The history of U.S. coal miners has received limited attention from scholars. Most of the published scholarship has focused on the national scene to the neglect of district and local level developments. In dealing with the period immediately following World War I most authors emphasize the coal strikes of 1919 and 1922, the rise and consolidation of John L. Lewis as president of the United Mine Workers and the battles for union power between Lewis and his chief rivals. In a few cases historians have produced studies of western Pennsylvania coal miners. This article draws on that scholarship and attempts to contribute new elements to the story by looking at a neglected geographical area and underused archival sources.
David Montgomery in The fall of the house of labor: The Workplace, The State and American labor activism, 1865-1925 links the aftermath of World War I, including the coal strike of 1919, to the events of the first half of the 1920s. He describes the factious leaders and rebellious members of the United Mine Workers whose activities led to both programs for the social reconstruction of the United States and almost continuous strikes from 1920-23. This national picture had its counterpart in District 2 and Indiana County where similar struggles for union power and social change occurred. This story forms part of the subject matter for Singer's dissertation and article. In these works he depicts a battle between a working-class conscious rank and file, particularly in Cambria County, and the national office of the United Mine Workers, Their decade long battle resulted in a victory for Lewis and his supporters, but in the process of struggle the miners forged a progressive program which called for the unionization of unorganized miners, the creation of a progressive political party and the fostering of a more democratic union. In the 1920's the miners in District 2 conducted a two front war against the operators and their political allies as well as against John L. Lewis. In his narrative and analysis the coal miners appear as activists rather than as pawns in a leadership struggle.
This article offers a modified framework for examining the period, 1919-21. Instead of highlighting the changes inaugurated in the early 1920's it emphasizes some of the continiuties, particularly how the coal strike of 1919 left an unfinished agenda which coal miners and some of their leaders attempted to address. The unresolved issues produced strikes and internal struggles within District 2 over program and power. This approach creates a linkage between the major coal strikes of 1919 and 1922 and shows the persistence of rank and file radicalism in a generally conservative decade. This perspective found a voice in the speeches and activities of Dominick Gelotte who offered an alternative to John Brophy, President of District 2, as well as John L. Lewis.
World War One brought important changes to Indiana County coal miners. Federal government planners strove to keep the mines in constant operation by increasing the supply of railway cars and reducing the chaos of shipping patterns. In 1917 Congress passed the Lever Act which gave the president the authority to control the distribution of food and fuel. The United States Fuel Administration was established pursuant to this act, with Harry Garfield as its administrator. He allowed wage increases and supported the Washington agreement of 1917. This settlement encouraged the spread of unionization, levied a fine of one dollar per day on any miner who went on strike and declared that the agreement was to run until the end of the war or April 1, 1920, whichever came first. However, problems arose as price increases exceeded the wage gains provided by the agreement. The desire of miners for a new way of life combined their interest in wage demands with more grandiose social and political goals. These issues assumed a special character in District 2 where John Brophy, the President of District 2, supported a more ambitious program than John L. Lewis, the President of the United Mine Workers, strongly emphasizing nationization of the coal mines.
By early 1919 several major national developments began to impinge on labor developments in Indiana County. Coal miners faced a downward pressure on their standard of living which resulted from a combination of increasing prices and the wage stability provided by the Washington Agreement of 1917. A new political and public opinion also emerged as the "Bolshevik issue" became more central to the concerns of our society. The new fears associated with the Seattle General Strike fueled the politican's and the public's fear of radicals and the issue became a national obsession. The contagion reached Indiana County by April, hit a high point on May lst and remained a presence in the early 1920's. Public officials fearful about disorder on May lst convened mass meetings, aroused public enthusiaism for patriotism, supported newspaper ads which condemned Bolshevism as treason, recruited deputy sheriffs and requested the dispatch of a state police unit to help maintain "law and order".
In the case of Coral, a small town seven miles south of Indiana, the "Bolshevik issue" lasted longer than in other places in the county and overlapped with the coal strike of 1919. Its strike began in April 1919 when the Potter Coal and Coke Company failed to recognize the United Mine Workers. The radicalism issue became entwtined with the strike in Coral when public authorities, including a post office inspector, pinpointed Coral as the site of radical agitation. More specifically Lindo Brigman, Post Office inspector for Indiana County, brought charges against R.E. Mikesell, Postmaster as; Coral, "for openly defending Bolshevik outlawry." This allegation brought a response from Peter Ferrara, a leader of District 2, who wrote to William B. Wilson, Secretary of Labor of the United States, to answer charges which Brigman brought against the miners and the postmaster. He denied that the union miners were Bolsheviks and he called for the reinstatement of Mikesell. According to Ferrara's explanation of the incident, Mikesell's dismissal resulted from "the propaganda instituted by the Potter Coal and Coke Company and its agents, for the purpose of humiliating and annoying the said R.E. Mikesell at the expense of the United Mine workers local at Coral, Pennsylvania.
Two other special elements added to the complexity and heightened the emotional level of the struggle at Coral. Strikers suffered eviction from their houses in April and many of them spent the next year living in tents (see photo below; tent colony center right). To compound the problems of the union and the strikers Judge Jonathan Langham, Judge of the Indiana County Court of Common Pleas, presided at a court case involving the local strike leaders. The indictment charged the defendants with interferring with the operations of the company and with those workers who wanted to continue to work. In early July Judge Jonathan Langham issued a broad injunction which prohibited strikers form engaging in activities which impeded production. By the end of the month the defendants had been convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to jail.
The multiple offensive directed against the Coral strikers and the United Mine Workers placed a heavy burden on their limited resources. Nevertheless, they undertook actions which prolonged the conflict although the company and its political allies eventually won the struggle. John Brophy and the District 2 leadership aided by John L. Lewis provided tents for the dispossessed miners. Delegates to the District 2 convention in 1919 raised money to buy shoes for the children and wives of the strikers and also undertook a clothing drive in their behalf. John Brophy dispatched a corps of District 2 organizers to assist the Coral strikers. Brophy also sought intermediaries who would reach the officials of the Potter Coal and Coke Company and arrange for a negotiated settlement. All these efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful as the superior resources of the company and its allies prevailed over the endurance of the miners and the aid of District 2. On April 23, 1920, the District Executive Board decided to discontinue the strike.
Although many Indiana County Coal miners and leaders of District 2 expressed an ongoing concern about developments in Coral and provided some aid to the strikers, by September 1919 most leaders and members of the United Mine Workers, including those in Indiana County, shifted their attention to the proceedings of the national convention at Cleveland. Delegates supported a major wage increase, a shorter work week, and nationalization of the mines. Lewis, on the other hand, took a more cautious stance especially about nationalization and debates between leaders and insurgents marked the convention proceedings. The convention also provided an opportunity for local unions to offer resolutions and several Indiana County locals responded. For example, Local 601 in Clymer demanded a closed shop, the end of car pushing and a thirty hour week with a sixty percent wage increase. The car pushing issue involved the compensation to coal miners for pushing cars from side areas of the mine to the main track where mechanical power moved the coal cars. More impressive, however, were the resolutions presented by Local 831 in Ernest which occupied ten pages of the convention proceedings. Their resolutions reiterated the demands of the Clymer local, but added many other proposals. Some of their demands focused on the workplace while others emphasized the community setting. Their proposals included a closed shop, better safety conditions and improved premium pay. in the community sphere they demanded pure water and a small hospital and condemned eviction policies, the use of armed force against women and children and compulsory use of the company store. However, the major decision of the delegates was their authorization of Lewis to call a strike on November lst if their demands for higher wages, shorter hours and nationalization couldn't be achieved by collective bargaining. The operators refused to engage in serious bargaining and by early October collective bargaining broke down and the federal government entered the conflict. This intervention hurt the coal miners as President Woodrow Wilson described the strike as unlawful. Judge A.B. Anderson issued an injunction against the strike, troops were placed on alert and the Bureau of Investigation mobilized secret agents. Nevertheless, the United Mine Workers and the miners followed through with their plans. On November 1, 1919, about 400,000 miners struck nationwide, including 50,000 in District 2 according to John Brophy's estimate, this was a crucial event for the fortunes of coal miners in the next decade.
In Indiana County all of the miners at the organized mines struck and some of the unorganized miners also walked out. At the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company, the dominant producer in the county, all of their mines closed and 4,500 miners walked out. At the Clearfield Bituminous Coal Company, another major producer, almost all of its miners struck. Leading Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company officials saw the strike as a long term opportunity although they realized it would result in immediate production and profit loses. The letters of B. M. Clark, President of the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company, emphasize the new possibilities opened by the strike. The changed climate of opinion gave operators a chance to end the abuse they'd suffered at the hands of organized labor. The injunction handcuffed union officials and organizers from communicating with their members and offering them financial aid. The Lever Act, with its penalty clause fining miners $1 per man per day for strike activity, placed a powerful weapon in the hands of the operators. In the Iselin mine alone the clause produced $6,300 in pay deductions by early November. It also induced some miners to return to work. The operators also maximized deductions from store accounts and rents. Clark wrote that because the miners had struck and allowed the public to freeze, their misconduct justified actions by the operators "in giving them a little dose of their own medicine and allowing them to freeze also."
The operators also boasted about the powerful weapon of government support. The strike placed the miners in contempt of court and thereby produced a fight between the government and the United Mine Workers. The federal government intervened in other ways as well. The Department of Justice stationed secret agents in the Indiana region to watch the United Mine Workers leaders and to act on any violation of the restraining order. B. M. Clark recieved a telegram which advised him to report all disturbances and unlawful conduct to the Governor of Pennsylvania who would forward the information to the War Department. In one case two miners had been arrested for interfering with the operation of non-union mines in Indiana County. The Department of Justice handled the case by sending the U. S. Marshal to take them to Pittsburgh to answer charges in the U. S. District Court. B. M. Clark sought an opportunity to restart a mine because if this action produced a row he would be content "because we then can secure United States government soldiers." More specifically, he wanted to restart the Iselin operation because "we are prepared to put in some Indiana local soldiers in uniform at the town of Iselin." Aid from the federal government also came in another form. An official, in charge of the coal branch of taxation affairs, stated that he would put two members of his staff on the coal company cases "with the hope that he could figure out results to our benefit." The National Coal Operators Association appropriated money to employ two or three men "to work with the Treasury Department to figure out results beneficial to the coal operators under the years 1917 and 1918. They expect to work out principles that will produce a tax refund."
The Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company also had influence with the state and local governments. For example, B. M. Clark referred to the Lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania as a personal friend of his. In another case, his intervention, a trip to Harrisburg, led Governor Sproul to place "a small detachment of State Constabulary at Indiana which will patrol the various mining districts in that section. This detachment will be increased as rapidly as possible." Beyond that Sproul "perfected plans for putting in reserve forces very promptly. Confidentially the state authorities have already in their possession a large amount of firearms to meet any necessity that may arise." At the local level, coal companies benefitted from the sympathetic attitude and decisions of Judge Jonathan Langham, who issued the injunction in the Coral strike of 1919 which led to the jailing of the local strike leader and his close associates. Sheriff Boggs offered to aid the Clymer miners who decided to return to work. He also issued a proclamation which prohibited gatherings which posed a threat to property and public order. Pressure also built to a high point at the national level as Judge A. B. Anderson issued a sweeping injunction against the strike on November 8th. In his ruling he described the strike as illegal and cited union leaders as parties barred from all aspects of strike action. Lewis responded to this threat by convening and emergency meeting of the union's executive board on November 10th. At his behest, its members voted to comply with the injunction, but under protest. In District 2 John Brophy made no effort to get the strikers back to work and they remained at home. Secretary Richard Gilbert declared that cancellation of the strike must come from the local unions. The strike dragged on into December with unionized miners standing firm and an impasse in negotiations prevailing. The federal government intensified its pressure on the miners and the union as the Wilson administration threatened to deploy troops to reopen the mines. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer mounted an antiradical and anti-labor campaign and a federal court issued contempt citations against union officials. At this point Lewis intensified his effort to convince the miners to accept the proposal for a fourteen percent wage increase and the appointment of an investigatory commission to continue the exploration of the wage issue. The Executive Board concurred with this initiative and the United Mine Workers issued a circular, signed by John L. Lewis, John Brophy and other officials, which called on the miners to return to work. Indiana County miners received these instructions by December llth and John Brophy expected a speedy return to work by the miners. However, press reports reflected some exception s to the immediate back to work movement. An article on the 24th reported that miners at the Lucerne Works hadn't returned to work.
In a formal sense, by 1920, the coal strike of 1919 was over. However many of the issues raised by the strike played a major role in the developments of the early 1920's. Labormanagement relations in the coal industry of the 1920's were effected by intra-coal industry competition as well as power struggles within the leadership of the United Mine Workers and the pressure on profits exerted by the competition of other fuels such as oil and natural gas. Under these conditions some coal operators sought a more flexible wage scale which would allow unionized coal companies to respond to the pressures of competition from nonunion districts. more specifically, coal operators in the central Pennsylvania district argued that they needed wage cuts in order to be competitive. This argument was presented by Thomas H. Watkins, president of the Pennsylvania Coal and Coke Corporation and a prominent official of the Central Pennsylvania Coal Producers Association, who contended that union operators could not compete with the lower labor costs in nonunion mines, especially in West Virginia. Therefore, miners should accept lower wages in order to retain jobs. A specific concern was expressed earlier at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Central Pennsylvania Coal Producers Association at which the members expresssed the fear that the railroads, the largest single purchaser of bituminous coal, would reduce its purchases from higher price suppliers and increase their orders from the lower price districts. Watkins published a pamphlet in which he reiterated the case of the operators in behalf of lower wages. John Brophy responded with a pamphlet which called on management to maintain its agreement with the union and asserted that slack work resulted from the lack of a market rather than high wage levels.
Charles Potter, former chairman of the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company, provides another perspective on the issue of intra-coal industry competition. He declared that although North/South wage and transportation differentials deserve examination in any investigation of the coal industry of the 1920's, they have less pertinence to Indiana County than to most other areas. In this county the key coal operators were either "captive operations" or used special markets. The Clearfield Bituminous Coal Company provides the best example of a "captive company" because of its connections with the New York Central Railroad and the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company depended on markets in New York, New England and Canada. In neither case did the companies face direct competition from southern coal producers. He also noted that an excessive focus on regional competition can mask the ownership of mines in several regions by producers such as U.S. Steel, Bethlehem Steel, and the Morgan, Rockefeller and Mellon interests.
Unresolved tensions within the United Mine Workers surfaced at its convention in early January 1920. Lewis pinpointed the purpose and determination of the federal government as a key factor in the decision of the United Mine Workers officers to accept the plan of settlement proposed by the President of the United States. Philip Murray, president of District 5, moved affirmation of the report and contended that a favorable vote would prove the loyalty of the delegates to their country, their union and the officers of their organization. Numerous delegates spoke in opposition to the motion, however. A delegate from District 12, based in Illinois, presented the most detailed case for the critics. He declared that it was better to go to jail to defend your rights, as Debs had done, than to back down on a matter of principle. He also called for the ouster of Lewis. However, he expected Murray's motion to pass because of the power of the well oiled machine which supported it. Other critics of the motion emphasized the importance of fighting for freedom. However, at the end of the debate the delegates supported the Murray motion by a 1639-231 vote.
Some miners in Indiana County faced more pressing and immediate problems. In November and December of 1919 the events of the national coal strike overshadowed the developments at Coral. However, the Coral strikers persisted in their organizing drive and the leaders and organizers of District 2 provided them with some assistance. This effort suffered from several internal difficulties including the appropriate division of power among John Brophy, the district Executive Board member responsible for this territory and the organizers assigned to Coral. Also miners from nearby towns went to work in Coral because it offered an attractive work environment consisting of a five or six day work week and "good weight", accurate weighing, for their coal. These problems combined with an intransigent employer backed by the political system, embodied in the Langham injunction, overwhelmed the efforts of the strikers and the organizers. Therefore, the district Executive Board, at its April 23rd meeting decided to discontinue the strike.
The Indiana Evening Gazette noted the parallels between the confrontation at Coral and the conflict at Valier where some employees of the Pansy Coal Company struck in May 1920 in order to organize the mine, counter the discharge of miners for union activities and introduce a checkweighman to check on coal weights. The company responded to this initiative by introducting a bill of complaint in the Indiana County Court. Judge Jonathan Langham heard the testimony in the case and then issued a ruling. The counsel for the plaintiff alleged that the unlawful actions and threats of the defendants reduced the work force, although many employees wanted to work. Their campaign of terrorization included name calling, visits to the houses of workers and carrying picks and clubs. The counsel for the defendants responded to these charges by denying that his clients had engaged in coercion or interference. He affirmed the existence of an organizing campaign but he denied that coercive means had been used by the United Mine Workers. Nevertheless, in early August Judge Jonathan Langham issued a permanent injunction which restrained the United Mine Workers from interfering with the employees of the Pansy Coal Company. Its terms included a restraint of the United Mine Workers from assembling at or near the mine and interfering with employees going to and from the mine by the use of menaces, threats or demonstrations. The order also prohibited the defendants from annoying the plaintiff in the conduct of his business. officials of District 2 who considered appealing this decision realized that other courts would most likely uphold Judge Jonathan Langham's contention that a congregation of numbers of protesters by its nature created an atmosphere of force.
After the Coral struggle a new battle emerged at Ernest as well as Valier. In this case workers complained about descrepancies in the length of the work day of workers who earned the same wage. Some miners worked an eight hour day while other employees such as shop men, often labored for ten or twelve hours a day. Officials of Local 831 contacted Brophy about this grievance and indicated that some workers would refuse to pay dues until district officials redressed their grievance. A local union offical wrote a letter to B. M. Clark, president of the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal Company, in which he demanded a satisfactory scale by July 15th. When Clark failed to give them satisfaction they began a strike on the 16th. Their walkout left the tools of the miners unsharpened and led the miners to remain at home. After the shop men rejected the entreaties of company officials to return to work, the officials threatened to collect a fine from all of the Ernest miners because their absence from work was a strike. Peter Ferrara, District Executive Board member from the Indiana area, wrote to Brophy in late July that "he will not stand for it" and if they're looking for trouble "they may get it." Brophy wrote to Clark in a slightly more tempered vein, but in a way which conveyed his displeasure with the prospect of the company deducting a fine from the pay checks of the workers. He described such a policy as "arbitrary" and "without justification." Moreover, he feared that "it would intensify present unrest." However, the company wouldn't budge and union officials could do little to help the miners.
An increasingly hostile political climate added to the woes of union officials and miners in Indiana County. The fear of Bolsheviks and radicals which played a role in the events of 1919 didn't abate. It continued into 1920-1921 and affected both the public realms and the internal workings of District 2. In February, Federal Department of Justice and state police officials arrested nine members of the Ukrainian Branch of the Communist Party, Local 59 in Coal Run. other officials raided the Communist headquarters in McIntyre. These efforts led to one deportation. A raid at Sagamore, a small town just across the county line in Armstrong County, conducted by the sheriff backed by the state police destroyed a large quantity of anarchist literature and seized a Russian who is likely to be deported. Although May Day of 1920 passed quietly in Indiana County, one incident highlighted the ongoing intense emotionalism about radicalism. A state trooper, who saw a flash of red, a color taboo on May lst, sprang into action. He tore a beautiful red flower from the lapel of a man's coat, threw the flower to the ground and told "the foreigner" to keep going. This incident paralleled a 1919 case which featured Davis A. Palmer, a prominent socialist and merchant. In his case the wearing of a red flower led to an altercation with a state trooper on May lst which brought him into Judge Jonathan Langham's courtroom.
The comparative solidarity of union leaders and miners illustrated by the Coral, Valier and Ernest struggles did not pervade all aspects of the activities of District 2 in 1920-1921. In other cases debate often turned into division as power struggles were reinforced by ideological differences. These conflicts had their roots in external and internal factors. The concern about radicalism led to raids and repression and helped to create a climate of antagonism inside the union as well as in the larger society. However, racial and ethnic factors led to less divisiveness in District 2 than in many of the other districts of the United Mine Workers. Prior to the 1922 strike relatively few blacks worked in Indiana County coal mines. Thus, racial tension play a less prominent role in this area then in southern West Virginia and District 5, the region south of the Pittsburgh, where there were more black coal miners. Ethnicity was a more divisive element than racial division, but solidarity in the face of the coal operators and their allies usually predominated. Differences between earlier and more recent immigrant groups sometimes led to tension and ethnic solidarity provided a major unifying element in some coal towns. To the extent that ethnicity became the focus of attention Italian Americans were usually in the spotlight. They provided a core of supporters for Dominick Gelotte and called on district leaders to provide Italian speakers for their meetings and special events.
The activities and ideas of Dominick Gelotte generated the most concern among top leaders of District 2. Although he boasted an impressive record of service to the UMWA which included three years as a national organizer, four years as a district organizer and activity as a liaison with the Johnstown steel workers in the Steel Strike of 1919, his ideology, flamboyant debating style and popularity among foreign born miners made the leaders of District 2 very uneasy. Gelotte's dismissal as a special organizer in March 1920 added to the tension, although the District leadership explained the move as due to financial difficulties. Union leaders remained concerned about his activities and Brophy and a supporter worked to counteract a circular and other statements by Gelotte. In the circular of Local Union 1386 of Nanty Glo, signed by Gelotte, its authors condemned Brophy for accepting a scale agreement which didn't deal with car pushing, Brophy looked to the results of the special convention at DuBois as a rebuff to Gelotte.
Union officials called the convention because of the failure of mine members of the scale committee to sign the agreement negotiated with the operators in April 1920. Its critics denounced the inadequacy of the wage increas'Re and the scale's failure to eliminate the penalty clause and car pushing. Its defenders, led by Vice President James Mark, described the agreement as the best scale obtainable under the circumstances and chastised its opponents for their failure to offer suggestions about how to get a better agreement. The critics, led by Gelotte, directed most of their attack against the penalty clause which impeded the freedom of action of the miners and left unfulfilled the promise made by Brophy in his 1916 election campaign, Gelotte, who gained the right to speak but not to vote after a lively debate, declared that approval of the scale would be equivalent to an endorsement of using injunctions to break the coal strike of 1919. He told the delegates that their comrades who died in France protest from their graves and tell us "turn it down, turn it down." Nevertheless, the delegates approved the scale which proveded for a 27% wage increase, by an overwhelming vote and thereby drew praise from the DuBois Courier.
This decision didn't end dissatisfaction within the district, however. The operators refused to reopen negotiations, but offered the miners a wage increase which they rejected. The District 2 Policy Committee demanded an adequate wages increase, an end to car pushing and abolition of the penalty clause. The convention, which met in September, focused on the wage issue with John Brophy supporting a modification of the original demands and a strong minority, led by Dominick Gelotte, favoring the retention of the original wage demands. Gelotte's rationale emphasized the prevailing cost of living, company profits and coal prices. The convention decided, with the pressure and persuasion of James Mark, to submit the strike issue to a membership referendum rather than a vote of the convention delegates. The operators rejected the demands of the District 2 convention with the expectation that the membership would reject the strike option. The results of the referendum confirmed their expectation. Their decision earned them praise from both the United Mine Workers Journal and the Indiana Evening Gazette. The Gazette explained the issue as an attempt by the "radical element" to force a strike and applauded the success of the cooler heads.
Concurrent with the battles over wages and other issues between the miners and the operators was a struggle for offices in District 2. Both John Brophy and James Mark faced opposition in the 1920 election. Dominick Gelotte, one of the strongest debaters in the district and very popular figure among foreign born miners, faced James Mark in the race for vice president. Gelotte explained his motivation for seeking the office in a letter announcing his candidacy. He noted the encouragement of his friends, his long experience in the labor movement and his desire to have a more direct opportunity to fight for the rights of his class. If elected he promised to defend and aid the workers. He viewed his eighteen years of activity in the labor movement as the best testimonial to his abilities. Gelotte concluded his letter by noting that he lacked the support of both national and district administrations and that he ran as the "candidate selected by actual working brothers" who if elected to office would "be under obligation to the rank and file and to no others." The election results produced decisive victories for Mark and Brophy and indicated general satisfaction with their policies and an effective organization. Dominick Gelotte and his supporters could offer cogent critiques of the policies of the district leadership but they lacked the organizational and financial resources and the broad based popular following to mount a major challenge to the Brophy team.
Ideological conflict as well as power politics characterized the struggle between the officers of District 2 and "more radical elements." The resolutions of a special convention of territory 6 of District 2 which met in December 1920 illustrated the international outlook of some dissidents. One resolution condemned the inhuman blockade of the Soviet Union endorsed by the United States government and criticized our government's role in support of the invasions of the Soviet Union. The delegates also called for establishing communications with the Soviet Union so that Russia could purchase supples in the United States and thereby reduce our unemployment rate.26 More threatening to District 2 officials was a Council of Action Convention held at Altoona in February 1921. The convention participants included Ben Legere, George Speed and Dominick Gelotte. Legere was a national organizer for One Big Union, most likely a less threatening designation for the Industrial Workers of the World, while Speed had a long record as a labor activist on the West Coast, in the South and in the Middle West. His organizational activities for the Industrial Workers of the World including organizing timber workers in Louisiana and Texas, involvement in the Akron Rubber Workers Strike of 1913 and organizing the North Dakota wheat fields. Legere, also a leader of the Altoona General Workers Union of the One Big Union, called for all labor unions in Central Pennsylvania to come together. Gelotte offered a variant of this plea by declaring that all workers should be in one big organization. In addition to hearing speakers, the fifty-five delegates, a majority composed of miners from District 2, chose a fifteen member Council of Action, which included Dominick Gelotte, and passed a series of resolutions. One resolution demanded the immediate release of all labor and political prisoners. Another resolution endorsed the idea of the One Big Union and the United Mine Workers joining forces with the Industrial Workers of the World. In a more political vein, the delegates passed a resolution about the Sacco-Vanzetti Case. The case involved these once obscure immigrant radicals who gained lasting fame following their arrest for robbery and murder. In the long period between their trial and their eventual execution their supporters depicted them as victims of chauvimism and conservatism. The resolution described their conviction as a frame-up and called for support to "save the innocent workers from the electric chair." In addition the delegates raised money for Sacco and Vanzetti and resolved to publicize their resolutions and to write to their labor heroes. Mainstream leaders of District 2 viewed these developments as dangerous and mounted a counterattack. In mid-March, Peter Ferrara, a district Executive Board member from Indiana, wrote to John Brophy. He informed Brophy that held sent information to Richard Gilbert, secretary of District 2, about United Mine Workers locals which had sent delegates to the Altoona Convention. Ferrara also reported the presence of an Industrial Workers of the World organizer in Indiana who had spent three weeks recruiting members for the One Big Union. He noted that Gelotte had visited the Indiana area quite often, highlighted by a trip to Homer City about which Ferrara surmised, "I suppose to organize his Bolshevikii friends." One Big Union circulars were also being sent to the Indiana area from Chicago. More dangerous, however, according to Ferrara was the support and sympathy of some local union officers for this cause. He advised Brophy to get busy and begin the process of removing such officials. To deal with these problems Ferrara requested that other union officials come to Indiana and assist him in handling the situation. In April John Brophy received another letter from Ferrara about Gelotte and the One Big Union. Ferrara mentioned a report held received from an organizer who had seen Gelotte mailing letters at the Indiana Post Office which Ferrara assumed was part of Gelotte's campaign in behalf of the One Big Union. He then presented his belief that Gelotte was "employed by the one Big Union and is working in their behalf." Brophy wanted positive evidence that District 2 members belonged to the one Big Union or work for the one Big Union before taking action against them. In another letter to Ferrara, Brophy stated that held dispatched an organizer to assist him and presented the case to be used in discussing the One Big Union. This presentation emphasized the failures of the One Big Union District is (Northwest Canada), the One Big Union's attempt to disrupt the shop union of railway workers in Altoona and the value of the District 2 program. In April, an organizer, who earlier in the year had received reports about Gelotte, wrote to Brophy that the One Big Union had made some inroads in the Six Mile Run area, but held found someone to inform him "if anything dangerous springs up.
The radical group of dissidents surrounding Dominick Gelotte is a group whose exact character is difficult to pinpoint. The limited information about them indicates that they weren't too numerous although very loyal. our tiest indicator is the results of the District 2 election where Gelotte suffered a decisive defeat. However he most likely had a larger group of sympathAzers who looked to him as a critic of the national and district leadership of the United Mine workers. Miners perceived him as a voice calling for a more democratic union, a more assertive union and a more progressive union. The ethnic background of his supporters isn't clear, but recent immigrants, especially Italian-Americans, were more likely than other miners to support him. The clearest evidence of community support for Gelotte came from Nanty-Glo, a Cambria County stronghold of the United Mine Workers. In this town he not only gained support from his local union, but he also built a political base which brought him victories in several local elections. In this unrepresentative coal town, miners were an integral part of the community who associated with other residents in civic and fraternal organizations, church groups and political affairs. The Labor Chautauqua which featured education and entertainment offered town residents an alternate progressive perspective on local and national issues.
In addition to the activities of Dominick Gelotte, other expressions of radical sentiment came from District 2 members. Local union 1957 at Waterman submitted several controversial resolutions to the United Mine Workers Convention at Indianapolis in September 1921. Resolution No. 497 called on the convention to form into one big union and to stop interfering with the radical movement. Resolution No. 499 contained several parts. It described the American Federation of Labor as a menace to the United Mine Workers and called on the United Mine Workers to withdraw from its ranks. The American Legion was described as an enemy to organized labor and the local called on the United Mine Workers to begin the process of suspending members of the American Legion BVm the United Mine Workers. Finally, it condemned the editor of the United Mine Workers Journal for publishing anti-Soviet propaganda and called for his suspension as well as recommending that the Convention endorse U.S. recognition of the Soviet union.
Many district dissidents and others stood behind Alex Howat, President of District 14 in Kansas, a leading critic of John L. Lewis. HoWat condemned Lewis and his associates for their dictatorial tactics in running the union and their laxity in battling the coal operators. He ran for Vice President of the United Mine Workers in 1920 and did well in District 2 in his battle against Philip Murray for this post. His conflict with Lewis came to a head at the 1921 Convention where a majority of the delegates voted to suspend him from office for violating a contract with the operators. Howat responded to this action by appealing to the rank and file for their support and raising the banner of labor solidarity. This appeal resonated in District 2 and sparked numerous resolutions by local unions against Lewis and the actions of the convention. The extent of the opposition led the Punxsutawney Spirit to editorialize that Howat "seems to have the support of the majority of miners of this section." Many local unions also passed resolutions in opposition to the Kansas Industrial Court an instrument which outlawed strikes and mandated the compulsory arbitration of labor disputes. Herman Carletti, the District Executive Board member from Punxsutawney, echoed these sentiments in a letter to Lewis. He criticized the actions Lewis had taken against Howat and called on him to resign. Carletti also recommended that Lewis stop squandering money on his fight against Howat and instead provide financial aid to the District 2 miners and their families who were living in desperate circumstances.
Other signs of tension between District 2 leaders, especially John Brophy, and John L. Lewis also emerged. A letter to Brophy in October 1920 informed him about a rumor concerning the presence of twenty national organizers in the district who engaged in electioneering activities rather than doing organizing work. The letter asked Brophy for his assessment of the accuracy of the rumor. Brophy replied that national organizers seldom informed him about their presence in the district. However, he was aware that some organizers had arrived recently but he didn't know how many there were nor the object of their visits. These tensions would escalate later as result of differences between Lewis and Brophy over the conduct of the 1922 strike and the nationalization of the coal mines issue.
However, demands on employers brought solidarity into UMWA ranks. The resolutions submitted to the 1921 Convention by Local 831 at Ernest embodied this unifying element. They demanded a six hour day for five days a week at the same pay as well as the elimination of both the penalty clause and car pushing. The eviction issue produced the most emotional resolution. In its preface they described a civil war waged by coal barons against them and their families which led to evictions when the miners struck. The resolution declared that the operators should have no power under the scale to remove workers from so called company houses.
Employers also presented their demands which increasingly focused on wage reductions. In their appeals for public sympathy and political support they turned to the emotional issue of radicalism as a key weapon. The Central Pennsylvania Coal Association demanded relief from the union as a requirement to maintain their market share in the face of competition from lower labor cost producers. Without this adjustment they predicted catastrophe for the district. However, according to the operators, District 2 officers not only remained oblivious to this impending disaster but engaged "in extending propaganda for the nationalization of coal miners and for the control of the industry by the miners. In other words they are busily engaged in an attempt to sovietize the Central Pennsylvania fielded."
The formal settlement of the coal strike of 1919 left many issues unresolved for Indiana County coal miners. They channeled some of their discontent into localized strikes which they fought at Coral, Valier and Ernest. The "Red Scare" issue, which peaked in 1919, not only affected local politics and public opinion, but it intruded into the affairs of District 2. Some union officials used this issue against their critics. Thus, ideological differences and power struggles factionalized District 2 miners. Some of the more radical miners rallied around Dominick Gelotte. He and his supporters advocated a more democratic union, a more assertive policy toward coal operators and a more open attitude toward cooperation with radical labor organizations. In these struggles John Brophy occupied a middle position between Lewis and Gelotte supporters. Ironically, Brophy who mobilized antiradical sentiment to cement his position in District 2, would later suffer from the "red baiting" of both the coal operators and John L. Lewis.
Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Hotline
© 2007-2015 Indiana University of Pennsylvania
1011 South Drive, Indiana, Pa. 15705 | 724-357-2100