The Widen Coal Strike of 1952-53

Charleston Daily Mail
December 29, 1953

UMW Gives Up At Widen

Pickets Quit In 'Lost Cause'

The Clay county village of Widen - site of the Elk River Coal and Lumber Company's Widen mine and scene of one of the most bitter and violent strikes in recent West Virginia history - could be entered today without crossing a familiar picket line. A 15-month labor-management dispute came to an unexpected end when the United Mine Workers gave up their attempt to organize Widen employees. "Perhaps there'll be another time," said William Blizzard, president of UMW District 17, as he announced the end of the long dispute. Blizzard, with Darrell Douglas of Ivydale, a strike leader, disclosed the strike's end after a conference with two picket leaders here yesterday. Morale Low "It just looked like a lost cause," Douglas said. "We still think we were right and they were wrong, but our men were tired of staying on the picket line and morale was low among the pickets." State Police Supt. R. W. Broyles said today he hopes to withdraw the eight state troopers especially assigned to the Widen strike scene as soon as the situation returns to normal. Boyles said that if all went well he would take all eight men and "get them back on the highways." The superintendent said there was a maximum of 25 men assigned at Widen at the height of the strike violence. He began to curtail the force this fall with a cut to 16 men, and gradually reduced the number to eight. 10 Men On Duty Two men from each of the four State Police companies in the state were assigned to Widen. They were in addition to the regular two-man detachment at nearby Clay. The strike began Sept. 20, 1952, and was characterized more by the violence it erupted than the quiet climax that brought it to an end. During the uneasy months from the strike's inception, two company railroad bridges and a power substation were dynamited, three men were jailed and fined for destroying a power line, a public hearing was called by Gov. Patteson to investigate the strike, 37 county residents were indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy, and one man was killed when shooting broke out between pickets and a company convoy. 48 In Murder Case Forty-eight pickets were charged with the murder of the company employe, Charles Frame, of whom four men eventually were indicted. One, Jennings Roscoe Ball, 23, was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 5 to 18 years in prison. But the end of the strike did not mean the end of its consequences. The other three men indicted in the murder still are to be tried, and the conspiracy trial against the 37 county residents has been scheduled for Feb. 23, 1954. In June the 4-day trial of Virgil Nelson, one of 11 men involved in an earlier conspiracy indictment following the attack on a railroad motorcar employe, ended in disagreement of the jury, and the trials of all 11 were postponed. 150 Hunting Jobs Strife and strike had divided the small community (pop. 1,724) where the mine is located. Part of the 600 employes went on the picket lines, but others stayed with the company. Douglas said yesterday that the 150 men who had stuck it out for the duratio of the picketing now are hunting other jobs, "anywhere we can find them." A company official said he did not know whether they could come back to work at the mine, but he noted that for the past three months operations have been on a 3-day week basis, compared with a 5 and 6 day week schedule previously. He added, however, that the cutback was because of market conditions, "nothing else." Douglas said the pickets would go back to work for the company, "if they'll let us." 'Getting Nowhere' Company workers are represented by the Employes League of Widen Miners. The paramount issue of the strike, soon after its beginning, had become a demand for representation by the UMW, an[d] the strikers got early support from the union. Douglas said the strikers decided on Christmas Eve "that we were getting we decided to ask Mr. Blizzard if we could call it off." "He told us to 'go to it,' that 'you fellows are the judges' and that he didn't want us to think that the union had let us down, though," Douglas explained. "I admire their courage," Blizzard said. "They had plenty of it. They stayed with it a long time. They felt they had a just cause. So do I."