Holding the Line: Miners’ Militancy and the Strike of 1978*
by James Green
The significance of the recent miners’ strike—one of the longest in recent history—seemed to fade when the United Mine Workers accepted an unpopular contract on March 24, 1978, and returned to work, complaining bitterly about how little they had won as a result of their long strike. How important was the miners’ strike of 1977–1978? Should it be viewed as a total defeat for the miners? Or was it a strike in which the rank and file minimized its losses through a long and militant industrial action? What does the strike mean for the tarnished “reform” administration of Arnold Miller, for the rank-and-file movements within the UMW? Finally, what are the implications of the strike for the Left?
Some of the most important questions raised by the strike have to do with the particular militancy and tenacity coal miners display in strike situations. What are the sources of combativity among this group of workers? Are coal miners a uniquely rebellious group within the working class because of their work situation and their “cultural isolation”? Or does the miners’ militancy—which has been expressed in a remarkable wave of wildcat strikes leading up to this national walkout—come from sources common to other groups of workers? It is too soon to answer these questions with certainty, but they can be approached by examining the recent history of miners’ militancy and by exploring its deeper roots in the past.
The 1977–1978 coal miners strike must be viewed in the context of an overall offensive by the capitalist class. The first target was the social wage (education, health and welfare benefits, etc.) paid to non-unionized workers, consumers, and welfare recipients, especially in the cities. During the urban fiscal crises unionized public-sector workers also suffered serious setbacks. But now the capitalists have shifted to the more difficult terrain of a strongly unionized basic industry. According to a lead article in The New York Times, following the March 24 contract ratification: “For thirty years bargaining has focused on union demands: seniority rights, pay, pensions, layoff protection, time off, and medical care. But in recent months the spark points in contract talks have been management demands for givebacks or ‘takeaways’—the cancellation of some of labor’s old gains.”1 Finding it difficult to wring more productivity out of workers (this is especially true in coal), capital is attacking the wage increases demanded by workers to keep up with inflation. But more important, employers are attacking the social wage workers have won, particularly in the form of health and pension benefits. These two issues were main points of attack in the recent contract strike between the UMW and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA).
The coal companies have made enormous profits in the 1970s. Between 1970 and 1974, profits doubled. Nonetheless they still forced concessions from the miners in the 1974 contract—which caused widespread rank-and-file dissatisfaction with the Miller administration. With coal stockpiles high and the demand for steel down in 1977, the corporations who control the mines (mainly larger steel and oil companies) decided to take back even more from the miners in this contract. Plagued with wildcat strikes that limited productivity under the last contract, the BCOA wanted to bring the miners under control this year. If they could enforce “labor stability” by disciplining wildcat strikers and instituting incentive schemes, the coal operators could take even greater advantage of the increasing demand for coal that will develop under Carter’s energy policy. As Tom Bethel wrote in Coal Patrol: “With the UMW leadership in obvious disarray, the coal operators went to the bargaining table last October armed with a long shopping list of humiliating demands. In the wake of three years of chaotic labor relations, they wanted nothing less than total control of the UMW work force.”2 To get it they were willing to take a long strike, confident that the miners would be on their knees by the end of January.
THE 1978 CONTRACT
The BCOA did not confine its attack to limiting hourly wage increases or to eliminating the right to strike. They also wanted to take away some of the gains the UMW had achieved through its Health and Retirement Funds. Won in the great strike after World War II, these funds provide health care and pension benefits to over 820,000 active and retired miners and their families. Although the funds are jointly administered by industry and union, the UMW has traditionally controlled them. Conceived and implemented by some of America’s most radical medical people, the miners’ health fund developed a consumer-controlled system of free clinics designed to deliver preventive medical care.3 Although the funds were in constant jeopardy because they were tied to the tonnage of coal produced, they nonetheless represented the most advanced form of “socialized” medicine available to working people in the U.S.
The initial BCOA demands amounted to nothing less than a dismantling of the UMW Health and Retirement Funds. Free health benefits were abolished, and miners would be forced to pay deductibles ranging up to $700 per year. From a pooled health fund administered largely by the UMW, the benefits would revert to a company-by-company system, which would provide coverage through private insurance companies. This would allow individual coal companies to use health benefits as a weapon against troublesome workers. The new system also meant death to the miners’ free clinics and their concept of preventive medicine. So just at the time when public support was beginning to crystalize for some kind of socialized medicine, the capitalists have moved to destroy the most progressive health care plan serving working people.
After the rank-and-file miners rejected a contract offer with these provisions on March 5 (largely around the health benefits issue), the public began to see that this was no ordinary strike, that the miners were holding the line for the whole working class in struggle to save the collective gains they had achieved in the social sector.
The pension issue was tied closely to the health benefits issue. Initially the BCOA retained the distinction between the pensioners who retired before 1976 and those who retired after that date and receive much higher benefits. But neither group, including victims of black lung, would have had increases sufficient to keep up with the cost of living. Many working miners have fathers and uncles, as well as widowed mothers and aunts on pensions, and they were outraged by the BCOA offer to increase monthly pension benefits to only $275 per month and to add the burden of paying some health care costs under the deductible system. The operators added insult to injury by agreeing to guarantee some health benefits to pensioners only if the UMW agreed to fine wildcat strikers $20 a day, with the fines going to the retired miners’ health fund. Another kind of social wage—the UMW pension fund—was under attack.
Finally, in its notorious “labor stability” clause, the BCOA demanded a contract provision to punish wildcat strikers and ensure industrial discipline generally. The first proposed contract gave the operators the right to fire any miner who “picketed, threatened, coerced or fomented or otherwise” became involved “in the cause of an unauthorized work stoppage.” This is dangerously broad language—very similar to the kind used in court injunctions. Furthermore, the employers demanded the right to fire “some but not all” of the miners engaged in an unofficial strike, giving management new powers to victimize certain militants.4
While the BCOA demanded broad rights to discipline wildcat strikers, it also bargained for an incentive scheme to increase production—a form of scientific management miners have always opposed, fearing that this would be an “incentive” to disregard safety procedures, endangering all miners.
Finally, the operators took aim specifically at the wildcat strikes waged over health and safety issues at the point of production by demanding that members of the mine safety committees be subject to discipline “for closing down an area of a mine or attempting such a closing.” This demand made it blatantly obvious that the BCOA drive for “labor stability” and increased productivity would come at the expense of safety.
Shaken by the cuts in the Health and Retirement Funds and the fear that more wildcats would bust the funds completely, Arnold Miller prepared to make major concessions to the BCOA. Labor stability was also necessary for the solvency of the union benefits program. With coal stockpiles high and the BCOA obviously taking a hard line in negotiations, Miller apparently believed the rank and file would settle for wage increases after a short strike. However, rank-and-file opposition quickly surfaced against the plan to use fines against wildcat strikers to compensate for lost revenues to the health and pension funds. When Miller heard from local and district officials that this provision would lead to certain rejection of the contract, he dropped the “payback” scheme. On March 5, he presented—and the Bargaining Council approved for rank-and-file ratification—a contract that differed little from the one already rejected. After more than three months on strike and with the threat of a Taft-Hartley injunction facing them, the miners were expected to bite the bullet and accept the contract. Though many pundits predicted a close vote, the UMW membership rejected the offer by a resounding 2 to 1 margin.
Up to this point, the operators had imposed their will on the miners, making dictatorial demands which they backed up with big stockpiles and the assumption that the weakly led, highly divided UMW could not take a long strike. They accurately assessed the weakness of the leadership but they underestimated the strength and determination of the rank and file. Though militants did close down some non-union mines and disrupt the flow of scab coal, they found it difficult to spread the strike. They were aided, however, by an unusually severe winter which depleted stockpiles quickly and literally froze the movement of non-union coal along many waterways. The BCOA did not understand that the miners’ solidarity and tenacity had actually increased as a result of the long strike, that their cumulative sacrifices made them more determined than ever to hold out. The Federal Government also ignored the miners’ grim determination to “take no backward step” and to refuse to work without a contract. Presidents had invoked the hated Taft-Hartley Act before only to have the miners defy it, but the defiance of the anti-strike law in March was particularly widespread. The strike had now become a rank-and-file struggle, and it was still holding solid. It was also beginning to receive much more support from other unions around the country, even though most of the big contributions, like the UAW’s $2 million grant, went directly into the International’s coffers.
After the contract rejection on March 5, intense rank-and-file opposition emerged to the new BCOA contract. The offer made some concessions to the workers, but it retained the clauses dismantling the health care system and preserving the inadequate pension system. While traveling in West Virginia during this period, we observed the anxiety of the UMW officials assigned to sell this new contract with its takeaway provisions, the activity of the Left, especially the Miners Right to Strike Committee (MRTSC) and the Miners Support Committee in opposing the contract, and the hostility of rank-and-file miners who felt cheated and betrayed. At a March 18 rally sponsored by the two Committees in Beckley, West Virginia, we heard Mike Branch of the MRTSC cheered by a crowd of about 200, including many miners, when he said “I’m tired of being pushed around, shoved around and sold out.” Commenting on the shifting tide of the strike, an eloquent young miner named Doug Riston likened the struggle to the Ali-Spinks heavyweight title fight. The operators won the early rounds of the strike, but the miners came back in the late rounds and landed some serious blows on the owners. On March 24, the bell would ring for the final round. If the UMW lacked the stamina to carry on the fight the BCOA would win the decision, by a technical knockout. And that’s what happened.
Discouraged by a sell-out leadership and strained by over 100 days without pay, the miners gave in and voted to accept the contract by a margin of 56 percent with much closer margins in West Virginia, the center of a strong movement to recall Arnold Miller from the presidency.
A New York Times columnist remarked on the contempt expressed for the UMW president in the coal country, which “is all the more poignant because he has, quite literally, set his people free.”5 It is wrong to suggest that Miller did this single-handedly, but he did lead the Miners for Democracy movement which restored the rank-and-file right to vote on the contract and to elect district officials, two reforms that were sources of Miller’s difficulties in getting this contract ratified. Although Miller’s weak leadership and increasing paranoia (which led him to dismiss most of his reform-oriented staff for “insubordination”) are clearly related to the intensity of the rank-and-file agitation in recent years, the press is propagandizing for union oligarchy when it blames Miller for the so-called “anarchy” in the UMW.6
In selling this contract to the membership, Miller has sold his union down the river and assured an even more determined opposition movement to his leadership. What then is the balance sheet for this strike? Was the contract accepted on March 24 an unmitigated defeat for the miners?
The answer is no, because the resounding rejection of the earlier contract on March 5, and the miners’ clear determination to carry the strike on longer, forced some concessions from the BCOA. The result was certainly not a victory for the miners, but through their militancy and tenacity the union’s rank and file minimized defeat in a strike which started out with the deck totally stacked against them. Furthermore, the rank-and-file miners again demonstrated their ability to conduct a national strike from the bottom up—in opposition to top leaders and the government.
In the contract ratified on March 24 the BCOA granted an increase in wages of roughly 25 cents an hour more per worker. This will amount to a 37 percent increase in labor costs during the life of the contract, during which time profits are expected to increase at many times that rate. Naturally, the operators were willing to give most on the wage front; they admitted this even before the strike started. The idea was to take away the social wage in the benefit area, to make everything dependent upon hourly wages, especially medical care. The BCOA made some concessions on pensions (the pension increase, such as it is, went into effect in 1978), but the inadequate monthly pension of $275 remains as does the great inequity in pensions between miners who retired before and after January 11, 1976. Health coverage for miners’ widows, which would have been available for only one month after death in the rejected contract, will be extended to five years after death in the new contract. This is an important gain, but it is small consolation to the miners and their families for the dismantling of the health fund (and the free clinics) and the establishment of private health insurance plans with deductibles. The latter is clearly the biggest corporate “takeaway” in the contract.
The most important result of the March 5 contract rejection came when the BCOA dropped its threatening “labor stability” clause. The “right to strike” forces succeeded in removing the contract provision disciplining wildcat strikers. However, the operators still have the power to do this under an arbitration ruling handed down on October 10, 1977, by the Arbitration Review Board, a body created under the 1974 contract to act as an appeals board in grievance cases. “ARB 108” became a subject of great controversy in the coal fields after the March 5 contract rejection and the withdrawal of the “labor stability” clause. This memorandum, in which the Board upheld a coal company’s right to fire miners for setting up an unauthorized picket, does contain some very frightening language:
The case at hand involved picketing. In terms of what is understood in other industries, it is seen as a willful and defiant act on the very fabric woven by both parties for their mutual benefit, and it is thus created as a capital offense.
The BCOA is now forced to rely on this ARB memorandum 108 (which was, amazingly enough, signed by the UMW member of the Board), instead of a contractual provision. So the miners gained an important point. Still, the very existence of ARB 108 is threatening, as is the union leadership’s apparent willingness to sacrifice the right to strike and the right to free speech in order to gain labor stability.
In short, the BCOA, though it was forced to drop its labor stability clause, got most of what it wanted in this contract. This included the dismantling of the Health Funds, the right to remove members of the mine safety committees for leading wildcats, and a somewhat different form of the incentive pay system. However, the incentive scheme’s likelihood of success is limited by the fact that a majority of miners in each local have to vote to accept the plan. Given the coal diggers’ widespread fear that incentive schemes will cause more violations of safety standards, it is doubtful that the BCOA can use this scheme to gain the productivity it wants. It is also unlikely that the employers’ power to fire mine safety committeemen will stop wildcats over unsafe conditions. It is one thing to put something into a contract; it is quite another to enforce it, especially in the coal industry. Both the incentive scheme and the attack on the mine safety committees’ autonomy conflict with the coal workers’ growing concern over safety and with their traditional ability to defend their “work rules” at the point of production, a tradition discussed in more detail later.
THE RECENT SOURCES OF COAL MINERS’ MILITANCY
The militancy and solidarity displayed by the rank and file in this long strike comes primarily from the life-and-death nature of the issues and, secondarily, from the union bureaucracy’s apparent willingness to accept big “takeaways” by the companies.
In order to fully understand the rank-and-file militancy in the recent strike, we have to go back to 1969. In January of that year regular miners formed the Black Lung Association in West Virginia to push for a state law compensating victims of the disease which struck most veteran miners. In February and March of the same year rank-and-file miners in West Virginia conducted one of the most important “political” strikes in modern labor history to protest the need for a black lung law. The awakening within the ranks prompted Joseph “Jock” Yablonski, a Pennsylvania miner, to run against John L. Lewis’s corrupt successor, W. A. “Tony” Boyle. Yablonski ran a strong race against Boyle, charging that Boyle was “in bed with the coal operators.” But the insurgent campaign lost out to the bureaucracy amid charges that the Boyle machine had stolen votes in the December elections. On New Year’s Eve 1969 “Jock” Yablonski, his wife, and his daughter were murdered by gunmen directed by Tony Boyle. At the Yablonski funeral the Miners for Democracy (MFD) was formed to carry out the fight against Boyle’s obnoxious regime.
The MFD was not at the outset an organization of rank-and-file miners; it was led primarily by attorneys, notably Jock’s sons, who launched a legal attack on the Boyle machine, and by a group of reformers in Charlestown, West Virginia, around the Miner’s Voice, edited by Don Stillman. However, later in 1970 another political wildcat strike in southern West Virginia brought forth another rank-and-file organization, the Disabled Miners and Widows of Southern West Virginia. At the end of the year an MFD slate in Pennsylvania District 5, led by Lou Antal, defeated the Boyle machine. Then a strike at the end of the BCOA-UMWA contract in 1971 led to a confrontation between the rank and file and the leadership for more strike benefits and a stronger set of contract demands; this scenario would be repeated again over the next two contracts.7
Meanwhile the MFD legal strategy, which involved considerable fund raising among Eastern liberal donors, began to pay off. A number of court cases were brought forth attempting, among other things, to throw out the results of the 1969 election and to prosecute the Boyle leadership for corruption in using funds. In May of 1972 the courts not only brought down two major decisions awarding district autonomy, but on May Day 1972 Judge Bryant overturned the 1969 election. Later in May, the MFD convention in Wheeling, West Virginia, united the MFD, the Black Lung Association (headed by a retired Cabin Creek miner named Arnold Miller), and the Disabled Miners and Widows Association.
The campaign leading up to the December 1972 election was hard-fought and extremely dangerous, but despite intense Red-baiting and threats by the Boyle machine (who used their control over pensions to gain votes from retired miners) the MFD slate headed by Arnold Miller won an inspiring victory with 56 percent of the vote. Shortly after his election, which Miller claimed as a victory for the rank and file, the MFD was disbanded. More importantly, the Black Lung Association lost some of its independence and was brought under the control of the union leadership. This seemed reasonable at the time since the same man was president of the union and the Black Lung Association. As a result, the rank-and-file militancy in the coal fields dissipated for several years, until the Miller administration negotiated the 1974 contract. Rank-and-file miners in West Virginia actually struck to obtain copies of the contract which they believed to contain “sell-out” provisions. The coal companies were making unprecedented profits and the miners wanted to dig in for a strong fight; they felt betrayed by Miller, as we saw in the last part of Barbara Kopple’s film, Harlan County, U.S.A. In the winter of 1975 thousands of miners wildcatted against the contract the Miller administration had negotiated. A massive rank-and-file opposition movement against the UMW leadership had surfaced.
In the summer of 1976 came the most important explosion of militancy within the ranks. Protesting the use of federal court injunctions, arrests, and fines against wildcat strikers from the Cedar Coal Company in Kanwaha County, West Virginia, 150,000 miners went out on strike—almost every union member east of the Mississippi. This remarkable nationwide political strike, which elicited cries of “industrial anarchy” from the BCOA, forced the federal judges in Charleston (who did not like to be totally defied) to withdraw their fines and injunctions. It was a great victory for the rank and file.8
Arnold Miller, of course, came out against the strike, and blamed its prolongation on a “handful of radicals,” presumably the members of the Revolutionary Communist Party who led the Miners Right to Strike Committee. But when Miller came to West Virginia to speak against the strike, he was jeered in Charleston and forced to withdraw from his speaking date at UMW Local 1759 where this amazing walkout began. In fact, when on August 10, 1976, Miller told a tumultuous meeting at a Charleston hotel that he could not allow the miners to defy the courts and that they would face certain defeat, he played into the hands of the militants. The strikers not only defied the courts, they forced the federal judges to lift the injunctions and withdraw the fines.9 According to a Morgantown newspaper the big 1976 wildcat strike ended “only after Miller pledged to seek right to strike provisions” in the 1977–1978 contract negotiations.10
THE MINERS RIGHT TO STRIKE COMMITTEE AND THE ROLE OF THE LEFT
As the right to strike sentiment grew stronger in the coal fields the left has played a greater role in politicizing the issue. The main left formation has been the Miners Right to Strike Committee (MRTSC). In the recent strike however, other leftists have been active in miners’ support work, especially in the two West Virginia strike support committees at Beckley and Morgantown.
The Miners Right to Strike Committee emerged from a wildcat in West Virginia during the winter of 1974 when Governor Arch Moore imposed a gas limit during the fuel crisis, a limit that prevented miners from getting back and forth between home and work. During this strike a young miner from the Beckley area named Mike Branch joined with some disgruntled local officials in southern West Virginia (a hotbed of wildcat strike activity since 1969) and formed the MRTSC. Branch, along with several other young miners who moved into the coal fields from other areas, belonged to the Revolutionary Union (RU), which became the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) in October of 1975. Though RU and later RCP members formed the leadership of the Right to Strike Committee, they had support from other militants in the West Virginia coal fields. In November of 1975 members of the Committee joined the march to support the Brookside strikers in Harlan County, where they circulated “right to strike” petitions while organizing some support in eastern Kentucky. (This march is documented, along with an interview with Right to Strike activists toward the end of the film Harlan County, U.S.A.)
By this time the MRTSC had already begun to draw fire from the International. In the summer of 1975, when Miller was faced with yet another massive West Virginia wildcat (this one to protest injunctions forcing Logan County miners back to work), the UMW president attacked the Right to Strike Committee after a newspaper story “exposed” RCP leadership of the Committee. Although the Committee did apparently suffer from Red-baiting in Kentucky, it remained active in West Virginia. RCP members admitted that they were Communists and insisted that there were non-Communist members in the Committee as well, hoping to undercut the conspiracy theories put forth by the press and the bureaucracy. The MRTSC reportedly made some enemies in the rank and file by insisting that the 1975 wildcat continue until the right to strike was granted, but according to one Committee member, the group maintained enough importance in West Virginia to play an important role in a March 1976 wildcat strike protesting White House delay in signing an amended black lung law. By the summer of 1976, when the massive national wildcat strike occurred against the Cedar Creek injunctions, Miller was even less effective in Red-baiting the Committee and blaming the strike on a “handful of radicals.” The point is that by this time the MRTSC had been articulating for four years a demand for the right to strike that masses of rank-and-file miners had already asserted in many places, and particularly in West Virginia where the Committee was active.
During the recent strike the MRTSC aimed its attack squarely on the labor stability clause in the first two contract offers. When that clause was dropped, it zeroed in on the effects of the ARB 108 decision. The two Miners’ Support Committees, which contain some representation from the MRTSC, placed some very effective advertisements in the West Virginia newspapers emphasizing the “takeaways” by comparing the proposed contract provisions with the “rank-and-file demands” expressed by delegates at the 1976 UMW district and national conventions. The activities of the two West Virginia support committees, which include the establishment of a remarkable “free clinic” in Beckley, deserve a separate discussion because the organizational activities in question could serve as models for future left strike support work. The relationship of the MRTSC to the Support Committees was problematic throughout the strike, because the red-baiting of the former spread to the latter.
The Revolutionary Communist Party members in the MRTSC have been the object of most of this Red-baiting. Their trade-union work in West Virginia has been unusually successful because of the key issue they have chosen to develop—the right to strike—and because they have learned from their mistakes (e.g., they are trying to correct an earlier impression they created that the main problem was Arnold Miller and the other “hacks” in the bureaucracy.) The RCP people in the Committee have tried to raise broader demands, but they have resolutely stuck to trade-union issues, refusing to dilute their appeal for the right to strike by calls for party-building. In many ways RCP politics in West Virginia resemble the early syndicalist phase of the CPUSA during the 1920s when the Party attempted to build a rank-and-file movement within the AFL through the Trade Union Educational League.
An RCP article entitled Miners Struggle at the Crossroads (based on an article in the December 1977 issue of Revolution) argues that the rank-and-file movement of miners has grown up “spontaneously” and states the classic Leninist criticism of the limitations therein. It then calls, not for building a party, but for “rank-and-file organization.” The RCP’s analysis of the massive wildcats is that they are not “clean-cut” affairs, the implication being that they need to be organized. In any case, they are certainly not “spontaneous” actions. The pamphlet merely mentions the fact that these strikes move from mine to mine with the “stronger locals” becoming “storm centers” that draw “neighboring mines into the struggle.” This leaves the development of wildcat strikes at a very abstract level, and suggests a vacuum of local leadership that Communists must fill. Until we know more about the history of militant locals in states like West Virginia—the locals that have initiated wildcats, spread them to other states in 1976, and acted as vanguards in the recent strike—our knowledge of the rank-and-file movement will remain somewhat abstract. We know that strikers in the mine fields take advantage of the traditional antipathy to crossing picket lines, that they can use “stranger” picketing more effectively than other workers, and that the use of CB radios and phone chains has been effective in spreading wildcats, but there is much more to know before any “lessons” can be drawn for rank-and-file movements in other industries. The RCP’s Leninist analysis of the miners’ movement exaggerates its spontaneous origins and dwells on the politicization of that movement in the period since the MRTSC has been involved. It is important to note that the movement began with a remarkable political strike for a black lung law in West Virginia almost ten years ago. However, the RCP does not grossly exaggerate its role or even the role of the Right to Strike Committee (which probably includes about 30 to 40 members with a few hundred supporters mainly in West Virginia). The influence of the Committee is, in fact, directly dependent upon the massive, nationwide concern among miners to retain the right to strike.
MINERS AND THE WILDCAT STRIKE
The Miners Right to Strike Committee’s attempt to politicize wildcat strikes and to use them as a flashpoint for organizing a rank-and-file movement is based on the rising level of unauthorized strike activity since the ratification of the 1974 contract. Of course, the pattern of unofficial strike activity goes back much further in the history of the industry. Ever since the UMW started engaging in nationwide collective bargaining, its officers have pledged to discipline wildcat strikers, but local strikes still occurred frequently over issues not covered in the contract. Before 1943, many of these strikes went unrecorded, but in that year, when the miners defied the Federal Government in four national strikes (each time violating the wartime “no strike” pledge), the number of newly recorded unauthorized work stoppages increased to 400, including many over local grievances. In 1944 there were 792 stoppages mostly of a local nature, and for the next decade between 400 and 600 such stoppages occurred each year. During this time there were also seven “official” industrywide strikes, including the 59-day walkout in 1946 that established the Health and Pension Funds, and the 1949 strike in defiance of the Taft-Hartley injunction.11
Between 1952 and 1964, when hundreds of thousands of miners lost their jobs as a result of mechanization and competition from other fuels, Lewis—who accepted the need for mechanization—authorized only two national work stoppages. Unauthorized work stoppages averaged less than 200 per year during this period, though the coal miners still struck at three times the national average despite heavy layoffs in the industry. This differential grew even wider in the 1960s as the number of work stoppages in soft coal shot up from 160 in 1966 to 266 in 1968 and then to 457 in 1969, the same year that West Virginia coal miners launched their famous “political” strike to force the state legislature to pass a black lung law.12 With the rank-and-file agitation around black lung, the assassination of reform candidate Jock Yablonski and the organization of the Miners for Democracy, work stoppages increased even more dramatically. Five hundred work stoppages took place in 1970, when the mines were shut down following the Yablonski murders in January and through the efforts of the independent Disabled Miners and Widows organization protesting inadequate compensation from the UMW’s welfare and retirement fund. “Both of these strikes might be classified as political strikes,” according to a report of the Labor Studies Institute of the University of West Virginia, “although they were directed more at the internal affairs of the union than toward broader political goals.”13 Of course these strikes against the union were of great importance, as was the 1969 black lung strike, because they signaled the politicization of the rank-and-file miners struggle.
An unusually high number of the mine work stoppages since World War II have been local wildcat strikes. Between 1966 and 1970 most strikes in U. S. industry took place during renegotiation of the contract with a third or less occurring during the term of the agreement, but Appalachian miners struck 93 percent of the time during the term of the contract. In addition to the health and benefit strike protests, miners struck increasingly over safety issues, alarmed no doubt by the 1968 explosion at the CONSOL mine in Farmington, West Virginia that killed 78 miners.14
In addition to the growing concern over safety in the mines (which still have the highest fatality rates in U.S. industry), a number of other issues have contributed to the rising level of wildcat strikes.
A new generation of workers has entered the mines. The average age of the mine worker has decreased from 49 in 1968 to around 31 today. In fact, there is a gap between the generations with many middle-aged miners in one group and many miners in their early twenties in another. There is no hard evidence to support this but it does seem that the younger miners who have entered the pits in the 1970s (instead of leaving for the city as their older brothers did in the 1950s and 1960s) are more heavily involved in wildcat strike activity, especially in the larger mines where young miners compose most of the midnight to 8 A.M. “hoot owl shift.” Along with this very young group are miners in their early thirties who are Viet Nam vets (West Virginia had the highest per capita fatality rate during the Indo-China war). Like the well-publicized long-haired workers who revolted against GM at Lordstown in 1972, these workers are willing and able to buck the authority of mine foremen and managers whose corporations are pushing for more and more productivity in time of high profitability. Coal company profits increased 100 percent between 1970 and 1974 while miners wages gained by only 7 percent. The operators’ reckless drive for productivity and profitability has all but sabotaged grievance procedure.
After nearly 30 years of working through the same grievance procedure, the 1971 contract introduced some reforms. Serious problems result because miners (a) could not have representation at the first stage of the procedure, (b) only had three grievers on the mine committee, an inadequate number to ensure work-place representation in today’s large-scale, multiple-shift mines, (c) were prohibited from discussing grievances on company time, and (d) experienced long delays in the grievance procedure, which forced miners to substitute the wildcat strike for the grievance procedure. There has been a tendency, according to the West Virginia University study of work stoppages, to “view the grievance procedure, not as a flexible tool through which bargaining over issues which arise on a day-to-day basis takes place, but as a formal, almost judicial procedure for settling conflicts. . . . It may well be that that emphasis on procedure rather than on problem solving is so entrenched in the labor relations of this industry that no changes are possible. If this is so, the grievance procedure will continue to fail as substitute for the wildcat strike.”15 Since 1971 that failure has been manifested in an increasing level of wildcat strike activity that cost the industry 2.5 million “man-days” of labor in 1977. A union official who defends members in grievance procedures at the arbitration level told us: “The companies are still using the grievance procedure the wrong way; they use it to delay issues. These corporation lawyers just don’t look into the human factors in a grievance.”
Work relations in the coal industry have never been good. This sector has been a nightmare to industrial relations experts since the turn of the century. Various craft traditions and work rules established a form of job control at the pit face which protected the miners’ rights until the 1930s when mechanization radically altered work relations in the mines. Miners now work under factory-like supervision with a higher ratio of foremen to workers than in most manufacturing industries. Under these circumstances miners have preserved few of their traditional “freedoms”—like the right to stop working when a foreman entered the “room” and the right to establish their own quitting times—but some of the old work rules have been preserved in union contracts.16 The three-man mine committee is now inadequate for handling grievances (for the reasons mentioned above), but it, along with the safety committees established more recently, retained more power at the workplace than most shop stewards in other industries who have stopped working full-time to become paid troubleshooters. The BCOA contract demand to make mine committeemen subject to discharge for “bad conduct” is the most recent, and most blatant corporation attempt to gain full control over miners at the point of production.
The entry of younger, less “disciplined” miners has not only exacerbated the troubles caused by the deterioration of work relations and the destruction of the grievance machinery; it has clearly contributed to a continued weakening of the work discipline that forced miners to work even when they were exhausted, injured, undernourished, and fearful for their safety. The abolition of the piece-rate system and the introduction of mechanized day work undercut the miners’ traditional freedom to control the pace and length of the working day free from company supervision. But the system of measured day work—combined with the hourly wage increases the UMW has won from a booming coal industry—now gives the miners more choice about whether or not to work for a full week’s time. Rising absenteeism and wildcat striking have hurt the U. S. coal industry productivity (though it is still five times higher in the U.S. than in other countries where the safer “long wall” mining method is used).17 As a result the BCOA’s initial contract demands in 1978 included severe measures designed to reduce work irregularity and increase productivity.18
Here cultural traditions come into play. Relatively isolated in rural sections of Appalachia and other poor states, the coal miners have not been immersed as completely in the consumer culture as have other workers. They are still closer to their rural roots than the Appalachians who have migrated to Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago. Living in the hollows is cheaper and simpler than it is in the cities and suburbs. This may be related to the difficulty the corporations have experienced in forcing miners to accept the “wage trick” (i.e., individualized wage increases instead of collectivized benefits). The isolation of miners’ communities may also be connected with their seeming imperviousness to public opinion, press coverage, and government pressure during strike situations. While the isolation of the coal miners in one-industry towns may in fact be connected to their ability to hold out in long strikes, it is wrong to accept the academic sociological theory that cultural isolation in itself is the reason for the miners’ “high propensity to strike.” This theory conveniently assigns miners, along with lumber workers, sailors and other groups of isolated workers, to a marginal status, so that their class-conscious behavior appears as a “deviant” form of behavior.19 Ben A. Franklin, who covered the strike for the New York Times, bought this theory. In an article headlined: “Coal Strikers: Mountain Men are Clannish, Combative,” he emphasizes the miners’ backwardness and the “Celtic ethnicity” of the Appalachian miners. “In the Anglo-Saxon—not to say Druid—heritage of the southern mountain coal towns, there is still xenophobic uneasiness about ‘furriners’ who work in other fields.” Franklin deemphasizes the class consciousness in the miners militancy by reducing that militancy to an expression of clannish, mountaineer hostility to outsiders.20
The theory of strike propensity based upon isolation, ethnicity, and backwardness is an inadequate explanation of miners’ militancy today. First of all, the coal towns are not nearly as isolated now as they were even two decades ago. More to the point, many miners have worked in other parts of the country, notably Midwestern industrial cities, and have returned to the mines since production increased in the 1970s. They are not clannish backwoodsmen. Secondly, the emphasis on the miners’ combative Celtic ethnicity is misplaced. As coal industry historian Keith Dix pointed out to us, the tradition of the local strike, and the combativity that went with it, came more from the ethnically mixed Pennsylvania and Illinois fields than from the Southern mountain mining areas. Furthermore, even in Appalachia many blacks and Eastern Europeans joined the Anglo-Saxon natives in the mines. Finally, these native-born white miners showed an unusual willingness to cooperate with black and foreign-born miners in order to fight the companies and to form industrial unions. Indeed, the isolated, clannish miners of rural Alabama and Appalachia showed much more willingness to work in common with Afro-Americans than did the white workers in modernized, cosmopolitan areas.21
This is not to say that the miners’ culture is irrelevant to their strong traditions of resistance. There is a proud mountaineer culture which even outsiders absorb after a few generations: West Virginia and Kentucky have a particularly vital mountain musical tradition to which the many fighting miners’ songs are deeply indebted. This is also a gun culture where hunting is a favorite pastime. Of course the fact that miners are able and, if necessary, willing to use firearms means that West Virginians and Kentuckians have been more likely to resort to armed struggle against gun thugs, police, and strikebreakers than other workers.
Political traditions are also important. West Virginia, for example, was unionized much later than some of the other coal fields. Because the UMW came so late to West Virginia, it presented itself to miners as an institutionalized collective-bargaining organization which would bring the benefits of a national contract to the hollows, but would allow for little self-organization or local autonomy. Since the International was so unresponsive to the serious local grievances of West Virginia miners, these workers held on to the right to strike during the term of a national contract. The bitterness of the conflict in this state, which actually involved large-scale armed struggle after World War I, made miners more outraged than most when UMW leaders, like President John P. White (1912–1917), took jobs with the coal companies. West Virginia UMW districts also opposed the growing dictatorship of John L. Lewis in the 1920s. In short, to explain the militancy of miners in West Virginia or elsewhere, we must look beyond “variables” like cultural isolation put forth by sociologists who hope that “modernization” will finally bring “labor stability” to the coal fields.
TRADITIONS OF SOLIDARITY
Unlike other craftsmen who used the job control they exercised to form exclusionary craft unions, the skilled miners allied with unskilled helpers and surface workers to form their industrial union in 1890. And from that point the United Mine Workers of America was one of the country’s most militant unions when it came to organizing the unorganized. The rising level of miners’ strike activity in the 1880s resulted from violations of accepted rules and practices, and payment systems during a period of vast productive expansion. Strikes were not motivated simply by economic wage demands nor were they regulated according to the business cycle, as most academics believed. Miners engaged in an increasing number of “control strikes”—issues of union recognition, work rules, and conditions. In order to defend their traditional freedoms against mechanization and rationalization, skilled miners allied with other workers, like helpers and drivers. In other words, by the time the UMWA was founded miners had already seen the necessity of solidarity among all grades of workers around “general and inclusive demands” as distinct from the narrow, exclusive craft union demands.22
As the mining industry was further consolidated under the aegis of the rail and steel corporations, miners saw the need for strike unity among workers who labored in different mines and in different regions. The formation of a national industrial coal miners union in 1890 was a necessity for workers pitted against the country’s biggest corporations. For example, in 1902 all of the anthracite miners in the country walked out in one of the most important national strikes of the era, forcing President Theodore Roosevelt to threaten seizure of the mines if the corporations did not make some concessions to the union. The unusual nationwide unity displayed by miners from Alabama to Pennsylvania in this current strike testifies to the survival of industrial union traditions of solidarity.
Industrial unionism also opened the miners’ organization to black and immigrant miners. And it helped to make UMW members receptive to the appeals of the Socialist Party in the 1910s. The Debsian Socialists, who successfully introduced a resolution at the 1911 UMW convention favoring the “collective ownership and democratic management of the means of production,” believed that the miners’ brand of industrial unionism was “socialism with its working clothes on.”23 John L. Lewis’s iron-handed control over the union in the 1920s and his purging of Socialists did a lot to subvert this vision of industrial unionism; but the UMW’s vision was restored in the 1930s, as Lewis did an about face, and helped make the Miners’ Union the champion of the unorganized and the foundation of the new CIO unions. Since World War II and the drop in UMW membership from 600,000 in 1946 to about one-third that number today, the pioneer industrial union has lost much of its power and prestige.
Furthermore, with the emergence of collective bargaining for national contracts, locals and even district bodies lost their voice in deciding union policies. “Within a very narrow context,” writes one historian, “the centralization of decision-making within the union can be justified—most industries are themselves concentrated and corporate labor policies are rarely determined by local plant management. It takes large centralized power on the part of unions to deal with large aggregatres of industrial capital. . . .”24 Further, industrial unions have often been led by “strong men” who justified their power as a necessity in dealing more effectively with big business: they were the Hillmans, Dubinskys, Reuthers, and John L. Lewises. Indeed, there is no better example of how the contradiction between national collective bargaining and union democracy was played out than Lewis’s nearly 40 years as UMW president. During the 1920s Lewis shrewdly and ruthlessly purged his enemies in the various districts, including socialists like Alex Howatt, and his main rival, John Brophy of Pennsylvania. During a reorganization drive in 1933, Lewis brought two-thirds of all UMWA district offices under control of the International: Lewis argued that administrative efficiency and collective bargaining power conflicted with district autonomy. In 1936, when discussing the direct election of district officials, Lewis stated: “It is a question of whether you desire your organization to be the most effective instrumentality within the realm of possibility . . . , or whether you prefer to sacrifice the efficiency of your organization . . . for a little more academic freedom in the selection of some local representatives in a number of districts.”25
Many UMW members today believe that Lewis was right—that he had to assume nearly dictatorial powers in order to reorganize the union and help launch the CIO against some of the most brutal corporations in the country. Of course, Lewis’s legacy to industrial unionism remains a contradictory one. Today President Arnold Miller attempts to maintain the contradictory position of pursuing the nationwide pattern of collective bargaining as well as continuing to push himself as the reformer who ousted Tony Boyle and helped the rank and file regain the right to ratify the contract, to enjoy district autonomy, and to elect their district officials. Of course Miller is a much weaker leader than John L. Lewis. Who isn’t? In any case, Miller’s troubles flow from the fact that he is trying to pursue the traditional pattern of nationwide collective bargaining while allowing for a level of union democracy and district autonomy Lewis would have found inconceivable.
So the miners’ current militancy can hardly be tied directly to the legacy of Lewis, though the UMW “godfather” is still remembered for his “no backward step” policy and his defiance of federal government power. Therefore the legacy of the national industrial union—so thoroughly shaped by Lewis’s 40-year reign—is also of dubious significance, even though traditions of industrial union solidarity remain alive.
In the hand-loading piecework era which lasted up to the 1930s the isolated, irregular work of the skilled miner allowed for an amazing degree of control at the point of production where “company men” were few and far between. When it signed its first national contract, the UMW was required to penalize members for lack of discipline and irregularity, but the union refused to enforce contractural rules and allowed the customary work rules to prevail. In 1921 the journal Industrial Management advised factory owners not to hire miners because of their lack of discipline. In the mines, “the possibility of constant supervision or of surprise tests do not exist. The coal miner is accordingly trained to do as he pleases. . . . Transplant such a man into a factory where production is speeded and no imagination is required to picture what will happen.”
“There are many other things also in the daily life of miners that make for their solidarity,” Goodrich wrote, referring to the amount of time miners had to socialize while not working or when traveling to and from work on the “man trip.”26 By the late 1920s mechanized production was extending into the union fields and undermining the sources of miners’ job control by making mine work more factory-like and more subject to close supervision. However, scientific management has never been very successful in the mines. Mining is still such a varied, difficult task that it has been impossible for management to take all of the decision-making power away from miners on the job.
Though mechanized production has taken away some of the skilled miners’ traditional freedoms, social solidarity has remained as part of the job. It still takes miners a long time to get to and from the pitface; work is still somewhat less regular than assembly-line production, and still somewhat difficult to supervise. And of course mining is still extremely dangerous. The hazardous nature of the work continues to unite workers on the same shift and in the same mine. In many smaller union locals, like the famous Brookside local in Harlan County, this unity is reflected in strike solidarity.
It would be romantic to suggest however that unity in coal strikes comes easily and naturally because of the collective danger miners face. Miners are also a very individualistic bunch whose unity has to be obtained through organization. In the nineteenth century coal mining was one of the trades in which workers were especially proud of their “manliness,” often engaging in bloody fights against the operators’ gunmen. “The craftsmen’s ethical code demanded a ‘manly’ bearing toward the boss,” writes one historian. “Few words enjoyed any more popularity in the nineteenth century than this honorific, with all its connotations of dignity, respectability, defiant egalitarianism, and patriarchal male supremacy.” Displaying “manliness” in dealing with one’s fellow workers was as important as it was in confronting the bosses. “Undermining or conniving” at another man’s job was considered “hoggish behavior.” For example in the early work rules of the UMW was imbedded the “principle of the square turn, or equal distribution of mine cars” expressing the traditional miners’ feeling that each man “ought to get a fair share of the work that is going.” Stealing another man’s car or his coal, or endangering other brothers with dangerous work habits was not only considered “unmanly” behavior; it constituted grounds for expulsion from the union. In this sense the quality of “manliness” was associated not only with male supremacy but with the rights and freedoms a “freeborn” American workingman ought to defend.27 Of course, the traits of bravado and macho were also involved, and indeed they still are, because many miners still feel the need to prove themselves as “men” before the bosses, their fellow workers, and their families.
Needless to say, these traits have negative effects, especially in personal lives. When these “manly” qualities are combined with the strong individualism of many miners, there can be disastrous results ranging from ignorance of safety rules to performance of lone acts of terrorism. Only a few women are now working in the mines, but maybe they will bring some changes, because mining is one of the jobs most clearly stereotyped as “man’s work.” The male culture of the miner helps explain a sense of solidarity and combativity at the workplace level and the local union level, but the wider support culture created by mining families and communities is far more important in this regard.
The role played by women in this strike and in mining strikes down through the years deserves special treatment in and of itself. Suffice it to say in this context that the unusual militancy of women in mining communities has made a critical difference in many struggles. The historical record shows these women playing far more than a supportive role; they have been a vanguard in violent confrontations with scabs, police, and gun thugs. This was certainly the case in the Brookside strike, as depicted in Harlan County, U.S.A. The music of Aunt Molly Jackson, Sarah Ogan Gunning, and Hazel Dickens expresses a cumulative sense of class hatred that has built up in union families for generations, but the music also shows that the women are fighting for themselves as well as their men and their children. No one expressed this sensibility more clearly than Florence Reece when she wrote “Which Side Are You On?” during the Harlan County mine wars of the 1930s.
Finally, the kind of community support the miners often achieve not only helps them hold out in long strikes but also increases their militancy. There was strong community solidarity within late nineteenth-century mining towns against the actions of the alien, absentee-owned corporations, often controlled by railroads. Farmers and merchants, as well as doctors, lawyers, preachers, and even law officers, took the side of the miners against the bosses, because they too were threatened by the company-controlled town in which independent proprietors would be restricted or eliminated.28 The petty bourgeoisie in the mining camps was also closely connected to the mining families through commercial ties (the miners were their only clients or customers) and through kinship ties (many saloon keepers, etc. were retired miners). So these people often extended the miners credit, and even joined them in battle against the company’s forces. This tradition seems to have held up as well. As the New York Times reported, the “miners’ ability to weather a long strike is aided by merchants’ support and credit.” A grocer on Cabin Creek in West Virginia said the miners there “were good, honest people, but they’ve had to fight for everything they’ve got. They’re our people and we have to help them anyway we can. Nobody’s going hungry in this valley if I can help it.”29 During the great mining strikes of this century and the last the middle class in mining communities has frequently faced a polarized situation, a violent situation of class conflict in which they chose to stand with the miners when asked: “Which Side Are You On?”
To return then to the questions raised at the outset: it seems that the long strike of 1977–1978 was not an unmitigated defeat, but rather a bitter rank-and-file struggle in which the miners minimized the defeats the operators tried to inflict upon them.
What will the future bring? Many UMW members fear that the union itself is in danger not because of internal “anarchy” as the press would have it, but because the “takeaways” in this context will make it even more difficult to organize non-union mines. At the moment only about one-half the coal mined in the U.S. is union coal.
The miners’ defiance of Taft-Hartley has again shown in their refusal to give up the right to strike in the face of government repression; this might serve as an important lesson to other workers. Furthermore, the strike prevented the BCOA from establishing a routine contractual process for firing wildcat strikers. However, under the protective umbrella of the ARB 108 decision, operators will be able to move against the “instigators” of unofficial work stoppages. The wildcat strike trend will probably ebb as the miners recover from their long strike. But the guerilla warfare at the point of production may actually increase as companies try to enforce industrial discipline to gain the productivity increase they were denied under the last contract.
Arnold Miller’s leadership, badly shaken as a result of the last contract ratification, is now the subject of scorn and hostility in many of the coal fields.30 If Miller himself is to retain any credibility, he will have to move radically in the next few years, perhaps in the direction of organizing the unorganized. In any case, whatever happens to the UMW leadership and whatever happens to company policy vis-a-vis wildcats, the rank-and-file coal miners are in an unusually strong position to make their own history. Though great losses were sustained in this strike, one does not get the sense that the miners returned to work defeated. Frustrated and angry, yes, but not defeated.
*Reprinted from Vol. 12, No. 3 (May–June 1978).
The author thanks all of the people in West Virginia who took the time and effort to discuss the current strike and the political work connected with it, especially Rich Diehl, Keith Dix, Betty Justice, Bruce Miller, Fred Barkey, Howard Green, and the members of the Miners Support Committee in Beckley. Thanks also to Margery Davies and Priscilla Long for good advice, and to Frank Brodhead for his vital help with interviewing, researching, and editing.
1. New York Times, March 26, 1978, p. 1.
2. Coal Patrol, no. 35, Feb. 15, 1978, p. 1.
3. Curtis Seltzer, “Health Care by the Ton,” Health PAC Bulletin, no. 79 (1977), pp. 1–8, 25–32.
4. Linda and Paul Nyden, “Showdown in Coal: A Miner’s Report Pamphlet” (Pittsburgh, 1978), p. 17. It seems likely that the big steel companies who own the captive mines and are so dependent upon coal as a fuel source are behind this new effort to bring totalitarian control to the workplace. After the defeat of Sadlowski’s right-to-strike forces in the recent United Steel Workers election, the companies now enjoy a no-strike contract with the union under the Experimental Negotiating Agreement. The steel corporations, who ran their captive mining towns like concentration camps until the early thirties, would clearly like to impose this pattern on the coal mining industry. What’s more, they are especially dependent upon the high-quality bituminous coal mined only in Appalachia and southern Illinois, the most militant and wildcat-prone of all the coal fields.
5. New York Times, March 26, 1978.
6. See “The U.M.W.: In Near Anarchy,” Time, March 20, 1978, p. 10.
7. Rick Diehl, “UMWA Reform Insurgency: A Recent History,” People’s Appalachia, Winter 1972–1973, pp. 4–5.
8. Charleston (W. Va.) Post-Gazette, July 27, Aug. 29, 1976. Thanks to Keith Dix for sending copies of the newspaper stories on the 1976 wildcat.
9. Ibid., Aug. 9, 11, 1976.
10. Morgantown Dominion-Post, Sept. 1, 1976.
11. Keith Dix, Carol Fuller, Judy Linsky, and Craig Robinson, Work Stoppages and Grievance Procedure in the Appalachian Coal Industry, West Virginia University Institute for Labor Studies (Morgantown, W.Va., 1970), pp. 6, 9.
12. The Institute for Labor Studies report concludes the following after studying the statistics from 1953 to 1970: “The percentage of all workers involved in work stoppages in the coal industry was fifteen times greater than the percentage of workers involved in all U.S. (non-coal) strikes.”
During this same period 3.3 percent of workers in industries other than coal were involved in work stoppages on an average, increased from a low point of 1.6 percent in 1963 to 4.4 percent in 1970. In bituminous coal an average of 49.5 percent of all workers engaged in strikes over the same period, increasing from a low point of 15.2 in 1961 to an amazing 170.9 percent in 1969. The reason that the percentage could exceed 100 is that some miners engaged in more than one work stoppage in a given year. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, the most unionized states, had the biggest percentage of miners involved in work stoppages, while Tennessee, still an open-shop state, had the lowest. Keith Dix et al., Work Stoppages, pp. 16–22.
13. Ibid., pp. 5, 10, 13.
14. Ibid., p. 9. It is difficult to measure the incidence of strikes over safety questions, because they are often listed under other causes. In fact, what the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports as the “issue in a work stoppage may not, in fact, be the basic cause of that stoppage. For example, a local strike may occur and the reported issue might be the company’s discharging of a mine worker. The facts behind the situation might show that the employee was discharged because he refused to obey working orders from his foreman. The facts might show further that the reason the particular worker refused to follow orders was that he believed that if he did so he would jeopardize his own safety.” A safety strike might therefore be listed as a work stoppage caused by a discipline problem. Ibid., p. 27.
15. Ibid., p. 71. Also see Keith Dix on miners’ wildcats in People’s Appalachia, Winter 1972–1973, pp. 22–24.
16. Keith Dix, Work Relations in the Appalachian Coal Industry: The Handloading Era, 1880–1930, West Virginia University Bulletin No. 7–2 (1978).
17. Ibid.; Nyden and Nyden, “Showdown in Coal,” p. 2.
18. Coal Patrol, no. 35, Feb. 2, 1978, pp. 9–10.
19. Clark Kerr and Abraham Seigel, “The Inter-industry Propensity to Strike,” in Kerr, Labor and Management in Industrial Society (Garden City, N. Y., 1964), pp. 105–147. I am indebted to Steve Brier for insightful criticisms of this theory in an unpublished paper entitled “Ethnicity and Class Consciousness in the Colorado Coal Mines.”
20. New York Times, March 5, 1978.
21. On the importance of industrial unionism in general and the UMW in particular with respect to interracial organizing, see Paul B. Worthman and James R. Green, “Black Workers in the New South, 1865–1915,” in Nathan I. Huggins et al., eds., Key Issues in the Afro-American Experience (New York, 1971), vol. 2, pp. 47–69.
22. Jon Amsden and Steven Brier, “Coal Miners on Strike: The Transformation of Strike Demands and the Formation of a National Union,” Journal of Inter-Disciplinary History 7 (Spring 1977): 583–616.
23. On the Socialist Party influence in the UMW during the 1910s see John H. M. Laslett, Labor and the Left (New York, 1970), chap. 6. In the Southwest where the Socialists controlled two UMW districts in this period the Socialist Party established its earliest and strongest locals in the mine union locals where UMW struggles had already established some solidarity across lines of race, nationality and skill. See James R. Green, Grass-Roots Socialism: Radical Movements in the Southwest, 1895–1943 (Baton Rouge, 1978), chap. 5.
24. Keith Dix, “The Point of Production,” People’s Appalachia, Winter, 1972–1973, p. 25.
26. Carter Goodrich, The Miner’s Freedom (Boston, 1925), pp. 57–66.
27. David Montgomery, “Workers’ Control and Machine Production in the Nineteenth Century,” Labor History 18 (Fall, 1976): 491. For an excellent first-hand account of the miners’ pit face control and their informal work rules, see John Brophy, A Miner’s Life (Madison, Wisc., 1964), chap. 4.
28. Herbert Gutman, “The Worker’s Search for Power,” in H. W. Morgan, ed., The Gilded Age: A Reappraisal (Syracuse, 1963), pp. 38–68.
29. New York Times, March 10, 1978.
30. Editor’s note: Following the 1978 strike Arnold Miller suffered a heart attack and was replaced by his more conservative vice president, Sam Church. In December of 1982, Church lost his bid to be elected UMW president to Rich Trumka, an insurgent candidate, who tried to revive some of the aims of the Miners for Democracy.