A Coal Miner's Journal
Oct. 22, 1923. — I was elected on the Pit Committee along with Gumme and ‘ Bad-Eye.’ The old committee had been deposed by the Joint Board for having shut the mine down contrary to the contract.
Went to C—(the mine manager) this morning and told him of our election. We further told him that we did not want him to make any cases, and expected him to settle disputes with the men. He said he would give the men what the contract called for. We told him if he did that, there would be no trouble between us, and went on into the mine to work. I don’t think anybody was fooled by this exchange of courtesies.
Oct. 24. — Check 140 claimed he was being discriminated against by the driver in the matter of the turn in his entry. The full committee heard his complaint, took evidence from the driver and a digger in the next room, and found, inasmuch as there was no difference in the turn at the end of the day, that no injustice had been done him. He seemed satisfied to let the matter rest.
Oct. 25. — Saw the Top boss and asked him to replace some broken windowpanes in the washhouse. Also to repair the chain and weight on the washhouse door, so that it would close automatically. I found on coming out of the mine this evening that it had been done. Oct. 27. — This morning took up with Cthe matter of tools not being properly sharpened. Too soft. He promised to take it up with the blacksmith. He protested that the blacksmith was expert in his line and could not understand the complaint. We also took up the matter of men not reaching their working-places by starting-time. . . .
[In answer to our question about the Pit Committee, Mr. Wieck wrote: ‘ The Pit Committee is a grievance committee. Each mine wider the jurisdiction of the miners’' organization has its own Pit Committee, elected by the men employed at that mine and composed of men actually working in or around the mine. Ordinarily three men compose the Pit Committee. When a dispute arises between an individual miner and the mine manager and no settlement is reached, the miner refers the case to the Pit Committee, which is the first step in a long series of courts set up for the adjustment of grievances in the unionized coal industry. ... In the handling of the case by the Pit Committee and the mine manager, the dispute is frequently settled on a basis of common-sense and reasonableness.' — THE EDITOR]
Nov. 2. — The Sub-Dist. Pres, was on the job at eight o’clock along with the Asst. Supt. . . . Then appeared the Operators’ Commissioner and our Board member along with the Gen. Supt. Their purpose was to review a number of cases which had been referred up to them and which had originated under the old committee. The first was a case of ‘ Bad-Eye,’ who was claiming an additional four hours for rock-cleaning over and above what had been paid him. ‘Bad-Eye’ is a contentious individual who learned to dig coal in Iowa, where it is mostly hard grubbing, and cannot properly oppose his opponent without bringing some hate into it. . . .
The next case was Check 58 and 59, involving fifty-three hours for cleaning slate. At t he request of the Board member I had telephoned into the mine and gotten these two young fellows out to testify. In the hearing of the previous case I had kept one ear open for the signal bells in the engine-room, which could be heard from where we were, and hearing the signal to hoist men, I met them at the pit-head and gave them some advice on what to say and how to say it, when to talk and when not to talk. One young fellow of nineteen or thereabouts proved an excellent witness. It is generally dangerous to bring our people before the Commissioner in such cases, stage fright often operating against their interests. This Commissioner is noted for his bulldozing tactics and rapid-fire questioning, which many times confuse and discomfit even committeemen if they be not well experienced.
This youth told a straightforward story of the two of them having worked on this fall for three full days and a part of the fourth, doing no other work. This according to the contract would entitle them to the amount of time they claimed. C-claimed that, according to the measurements of the fall, they should have cleaned it in forty hours.
The Commissioner in pursuance of his usual tactics snapped at the boy: ‘Did you work at it all the time?’ He replied that he did. ‘Stop for dinner?’ ‘Long enough time to eat it.’ “Did n’t stop for lunch, nine or half past?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did n’t stop for lunch?’ ‘No!’ very emphatically. ‘I said, No.’
The Commissioner digressed. He said, ‘I knew an old fellow some thirty years ago that never ate anything in the mine until dinner-time. Him and you two are the only three coal-diggers I ever heard of that did n’t stop for a mid-morning lunch.’
The Board member spoke up: ‘I never ate lunch in the mine in my life.’
‘By God, then you’re a fourth one.’
His purpose was obvious, but he failed to fluster the boy. I then asked the lad if the stuff that had fallen was easily broken up.
‘I’ll say not!’ was his answer.
‘What did you break it with?’ I asked him.
‘Twenty-pound hammer, furnished by the company.’
The usual sixor eight-pound hammer used by the miner would have made no impression on this slate, and obviously the twenty-pound hammer was proof that there was work to be done there besides moving it, which had been the only thing taken into consideration in arriving at the conclusion that forty hours was sufficient for the removal of this fall.
The Board member then asked the question: ‘Was there any boss showed up in your place during the three days and a part of the fourth day that you were working on this fall?’ When the lad answered, No, the wise old Commissioner looked at Cwith his tongue in his cheek; said in a deploring tone, ‘God, there’d ought to have been!’
Nov. 7. This morning . . . we found the mine manager on the bottom, backed up against the rib, listening to an excited, vociferous exposition of the condition of his mule by one of the drivers. The mule — this driver said — was unfit to be taken out of the barn, had been worked too hard and continuously; and that it was a shame to treat a dumb brute in that manner. He wound up by saying, ‘By God, I won’t take him out! I don’t give a damn what you do!’
The mine manager told him to take the mule and do what work he could with him; that he had asked the company for more mules but had not yet received them; and that he intended to take this mule out when he got the new ones. This failed to pacify Rosa, and upon seeing us, he appealed: ‘I don’t have to take this damn mule out, do I? It’s a damn shame and disgrace. The Humane Society ought to be notified.’
I answered: ‘Since you asked me, I am telling you that as long as there is no danger to your health in handling the mule, you are supposed to take any mule that the company provides for you. Do what work you can with him, and if he lays down on you, sit alongside of him until he gets up. You are not supposed to abuse him unduly to get him to work.’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘can’t I notify the Humane Society?’ and I told him: ‘Your duties and rights as a citizen to report this matter are not abrogated by the contract, but your job obligates you to drive that mule.’ He went to the barn very reluctantly.
I know that the boss does n’t like to work a mule like that, and that the driver’s acts showed that he did n’t want to, and I am sure that the committee did not want to; but still he was worked. Someone sitting in a swivelchair somewhere was to blame.
Nov. 13. — The hoisting engineer saw me again this morning, asking that I help him in bringing influence to bear on a certain digger whose note he had signed for $50 during the strike last year. I told him that he knew we had no power to compel payment, which he admitted, but that if the opportunity presented itself, I would do what I could to have the man pay the note. . . .
In coming out of the mine this evening and looking over the fines for dirty coal, I found one, Check 167, marked ‘aggravated case,’ which probably will mean discharge. It consisted of three large lumps of coal, one weighing nearly two hundred pounds, one about a hundred, the other less, with an inchand-a-half streak of blue-band through the middle of each. On my way over to the washhouse, a digger remarked to me, ‘ You ‘ll have a hell of a time gettin’ that fellow’s job back.’ I agreed there was little chance, considering the amount of dirt. Upon inquiry I learned that he was a new man who had just started that morning, and while making coal had loaded that single box. Well, we’ll take it up in the morning.
Nov, 14. — Check 80 complained to us that his buddy, Check 163, did not give him a square deal in checking the cars in rotation; that his buddy had 12 cars more than him, last pay, and was 14 cars ahead of him this pay. We knew that Check 80 was not altogether bright, so we called him and his buddy and the check-weighman into conference. We learned from the checkweighman that 163 had no more cars than the turn of that entry, and that 80 had gone home early several days, thereby running behind the turn. Check 163 complained vigorously about 80 not doing his share of work in the room, and for that reason falling behind. We lectured them both and told them that it was up to them to work together to each other’s best advantage and to get along. We told them we expected them to do this and wanted to hear no further complaints, as the committee had more important work of disputes with the company. . . . Tonight after work there were rumors in the washhouse that the company was bankrupt and that there would be no pay-day to-morrow. I could find no head to the rumors and scoffed them. Nov. 15. — When I arrived at the mine this morning, before the men started into the mine a man walked up to me and said, ‘The Top boss says, “no checks to-day.” Better look into it.’ I sought the Top boss and asked him about it. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said, ‘there’ll be checks, after work.’ This was changing the custom, which had permitted men to get their checks before work if they so desired. As the company was well within the contract in giving the checks out at quitting-time, I let it go and told the men I was informed the checks would be there that evening. After I had changed clothes I got Gumme and Bad-Eye and went to the mine manager, telling him of the rumors and asking him what he knew about them. He said that as far as he knew the checks would be there that evening, and laughingly remarked, ‘If the checks don’t come, I guess I’ll lose more than any of the rest of you, as mine would n’t come either. . . .’
There was a lot of talk all through the mine to-day about whether or not the checks would be at the mine at quitting-time. I doubt whether many had much heart for their work, as the pay to be received that evening and the two weeks’ regularly held back constituted a month’s hard labor. When I got out of the mine at 3.30, some thirty or forty men were waiting at the office and told me the checks were not yet there. After I had washed and changed clothes, Gumme and I sought the clerk and asked him, ‘ What’s the matter with the checks?’ He seemed quite flustered, but insisted that he was going over to the other mine with his machine in a short time to get them. He did, and to the great relief of the men, they began paying off shortly after four o’clock. The failure of a number of coal companies to pay in recent months has made men very uneasy. In fact, a nearby mine of another company failed to pay to-day.
Nov. 16. — Talked to the mine manager this morning about the paychecks. He said that on account of a number of circumstances, the matter had been balled up; that he expected the checks to be there earlier next payday. All the rumor and talk, however, had had its effect, and quite a number of men came tome asking what could be done toward having the pay-roll guaranteed. I told them that I would get in touch with the Sub-District President and see what could be done. I was unable to get him on the telephone to-night and will try again to-morrow. Nov. 17. — The mine manager was in my place this morning and we informally discussed the matter of companies defaulting pay-rolls. Among other things he said, ‘Situations like that put a boss in a bad hole. He has nothing to do with and knows nothing about the financial end of the business. He can’t tell the men they will get their checks when he does n’t know, and obviously he can’t tell them they won’t.’ We discussed also the new mine this company has recently sunk and into which they have put about a million dollars, and in which things don’t seem to be going right. It is now shut down.
Called up the Sub-District President to-night, explaining this pay-roll situation to him. He agreed that something should be done toward guaranteeing pay-rolls generally. He said he would lay our matter before the District office and see what could be done. I will see that he does not procrastinate. Nov. 19. — There being no work on account of a motor being broken, I went to the sub-district office and went over the entire pay-roll matter with the President. He admitted the seriousness of the situation and said that he had made arrangements to meet the District Vice President in St. Louis on Wednesday, the District President being in the hospital.
Nov. 20. — After consulting with the rest of the committee, I called a meeting of the men at the mine in the washhouse before going down to work, and told them what had been done in the pay-roll matter and of the conference arranged for in St. Louis. It was voted that I attend that meeting.
Nov. 21. — Went to St. Louis this morning with the Sub-District President to meet the District Vice President, to see what could be done toward having the company guarantee our pay with a surety bond or some such device. The V. P. seemed inclined to the belief that the company, through their peculiar methods of finance, was probably in a bad way, but did not seem to know just what should be done. After quite a bit of talk it was decided that the Sub-District President and myself should call upon the President of the company. On the telephone this gentleman declined to make an appointment ‘to meet a committee,’ when informed that a committeeman from the Warren mine would accompany the Sub-District President. When asked if he had any objections if the committeeman accompanied the Sub-Dist. Pres., he said the SubDistrict officer should come without an appointment, and in that way he would not know who was coming. I have yet to fathom the purpose of this grandiose gesture.
Upon arriving at his office the girl at the telephone, after the Sub-District President’s name was announced, asked us to wait a few minutes. After five minutes or so the President ushered a caller out down the corridor and welcomed us with a hearty, ‘Come on in, Pete,’ to the Sub-District President. While being introduced and shaking hands with me, he must have scrutinized me as closely as I did him, for as we sat down his first remark was, glancing at my gray flannel shirt: ‘You’ve stolen my shirt.’ I told him I may have stolen it., but it cost me $3.50.
He said his cost him $3.85. It was his Sunday shirt, he explained. ‘I shave and dress up every morning during the week, but let the shaving go and put on my flannel shirt on Sunday. That is my day. I don’t go to church, although I don’t think anybody can be harmed going to church. There are no bad influences there. I am saying all this not knowing what church you men belong to. What church do you belong to, Pete?’
Laughing, Pete replied, ‘Let’ssee — I think I was in a Methodist church the last time. Every time I go I want to debate with the preacher, although I have never had that opportunity.’
He looked at me. ‘What church do you belong to?’
‘ I belong to the big one,’ I answered. He looked a little embarrassed, and thinking that perhaps he took me for a Roman Catholic, I added, ‘The one that has the most members — I attend none.’
With that, he lit a long cigar and said, ‘Well, boys, what brought you?’
The Sub-District President opened up by telling him that he was doubtless aware of the various coal companies recently defaulting the miners’ payroll, and told him that t here were considerable rumors at the Warren mine that the company was in a bad way financially.
‘Yes, I’ve heard about that. Know who started the rumors and why they were started.’
I said, ‘You may know’. I did my best to find out their head, but was unable to do so. I wish I knew who started them and why. If we did, the men might feel easier about their money.’ Looking straight at him, I went on: ‘ When they were first started, I thought their purpose was to boost the sticker market.’1
He pulled hard on his cigar. In fact by now it never left his face, his left hand holding it close to his mouth between puffs. He seemed disturbed, although his rapid smoking was the only evidence. After studying awhile he remarked: ‘I won’t spend thirty cents to bond that pay-roll. In fact, I have been studying whether or not to shut those three mines down. We can buy coal in the open market cheaper than we can produce it.’
‘You can buy it pretty damn cheap if you can buy it cheaper than you can produce it at the Warren mine,’ I remarked.
‘Well, we can,’ he answered. (I still doubt this, as I am convinced that coal is produced more cheaply at that mine than at any mine in the state of Illinois.) ‘Our properties,’ he went on, ‘wall appraise two million dollars.’
The Sub-District President asked if that were a 1923 appraiser.
‘No,’ he said, ‘I have deducted a million and a half. They did appraise three and a half million.’
‘How about encumbrances?’ asked the Sub-Dist. Pres.
‘I was coming to that,’ he replied. ‘We have three hundred thousand dollars on them. I don’t think it’s right to ask us to bond the pay-roll, and we don’t intend to do it. The men can quit or go on strike or do as they please for all that we care’; and he repeated that they could buy the coal in the open market more cheaply than they could produce it.
‘I suppose you would want to penalize us under the contract if we came on strike,’ I remarked.
‘More than likely I would,’he smiled.
I then said that, as far as I was concerned, there would be no strike as long as we got our money on time; and that I believed in living up to the contract, and that, as long as I was committeeman, my influence would be used against illegal strikes. I told him it was to our interest to keep the mine running, and that was our purpose in laying the matter before him. We thought perhaps the men might get excited over the various rumors and shut the mine down. I pointed out that there were quite a number of men at the Warren mine who had recently lost their pay in other mines, and that these men could not be blamed if they became nervous about the rumors. We thought perhaps that he would be willing to do something to reassure the men.
‘We’ll do nothing,’ was his comment. Turning to the Sub-District President, he asked, ‘Did you ask the Northern Coal Company to give bond? ‘
‘No; no complaints have been made about that company,’ he replied.
‘Have you asked the Kuehn Company?’
‘No; there was no complaint there.’
‘Well, then, I don’t think it is quite fair to ask me to do so,’ he said.
‘Would you be willing to do so,’ asked the Sub-Dist. Pres., ‘if all the rest of the companies in the state were forced to furnish bond?’
‘Yes, I guess I’d have to,’ he said; ‘but up until now you have n’t shown me any good reason why I should.’
‘You would, then, if we showed you a good reason?’ went on the Sub-Dist. Pres.; to which he answered, ‘Yes, I guess so.’
I thought to myself that a good reason, in his estimation, would be for us to bring indisputable proof that his company was bankrupt; and then how would he be able to furnish a bond? The fact that he had nothing before the war, the stories of his buying up mine after mine through stock deals and otherwise, have led everyone familiar with mining in this state to believe that his resources are widely scattered and that in this time of depression in the coal industry he has more than he can handle. The reported bad luck that he is said to have had with a new million-dollar mine in central Illinois certainly does not reassure us as to the stability of his companies. With the producing end incorporated in one company and the selling end incorporated in another, we wonder just how much would be attachable in case of trouble, outside of a few old worked-out mines. His appearance — short and round-faced, wavy hair — put one more in mind of a cigar salesman than of a competent manager of industry.
We returned to the hotel and reported our conversation to the District Vice President, who said that it was what he expected, and he wanted to know if the President seemed disturbed and how he took it. ‘I have no doubt,’ he said, ‘that his companies are shaky, but how to prove it is another thing.’ Then he asked, ‘Does he sell mostly railroad coal? Perhaps he has a bad contract fastened on to him which he wishes to get rid of. By stirring up a strike, the strike clause in the contract would relieve him of the contract.’
I replied that I did not think so, because of the figure at which they were able to produce coal at the Warren mine. After hearing this figure, the District V. P. agreed with me that they should be making money at that particular mine, but they had the burden of the idle mines of the company to carry.
We went to lunch with the V. P. and there he agreed to look particularly into the affairs of the company, as much as he should be able, and also that we should stop in East St. Louis and see the organization’s attorney, and have him get to work on the job to ascertain if possible just what the particular corporation which controlled the Warren mine is worth. With that we left the matter in the hands of the V. P.
Nov. 24. — Saw the Top boss about having the washhouse cleaned, and he excused it by saying that the man who did that work was off yesterday, but he would see that it was kept clean in the future. I spoke also about cleaning out the showers and repairing one that was broken off, and he promised to do this. ‘Bad-Eye’ suggested to me that we ought to ask for more showers, but I told him that interpretations of the law by the Department of Mines and Minerals, as to a sufficient number of showers, was one for each 25 men, and we, having 9 showers for 190 men, could not make that demand. He said, ‘ It’s a hell of a law. But since it’s the law I guess we’ll have to stand for it.’
Nov. 26. — Showers in washhouse not repaired. Saw the Top boss again this morning and he pleaded he had been short two men yesterday but would try and get it done to-day. . . .
At quitting-time the showers in the washhouse had not been repaired. I went to the office and took it up with the mine manager, considering that I had given the Top boss plenty of time, and told him what had been given me as an excuse for not making the repairs. He was very frank and said, ‘Hell! He’s had a full force all the time. I’ll see that he does it.’
Just then the Top boss walked into the office and the manager said, ‘Bill, put a man on in the morning to fix those showers, and don’t forget about it.’
Dec. 1. — Checks 20 and 172, buddies, claim seven hours each for piling rock yesterday, for which the boss said they were entitled only to four hours each. The mine examiner had taken their checks off the board yesterday, and when they went to get them, the mine manager told them to wait in their place until he came and looked it over to see what should be done. He came in at nine o’clock and after looking it over, told them to go ahead and clean it up. They say they put in the balance of the day, loading no coal and drilling no holes. Inquiry made of the driver corroborated their statement that they had loaded no coal. We went to the mine manager and learned that his reason for paying them only four hours each was that, according to the measurements of the fall, they should have been able to clean it up in that time. We reminded him that the contract provided for payment of such work by the hour and did not specify how much work should be done in any specified time. We told him that his remedy, under the contract, if he feared the men did not work fast enough, was to remain in the place or to put a representative in the place to see that the men did not shirk, or to send day men to clean the fall. Since he did not elect to do either, but had instructed these diggers to do the work, he was obligated to pay them for the time it took them.
While not trying to refute this argument, he continually talked about the number of cubic feet of rock the men piled, according to the measurements he had taken the day before. I told him that it was about time that the General Superintendent’s idea of having rock piled by the cubic foot be tested out by sending a case up to the Joint Board, and that as far as I was concerned, I was walling to send this one up, as it was a clear-cut case where the men had done nothing else but pile rock for the entire day. I told him that had I been in the men’s place, I would have asked eight hours instead of seven, charging for the one hour they had waited for him to appear in the place; and as their claim was only for seven hours, we could ask for no more, but we intended to have that seven. I was determined that the case should go on up, but he seemed very reluctant and kept insisting that the committee go in and see the place and let him know that evening whether we believed the men had done the seven hours’ work. We agreed to do that and went below to view the place.
When we got in, we found that the statement that the men had done no drilling the day before was true. We found also that there was a dip in the seam where they had shot the night previous to the fall, which had caused them to misjudge their shots and blow out the timbers — which had been hinted at by the boss, and from which I steered the conversation, for fear of complications in the settlement. Not having a tape-line or a rule, we first stepped the fall. Later we measured a scraper hand-over-hand, finding its length to be 10 feet, 4 inches, and in that way measured the fall. We found a number of discrepancies in the measurements as given us by the mine manager, the worst being in the thickness, he averaging it four inches while we found it nearer six.
After getting this information we decided that we probably could beat him at his own game — measurements. Stopping at the mouth of the room to eat a bite of lunch and confer before we went to our working-places, when the boss happened along, ‘You are just the fellow we want,’ we told him. ‘We want you to use your tape-line, and then we think we can settle this case.’ We went into the place, measuring and remeasuring, figuring on the slabs of rock with a piece of chalk, until finally we agreed on the number of square feet. Then I asked, ‘Now, how thick is it?’ We measured here and there, half a dozen places, and finally agreed to call it G inches. I refrained from multiplying the feet into cubic feet, and allowed the mine manager to do this, knowing from previous experience that instead of multiplying it by .5 feet, he would multiply it by .6 feet, in his ignorance of mathematics, thinking that would give him the correct number of cubic feet. Mentally I had already computed the results, knowing that this would make the desired number of cubic feet for which he would give each man seven hours.
After he had figured it, he looked at me and grinned. ‘I guess you’d better get those 4-hour slips off these men and make them out new ones for 7 hours each,’ I remarked.
He hesitated a moment and then said, ‘It’s a little scant, but I’ll do it.’
While he was making out the slips, one of the diggers said, ‘I was after the track-layer this morning to throw our track over as you told us yesterday, but he says he can’t come until to-morrow. The way the gob is piled here, we can’t get our car in unless the track is thrown over. What shall we do about that?’
The boss laughingly said, ‘Dig out a little on the end of each tie and throw it over. I am paying a little more on this rock than you ‘re entitled to, so that will even it up some.’
The digger, being a little soft, took it seriously and did not answer. The boss continued: ‘Well, what do you think about it?’ The digger stammered, ‘ I — I don’t know.’
‘You don’t?’ I exploded; and then on second thought, continued, ‘Well, damn it, I won’t interfere,’ vexed as I was at the man’s denseness and ignorance of the contract. Then, thinking again, the poor devil needs a little help, I said: ‘Huck, listen to me. If the boss tells you to do anything, you do it. He’s the boss. If he comes in here and tells you to throw your shovel in the gob, and load coal with your hands, you do as he tells you, and if at the end of the day you think you have not made enough money because of his instructions, ask him for additional pay, and if you can’t settle it with him, bring your complaint to us.’
The man looked at me rather queerly after this lecture and I think he got the point, for he said: ‘All right — we’ll throw it over.’ I presume he was paid for it, because I heard no more from him.
Dec. 10. — Check 6, who was hurt by a fall of rock some six weeks ago, was reported to the committee in bad financial circumstances, his wife being sick in addition to his own injuries. The committee agreed that a meeting of the men should be held to-morrow in the washhouse, to consider the matter of a collection.
Dec. 11. — Held a meeting in the washhouse this morning and it was voted to give Check 6 a collection. . . .
Dec. 17. — Checks 163 and 80 have fallen out again. Check 80 came to me this morning and said: ‘My buddy is back again this morning. He has been off three days. I am through with him. I won’t work with him any longer.’
I explained to him that that was a matter outside the jurisdiction of the Pit Committee and that he must take his complaint to the mine manager.
He appeared in the office to make his complaint while we were there taking up other matters. He told the boss what he had told me. The boss looked at me and asked, ‘What shall we do about these two?’ I said that he came to me with his story and I told him we had no jurisdiction and that he must come to the boss.
‘Well,’ the boss said, ‘I can discharge him. He’s been off three days.’
I said, ‘Andy came to me this morning and told me he had been off, sick, and wanted to know if it was necessary to go to you and explain matters. I told him as long as his life check was on the board, to grab it and go on down, and not hunt trouble. You can’t discharge a man who’s been off sick.’
We all recognized the peculiar situation of these two men. The boss remarked, ‘I’d settle this case by putting Andy off in a place by himself, but he is not capable of taking care of himself. We’ll have to try to work out something to get them to work together.’
I suggested that he tell Frenchy to go on down and work to-day and we would discuss the matter later. We finally settled it by Bad-Eye and I agreeing — we both working in the same pair of entries with Andy and Frenchy—to go into their place and give them a good talking to, which we did. When we got in their place, we found Frenchy loading a car which he was just finishing, and Andy drilling a hole. Bad feeling was in the air, which would result in loss of wages to both of them if allowed to continue.
After greeting them, we all sat down at my invitation and I proceeded to talk to them. I told them both that they were not buddies from choice, that they did not work in this particular place through choice, nor in this particular mine through choice; that they both had applied for work because they needed to make a living; that the boss had designated the place and their buddy, and in order to make a living with the least effort, it was necessary for them to agree, at least while they were at work. I told them that, as far as we were concerned, they need never speak to each other outside their working-place, but in the interest of them both they must coöperate and work together during working-hours.
Frenchy complained that Andy had a habit of leaving the place early, a half hour or so, leaving him to do necessary work that both of them should do. Andy complained that Frenchy would give him no advice or assistance in placing shots, causing sometimes useless labor on his part. We told Andy that it was his business to stay in the place and work as long as there was work for the two of them to do, and that he did wrong when he left the work for his buddy to do. We told the Frenchman that it was to his interest to see that Andy’s shots did as well as his own, as in double work, such as obtains in this mine, it would necessitate Andy’s loading some of the other’s coal if his shots made none. We impressed upon them that we have enough trouble with the company without settling disputes among the men themselves, and that they must get along with each other. They promised to do their best, each saying that he would do his part if the other would. I will try and get over into their place occasionally when I have time, and try and keep them together.
Dec. 19. — When I arrived at the mine this morning, one of the drivers told me that they wanted to see the committee. We got together with them and they told us they had made up their minds to go on strike next Monday if something definite were not done by that time to enforce the Joint Board decision made in their favor in the bonus case. . . .
Dec. 21. ... The check-weighman handed me a telegram received from the Acting Dist. Pres, in reply to the wire sent him about the drivers’ strike. It was lengthy and of course advised against any shutdown of the mine. Whether by accident or design, he put one sentence into the telegram that gave us a good argument to use on the drivers to have them continue at work. ‘You may rest assured that the miners’ organization will enforce decision that has been made.’ We got the drivers together in the washhouse and read them the telegram. Some were in their workclothes and others had not yet changed. There was a division of opinion among them. Some of them are not in favor of wildcatting either to-day or Monday, but are willing to await the slow process of settlement, having had their fingers burnt in such matters before. Others said, ‘Hell! That don’t give us any assurance that we’ll have a settlement by Monday. We’d just as well st rike now.’
I told them that if they wildcatted, they would have not only the company to fight, but our own organization, it being the organization’s policy to delay the adjudication of any pending dispute as long as men were on illegal strikes to force matters.
While in the midst of this earnest talk with the drivers, with their minds flickering backward and forth, work or no work, the asst, manager stepped into the washhouse.
‘ What the hell’s the matter — ain’t there no work to-day?’ he blurted out.
‘Of course,’ I quickly replied.
‘Are n’t the men going down?’
‘Yes, but they can’t work without these drivers.’
‘Never mind,’ I said, ‘you go on down; they’ll come.’
I saw the drivers bristle up the minute he stepped in, and I thought for a moment he had ruined by his bonehead action the effect of all my argument, but it seems that my assurance to him that they were going down was just the thing I should have said, because those that were dressed for work immediately went over to the shaft and the others went to change clothes. One who was not changed remarked, ‘It’s a little late. I might be changing clothes for nothing. He might send me out,.’
The thought that all my efforts to get them to work might be brought to naught by the asst, telling him it was too late and perhaps sending all the drivers home and shutting the mine down, angered me, and I said, ‘You change clothes and go to work. If he does n’t let you work, then come to me, and there ‘ll be a hell of a row around this mine this morning.’ Apparently one bonehead a day is the limit of the asst., because there was no interference and we went to work.
As we walked over to the pit-head, the mine manager reached the mine. We went over to the office with him. He asked, ‘What’s the matter?’
‘Well,’ I replied, ‘we got ‘em down.’
‘Who?’ he said: ‘the drivers? I thought they said they was n’t going to strike till Monday.’
I explained to him the telegram that had been received and the difficulty we had had in persuading the men, and also the injudicious conduct of the asst. In his defense of the asst., he said, ‘Well, I guess he wanted them to go to work.’ I asked him if in his experience as a mine manager he had ever seen a case where the mine manager’s appearance on the scene, trying to persuade men who were determined to wildcat not to do so, acted on them otherwise than as waving a red flag before a bull. I told him I had always noticed that shrewd mine-managers stayed in the office out of sight when trouble of this kind occurred, leaving it to the Pit Committee, and if they failed, reporting it to the operators’ association, who in turn took the matter up with higher officials of the miners’ organization.
He eventually agreed that perhaps that was the right policy to pursue. He seemed vexed, however, and said, ‘It’s about time we quit coddling these drivers. If they’re going to strike why in the hell don’t they strike and be done with it?’
I bristled up and told him that we had done what we considered our duty under the contract, in trying to keep the mine in operation, but if he said so we would cease further efforts and let the thing take its own course. He saw the trap, however, and backed out, so I told him that we would keep them at work, but expected him to coöperate with us and not complain if we delayed starting-time in the morning a few minutes. It would be entirely up to him, however, we informed him; and if the mine were shut down by him because of the delay in getting the men started, that, of course, would be presented in the evidence to the Joint Board, if the case got that far. . . .
- ‘Stickering’ is discounting wages and drawing them in advance of the regular pay-day. This practice is forbidden by laws of the miners’ union and the contract with the operator. — THE AUTHOR↩