united mine workers

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Lucas, Iowa
Population: 216

John Llewellyn Lewis (February 12, 1880 – June 11, 1969) was an American leader of organized labor who served as president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1920 to 1960. A major player in the history of coal mining, he was the driving force behind the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which established the United Steel Workers of America and helped organize millions of other industrial workers in the 1930s.

A leading liberal, he played a major role in helping Franklin D. Roosevelt win a landslide in 1936, but as an isolationist broke with Roosevelt in 1940 on FDR’s anti-Nazi foreign policy. Lewis was a brutally effective and aggressive fighter and strike leader who gained high wages for his membership while steamrolling over his opponents, including the United States government. Lewis was one of the most controversial and innovative leaders in the history of labor, gaining credit for building the industrial unions of the CIO into a political and economic powerhouse to rival the AFL, yet was widely hated by calling for nationwide coal strikes which critics believed damaging to the American economy and war effort. His massive leonine head, forest-like eyebrows, firmly set jaw, powerful voice and ever-present scowl thrilled his supporters, angered his enemies, and delighted cartoonists. Coal miners for 40 years hailed him as their leader, whom they credited with bringing high wages, pensions and medical benefits.”

businessinsider.com
No union mines left in Kentucky, where labor wars once raged
Retired union leaders worry the history of deadly gun battles will be forgotten and conditions will deteriorate.
By Dylan Lovan, Associated Press

HARLAN, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coal miners bled and died to unionize.

Their workplaces became war zones, and gun battles once punctuated union protests. In past decades, organizers have been beaten, stabbed and shot while seeking better pay and safer conditions deep underground.

But more recently the United Mine Workers in Kentucky have been in retreat, dwindling like the black seams of coal in the Appalachian mountains.

And now the last union mine in Kentucky has been shut down.

“A lot of people right now who don’t know what the (union) stands for is getting good wages and benefits because of the sacrifice that we made,” said Kenny Johnson, a retired union miner who was arrested during the Brookside strike in Harlan County in the 1970s. “Because when we went on those long strikes, it wasn’t because we wanted to be out of work.”

Hard-fought gains are taken for granted by younger workers who earn high wages now, leading the coal industry to argue that the union ultimately rendered itself obsolete. But union leaders and retirees counter that anti-union operators, tightening environmental regulations and a turbulent coal market hastened the union’s demise in Kentucky.

The union era’s death knell sounded in Kentucky on New Year’s Eve, when Patriot Coal announced the closing of its Highland Mine. The underground mine in western Kentucky employed about 400 hourly workers represented by the United Mine Workers of America.

For the first time in about a century, in the state that was home to the gun battles of “Bloody Harlan,” not a single working miner belongs to a union. That has left a bad taste in the mouths of retirees: men like Charles Dixon, who heard the sputter of machine gun fire and bullets piercing his trailer in Pike County during a long strike with the A.T. Massey Coal Company in 1984 and 1985.

“I had my house shot up during that strike,” said Dixon, the United Mine Workers local president at the time. “I was just laying in bed and next thing you know you hear a big AR-15 unloading on it. Coal miners had it tough buddy, they sure have.”

Ruins of the Ludlow Colony in the aftermath of the massacre.

The Ludlow Massacre was an attack by the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel & Iron Company camp guards on a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow Colorado, on April 20, 1914. Some two dozen people, including miners’ wives and children, were killed. The chief owner of the mine, John D. Rockefeller Jr, was widely criticized for the incident.

The massacre, the culmination of a bloody widespread strike against Colorado coal mines, resulted in the violent deaths of between 19 and 26 people; reported death tolls vary but include two women and eleven children, asphyxiated and burned to death under a single tent. The deaths occurred after a daylong fight between militia and camp guards against striking workers. Ludlow was the deadliest single incident in the southern Colorado Coal Strike, which lasted from September 1913 through December 1914. The strike was organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) against coal mining companies in Colorado. 

In retaliation for Ludlow, the miners armed themselves and attacked dozens of mines over the next ten days, destroying property and engaging in several skirmishes with the Colorado National Guard along a 40-mile front from Trinidad to Walsenburg. The entire strike would cost between 69 and 199 lives. Thomas G. Andrews described it as the “deadliest strike in the history of the United States”.