Mining: Miner Unions

Table of Contents

Since 1890, coal mining has also been a political and social issue. Coal miners’ labor unions became powerful in many countries in the 20th century, and often the miners were leaders of the left or Socialist movements (as in Britain, Germany, Poland, Japan, Canada and the U.S.).

The bituminous unions were incredibly loyal to the founder John Mitchell. In fact, in 1901 when word spread that “the president” had been shot, they gathered in crowds, weeping. Then when the crowds found it was McKinley, not Mitchell, they were greatly relieved.

In 1902 Mitchell instigated the best managed strike to occur in the U.S. and caused 150,000 anthracite miners to strike. After unsuccessfully trying to resolve the strike with President Roosevelt, Roosevelt then turned to J.P. Morgan to settle the strike. This resulted in only a 10% wage increase but was seen as a union victory and a blow to the coal barons. It was also the first time a U.S. president had intervened in a major labor dispute on the side of the workers.

By 1937 John L. Lewis was the leader of a revived American labor movement but became the most hated hated public figures for leading the coal miners on strike during the war. Coal miners had become one of the highest paid industrial workers. By the end of the war coal had nose dived to less than 29% of the nation’s energy use in addition to that the striking, and the rise of the automobile came the fall of coal mining.

Under the leadership of John L. Lewis the UMW became the dominant force in the coal fields in the 1930s and 1940s, producing high wages and benefits. Repeated strikes caused the public to switch away from anthracite for home heating after 1945, and that sector collapsed.

Prior many other large miner unions and strikes occurred across the United States creating better working conditions for miners and increasing their wages to the point of being the highest paid industrial workers by WWII.

Clearly, the setting of Candles was off the beaten path enough that they did not receive the benefits of the large unions.

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