MINE AND THINE
There is to be a great coal strike on the first of April--and no one knows just what other strikes along with it. The country is threatened with a complete industrial tie-up and all because the coal miners say "more money", and the producers say "less".
At least, so it would appear on the surface. Actually, however, the present situation is the outgrowth of a long series of events starting in 1917, when the operators of mines were forced to raise the wages in order to hold the laborers from other more profitable "war work". But the wage scale of 1917 was granted only for the duration of the war; accordingly, in September, 1919, delegates of the miners from the various fields declared the war scale at an end and demanded an increase of sixty percent in wages, shorter hours, and a five day week. The refusal of the operators to consider these terms was followed by the great strike of November, 1919, in which the government interfered and, it must be admitted, bungled the situation badly. There were, however, some 200,000 non-union miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania who stayed at their posts and with government transportation managed to furnish about forty percent of the supply required and keep some industries moving.
The presidential award of higher wages eventually satisfied the demands of the mine workers and resulted as well in a great boom in the coal industry, during which speculation and profiteering were carried on in gigantic proportions. But in the next year, 1921, the jubilee ended, the coal business woke up with a headache, and a period of such depression ensued during the entire year, most of the miners only worked about eighty days and the average earnings came to about five hundred dollars. In the non-union fields, on the other hand, wages and prices were dropped. Naturally West Virginia got the cream of the orders.
But West Virginia, even with perfect transportation, cannot produce more than sixty percent of the fuel needed. The other fields must be worked as well. And the union miners, knowing this, insist that in the new wage contract due on the first of April, they at least retain the 1920 scale; and they are asking even a further increase. The president of the United Mine Workers of America claims that the operators are trying to crush the miners, and that they demand higher prices for coal using the strike as an excuse. He has consequently called a strike for the first of April and Gompers has offered the support of the American Federation of Labor.
But conditions have changed since 1920. Labor is no longer at a premium; the unorganized miners are making money while fully half the union men are idle. In many places the unions are said to be losing men because of their demands. Furthermore, the coal operators accuse the union of trying to bolster up wages by a non-competitive market, and insist that the retrenching of other industries requires lower priced coal--an impossibility with higher priced labor. So far the operators surely have right on their side. But the contracts call for a conference, and these same operators, by refusing to confer, have thereby taken upon themselves a certain responsibility in the disagreement.
Meanwhile the orders are out, plans are being made, and every one is wondering how long the coal above ground will last. Apparently whoever is right or wrong the consumer is the one who is going to suffer--as usual. We sometimes wonder how long the "average man" will allow the whole farcical capital-labor obsession to continue.