He was 17 in 1921 when the Alabama State Militia was called in to put down a strike organized by black and white miners by the United Mine Workers. They killed 16 miners. In 1927, he went to work for the UMW. The next year, the state finally abolished "slave mines" where African Americans who had been arrested on what were often bogus charges of loitering or vagrancy were leased to private coal companies under an arrangement typical of the South and described by Douglas Blackmon in his 2008 book as Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.
My grandfather would later become the first American Indian regional organizer for the UMW, working in Alabama, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Wisconsin (where the union briefly sought to organize iron miners). In the 1970s, black lung killed him in the nasty way that it does.
One reason labor history of the sort that he lived barely gets taught in elementary or secondary school (or not taught at all) can be found in the series that Erik Loomis has written for the website Lawyers, Guns & Money. He calls it, naturally enough, "This Day in Labor History." There are 76 entries in the series so far. Today's entry takes us back 116 years.
|On September 10, 1897, Luzerne County sheriff deputies slaughtered 19 unarmed coal miners striking outside of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The strikers, primarily German, Polish, Lithuanian, and Slovak immigrants, were fighting for decent wages and working conditions in the one of the most brutal industries in the nation. The Lattimer Massacre was a touchstone event in the history of the United Mine Workers of America, who used it to organize workers across the region.
The 1890s saw a rise in immigration from Germany and eastern Europe; thousands of those migrants came to the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania. They were recruited there by coal companies as strikebreakers and because of that, the English, Welsh, and Scottish miners that previously dominated the industry hated them as scabs. Conditions in the coal miners were abysmal, with mine collapses and death shockingly common, a situation akin to modern Chinese mines. Making things worse was the Panic of 1893 and following depression that lasted for five years. The terrible poverty and desperation that resulted from these events led to some of the most dramatic events in American labor history, including the Pullman Strike, Coxey’s Army, and the rise of the Populists as a serious challenge to the 2-party system. Mine owners slashed wages during the depression for those who could get work at all. Typical company town conditions existed as well, with miners forced to rent from company-owned homes at high prices, forced to see company doctors, forced to shop at company stores, etc.
In 1897, the miners went on strike. The Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Company laid off workers, raised fees for homes and doctors, forced longer hours on those who still worked, and tolerated a decline in working conditions. Work became more dangerous and more profitable for capitalists. The strike was lead by drivers, mostly teenagers who ran teams of mules to carry the coal out of the mines. The company consolidated its mule stables, forcing the drivers to travel farther on their own time to get their animals. In response, the drivers struck on August 14. When the new mine superintendent, a man named Gomer Jones, found out the mule drivers were striking, he grabbed a crowbar and whacked the first striker he saw in the head. The striker fought back and a general scuffle ensued. This helped lead the rest of the workers out on strike. With overall employment declining, workers saw little to lose by walking off the job together rather than get fired separately. By August 16, 2000 workers were on strike and most joined the United Mine Workers of America, a union trying to establish itself in the coal fields. This was a big deal because the Slavs had avoided the UMWA after being vilified by the unionized Anglo-Saxon miners. But the terrible conditions began to break down the ethnic divides in the anthracite fields.
The first strike ended on August 23 when the companies agreed to give miners the option to live in their own houses and see a doctor of their choosing, as well as grant a wage increase of about 10 cents. A second strike a few days later at nearby mines made the pay raise more universal in the region.
Or so the workers thought. In fact, when the owners announced the new pay rates on September 1, only a few workers saw a raise. On September 3, the workers went on strike again, with 3000 walking out. By September 8, somewhere between 5000 and 10,000 miners were on strike. […]
The coal companies’ private police force, the Coal and Iron Police, were overwhelmed by these numbers and the owners created a posse of English and Irish residents, including many ex-miners. On September 8, about 300-400 miners, largely Slavs and Germans, marched to a mine in the town of Lattimer to support miners who had just joined the UMWA. Expanding the strike to Lattimer would be a huge victory for the miners because it would go a long way to shut down the entire the area and force the companies to grant workers’ demands. The mine owners knew this too. Luzerne County police, led by Sheriff James Martin, were openly heard bragging about how many miners they would kill. When the miners reached Lattimer, the police confronted them and ordered them to disperse. When they refused, the police opened fire, killing 19 and wounding about 40. All had been shot in the back. […]
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2010—Snowe's future: switch parties or perish:
|Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe is among the most liberal in the Republican caucus. While her politics have served her well in Blue Maine, she will face inevitable teabagger opposition in the GOP primary when she's up for reelection in the 2012 cycle. And as PPP polling shows, she's got a tough road ahead of her if she wants to remain with Team Red. […]
Pulling a Jeffords would certainly make sense for Snowe. But even better, she should give the Democratic Party serious consideration. If she waits too long, she could suffer a Charlie Crist -- squeezed by the two major parties and devoid of a machine. Like Crist, winning under those conditions isn't impossible, but it's tougher. An earlier switch to the Democratic Party would give her time to prove her bona fides to skeptical Democrats, and give her an easy major-ballot path to reelection.
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, Greg Dworkin rounds up an astounding 8 polls on Syria, David C.W. Parker's "Why Democrats Are in Trouble in 2014," and the NYC elections. Cuccinelli's conflict of interest. Clever Republican grifting in WI. Notes from the class war: the two Americas, and a split within one of the two. Pax Dickinson news. A new Van Gogh is discovered. Think Progress: "Study Suggests Southern Slavery Turns White People Into Republicans 150 Years Later." And (just couldn't help it), Sarah Palin and her "grabby" entourage visiting the Oscars' "gifting suite" back in 2010.