Man Who Couldn't Win, Did
December 24, 1972
Man Who Couldn't Win, Did
Washington - He couldn't do it, they were saying a week ago about Arnold Miller, the quiet rebel who has become the president of the United Mine Workers of America. A good man, honest and brave, but just not the type to wheel and deal in Washington, too simple, no charisma or fire.
But in the season's most heartening victory of hope over fear, and of insurgency over incumbency, Miller decisively defeated tyrannical Tony Boyle, who has misruled over the mine workers' marble headquarters for 10 years past.
The coal miners whom he met in the 400 bathhouses where he campaigned looked at his square-cut, pink, scarred face, at his mangled ear-a souvenir of World War II combat; they listened to his calm voice deploring the "disgrace to our union." And they said to him, "You're just one of us."
So late last week, Miller was sitting on the 16th floor of the Holiday Inn in Silver Spring, across the street from the building where the Labor Department was carefully counting the astonishing returns, and fending off networks and wire services eager to know how he did it.
He is a mountain man, courteous, patient and humble, certainly not your run-of-the mine labor leader. His suit is off the rack, and no diamond ring twinkles on his pinky. His first act in office will be to cut his own wages and those of the union hierarchy, setting an awkward example for his greedy brethren at the top.
Miller didn't win it alone. He had many allies. Lawyer Joseph L. Rauh Jr., who fought through the courts the overthrow of Boyle's crooked 1968 victory; William R. Bryant, the federal judge who issued the court order which ended the expenditure of union funds to re-elect the incumbent; Ken Hechler, the valiant coal field congressman from West Virginia, who vouched for the honesty of Miller and his running mate at miners' meetings; "Chip" Yablonski, son of Jock Yablonski, Boyle's slain 1968 challenger, who gave up his government job to help; the Labor Department which spent $4 million to insure a fair tally, and the 30 young folk who manned the Charleston, W.Va., headquarters in 12-hour shifts around the clock.
"Continually, I have met some real fine people," says Miller. "A lot of good people came forward."
"We couldn't have done it without the Labor Department," he explains. "I would go to those retirees, who thought Boyle would take away their pensions, and tell them the ballot would be really secret and there would be no reprisals and ask them to come and take part in what was going on."
"Miners are too tolerant," he mused. "They will take all kinds of abuse. They really got stepped on. But they will take risks, too.
Miller rebelled in 1969, when he got black lung disease after 24 years in the mines. Like most miners' sons, he never intended to follow his father. He wanted to go to college and be a forester because he loved the outdoors. But around Cabin Creek, W. Va., there wasn't much else to do, so after eight years of school, he went down into the dark. He quit at 19 to volunteer for the Army. A machine-gunner, he got badly shot up in the Normandy invasion. After two years in hospitals, he drifted back to Cabin Creek and the mines.
When he got black lung, he went to the union to ask for compensation. They laughed at him. He organized a march on the Capitol, on the state legislature in Charleston. Tony Boyle sent a telegram to the legislators telling them "not to worry about those so-and-so miners."
"They were not just not with us, they were against us," says miller.
Miller who was accused by Boyle during the campaign of being "a puppet," remembers his first encounter with the president of the State Senate.
"He told us raggedy miners to go back to the mines where we belonged. I got hot and told him, "Mr. Jackson, we are going to stay here until the snow flies and we are going to turn you out to pasture."
The miners got the black-lung bill. Only one of the 42 members who voted against it is still holding office.
When Jock Yablonski in 1969 rose up to challenge Boyle, Miller joined him. The last time he saw Yablonski alive, on Dec. 14, 1969, after Boyle had declared victory, it was at a meeting of the discouraged but still fighting Miners for Democracy. Miller offered Yablonski four retirees to go home with him and stand guard.
Yablonski declined. "There is no reason for violence now," he told Miller. Three weeks later he was found dead in his bedroom; his wife and daughter slain too.
Can Miller save his victory?
The danger has "increased at this point," he says mater-of-factly. "It will diminish once I take office. It wouldn't be someone in their hierarchy who would succeed me."
He was inaugurated Friday and he has, according to one of his exulting friends, "the most moral capitol of any labor leader in the country."