united mine workers

The United Mine Workers of America (UMW or UMWA) is a North American labor union that represents workers in mining. One of the groups in the forefront of the fight for collective bargaining in the early 20th century, the UMW was founded in Columbus, Ohio, on January 22, 1890, by the merger of two earlier groups, the Knights of Labor Trade Assembly No. 135 and the National Progressive Union of Miners and Mine Laborers. It was modeled after the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

After passage of the National Recovery Act in 1933, organizers spread out throughout the United States to organize all coal miners.

During the 1930s the UMWA was often thought by many men in the field as being too involved in "Washington Politics" spawning such alternative unions such as the Progressive Mine Workers.

Famous UMWA leaders include John Mitchell, co-founder Philip H. Penna and John L. Lewis.


Violent clashes

The union's history is filled with examples of members and their supporters violently clashing with company-hired strikebreakers and government forces:

  • Lattimer Massacre - September 10, 1897. 19 miners were killed by police in Lattimer, Pennsylvania, during a march in support of unions.
  • Battle of Virden - October 1898. Part of the larger mine wars that established Illinois as the leading union state in the country, and the reason that Mother Jones is buried at Mt. Olive, Illinois
  • Ludlow Massacre - April 20, 1914. 20 people, including women and children, killed when armed police, hired guns, and Colorado National Guardsmen broke up a tent colony formed by families of miners who had been evicted from company-owned housing.
  • Matewan, West Virginia - May 19, 1920. 12 men were killed in a gunfight between town residents and the Baldwin Felts Detective Agency, hired by mine owners. This is depicted in the John Sayles film Matewan.
  • The 'Redneck War' - 1920-21. Generally viewed as beginning with the Matewan Massacre, this conflict involved the struggle to unionize the southwestern area of West Virginia. It led to the march of 10,000 armed miners on the county seat at Logan, ending in the Battle of Blair Mountain in which the miners fought state militia, local police, and mine guards. These events are depicted in the 1987 novel Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina and the 2005 novel Blair Mountain by Jonathan Lynn.
  • The Herrin massacre occurred in June 1922 in Herrin, Illinois. 19 strikebreakers and 2 union miners were killed in mob action between June 21-22, 1922.

Organized politics

The United Mine Workers ran candidate Frank Henry Sherman under their union banner in the 1905 Alberta general election. Sherman's candidacy was driven to appeal to the significant population of miners working in the camps of southern Alberta. He finished second in the Pincher Creek electoral district.

BESCO Strike, Nova Scotia

District 26 of the UMWA in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada struck in early March 1925 against the British Empire Steel Corporation (BESCO). On June 4, the union pulled its men from a company power plant in New Waterford. More than fifty company police, many on horseback, occupied the plant on the morning of June 11. An estimated 700 - 3,000 miners and supporters gathered in New Waterford and marched to the power plant that morning. The company police opened fire when the crowd arrived and then charged the crowd on horseback, swinging nightclubs and firing revolvers. Miners fought back with stones and pulled police off horses. William Davis, a miner, was shot dead and several others were wounded by gunfire or trampled by horses. After the riot ended, the miners sabotaged and disabled the power plant for the duration of the strike. Police and company officials that didn't escape the battle were locked up in the town jail. In the following nights, company stores were raided and burned, including the colliery building. The Canadian Army deployed thousands of soldiers to the area in the second largest deployment in history for civil unrest within Canada. The union later suspended the 100 percent strike, allowing maintenance workers to return.

The 1925 strike lasted through the summer and contributed to the bankruptcy and breakup of the BESCO conglomerate several years later. The strike against BESCO by UMWA 26 in the Sydney Coal Field was unprecedented for the violence and militancy exhibited by the company toward the striking miners and changed the labour dynamics in Industrial Cape Breton.

Harlan County War

In the summer of 1973, workers at the Duke Power-owned Eastover Coal Company's Brookside Mine and Prep Plant in Harlan County, Kentucky voted to join the union. Eastover management refused to sign the contract and the union went on strike. Duke Power brought in replacement non-union workers, who were attacked. Hogg, the local judge was a coal operator himself and consistently ruled for Eastover. He was accused of being paid off by the company. During much of the strike the mine workers' wives and children joined the picket lines. Many were arrested, some hit by baseball bats, shot at, and struck by cars. One striking miner, Lawrence Jones, was shot and killed by a replacement worker, Bill Bruner. Bruner served no time for the murder.

Three months after returning to work, the national UMWA contract expired. On November 12 1974, 120,000 miners nationwide walked off the job. The nationwide strike was bloodless and a tentative contract was achieved three weeks later. This opened the mines and reactivated the railroad haulers in time for Christmas. These events are depicted in the documentary film Harlan County, USA.

Other strikes

On October 21, 1902, the five-month Coal Strike of 1902, led by the United Mine Workers, ended.

Internal conflict

The union's more recent history has sometimes been marked by internal strife and corruption, including the 1969 murder of Joseph Yablonski, a reform candidate who lost a race for union president against incumbent W. A. Boyle. Boyle was later convicted of ordering the murder.

The killing of Yablonski resulted in the birth of a pro-democracy movement called the "Miners for Democracy" (MFD) which swept the Boyle regime out of office and replaced it with a group of leaders who had been most recently rank and file miners. Led by new president Arnold Miller, the new leadership enacted a series of reforms which gave UMWA members the right to elect their leaders at all levels of the union and to ratify the contracts under which they worked.

Decline of labor unionism in mining

Automation and a general decline in American unions cut heavily into the UMW's membership after World War II. In 1998 the UMW had about 240,000 members, half the number it had in 1946. In the early 2000s, the union represented about 42 percent of all employed miners. The UMW is most powerful in West Virginia, as well as in Montana and other western states.


External links

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