not allowed under his predecessor, the late John L. Lewis, president for 48 years.
Miller, a major figure in the union since 1969 when he led a rank-and-file West Virginia movement to win workmen's compensation for victims of pneumoconiosis, the disabling coal dust disease known as black lung, said Friday that he had not set foot in the headquarters since then.
In the black lung campaign, Miller accused the coal union's leadership of lack of interest in improving the health and safety of miners.
"Dissent was not welcome here, but it is now," Miller remarked. "You know the membership hasn't been in this place enough to know where the rooms are. But we'll find our way."
As he was sworn in, boisterous miners embraced one another. Several had tears in their eyes, and two danced a jig.
At the end, there was a spontaneous outburst of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and a responsive "Our Father...hail Mary," led by the Rev. Theophilus W. Roblewski, the Roman Catholic chaplain of a pensioned miners' association in the Pennsylvania anthracite fields. "Let us pray for the Yablonskis' souls," he said.
There was no mistaking that "the outs," the ideological heirs to Joseph A. Yablonski, the slain insurgent leader, were finally in, and reveling in it. The moment capped a three-and-a-half-year struggle against the Boyle leadership that began May, 29, 1969, when Yablonski announced his candidacy for the presidency.
Miller kicked out 20 executive board members who had been appointed by Boyle.
"Coal miners have been pushed around by dictators long enough" Miller said in declaring that the ousted board member[s] had been illegally appointed by Boyle through trusteeships over 20 of the Mine Workers' 23 districts around the nation.
Miller also fired the union's general counsel, Edward L. Carey, and Boyle's special assistant, Suzanne Richards.
Miller gave himself a comfortable majority on the unon's powerful, 24-seat International Executive Board by dismissing 20 pro-Boyle members who he said had been "illegally appointed" and naming 13 of his supporters to their seats.
He did not explain how his own appointments were any less illegal.
The new executive board also includes five elected members, three of whom are regarded as pro- Miller or likely to support some of his actions. And Miller, calling the dismissals "temporary" pending elections to be held by June in all union districts, took no steps to remove any of the five elected members.
Six seats were left vacant, including that of R. J. Boyle, the former president's brother, who was dismissed as the board member from Montana and North Dakota.
"We pledged full autonomy for UMW districts in our campaign and we intend to keep our pledge," the new president said in a statement. He said that the dismissed board members had "refused to recognize the results of the recent election," which ousted the top Boyle leadership.
Miller's statement was read to newsmen this afternoon by Donald Stillman, a 27-year-old campaign aide, a former journalism instructor at West Virginia University who was named Friday as the union's director of publications.
Still said that, in letters sent Thursday, the dismissed board members were told that their "attempt to shift decision-making control from elected officers to appointed members of the board" showed "indifference to the interest of coal miners" and "unresponsiveness to the members' free electoral choice."
With the new board's approval, Miller appointed as general counsel Joseph A. (Chip) Yablonski, 35 years old, a son of the murdered Boyle challenger of 1969. Richard M. Bank, a 27-year-old Charleston, W. Va., lawyer was named executive assistant to the president, and Edgar James, 27, a graduate student from Portland, Ore., who was a Miller campaign aide, was appointed assistant to the vice president.
Meyer Bernstein, a former official of the United Steelworkers of America who has been a special observer at the mine union headquarters during a six-month court-ordered monitorship of the union, was named director of public and international affairs.
Board members in West Virginia's three major districts who were fired are R. R. Humphreys, Dist. 17; Larkin Philpot, Dist. 29, and Cecil Urbaniak, Dist. 31.
Those named to replace them were George Ballard, Dist. 17; Levi Daniel, Dist. 29, and Dick Weater, Dist. 31.