“Among the Pennsylvania coal-strikers” – A dispatch from the 1902 Coal Strike

In the October 11, 1902 edition of Harper’s Weekly Magazine, editors took time to elaborate on the titanic battle of wills occurring in the anthracite coal fields of Eastern Pennsylvania.

There, thousands of miners, members of the the United Mine Workers of America, had been off the job for approaching five months in an organized effort to break the will of the powerful coal operators. The Coal Strike of 1902 brought industry to a screeching halt in the Northeast United States, and also threatened the fuel supply of the country’s largest cities on the eve of a brutally cold winter.

The Harper’s Weekly correspondent brilliantly describes the battle lines, the emotions, and the tactics being utilized in the greatest coal strike in American history.

From the October 11, 1902 edition of Harper’s Weekly (Photos with original captions)

Among the Pennsylvania Coal-Strikers

To be at the centre of a solid mass of 7,000 strikes, with the upturned faces of miners, their wives, their children, and their babies stretching away in every direction as far as the eye can reach; to hear the vast composite shout, “Viva Presidente Mitchell,” in 27 different languages and dialects; to see the quiet determined expression of them all, from the least to the greatest – is to appreciate something of the magnitude of the struggle, from the miners’ point of view; to understand something of the force that has kept the strikers unwaveringly firm through the hardships of five weary months.

Crowds to Hear John Mitchel - 1902
Mass-meeting of 7,000 miners listening to Mitchell at Priceburg, Pennsylvania

On the other hand are the operators just as unyielding, just as grim, with their sworn deputies guarding their property, and State troops in half a dozen places, – their embodied protest against the methods of the strikers.

Deputy Guarding Colliery
Deputy Guarding a Colliery

There is no love lost between the two, the soldiers and the strikers, and which has the advantage in taunts it would take an impartial judge to decide. The military represents to the miners all that they are fighting against, and they resent it in the same spirit that a city householder would object to having a squad of policemen camp in his back yard.

Near Shenandoah the troops are stationed at Manila Park, one of the favorite play-grounds of the people. At its foot, where pleasure-seekers usually throng, three empty electrics [trolleys] are kept significantly on the side track, ready to carry the troops to any centre of disturbance at a moment’s notice. In the park itself, white tens are here, there, and everywhere, and sentinels with guns pace up and down the spaces where the miners’ children in time of peace make merry.

State troops at Shenandoah 1902
Camp of State Troops at Shenandoah, ready to quell riots

However necessary the troops may be, they are a constant irritation to the miners. Soldiers are not noted for being Puritans in the matter of noise and rowdyism. There seems at least a basis for the miners’ complaints that their presence demoralizes the town, and even a few experiences with soldiers off duty make me feel that many of the strikers themselves might them points on law and order.

It is a curious thing to see two great forces struggling with locked horns to keep their footing. Right or wrong, whatever the methods, the strike is the master-struggle of organized labor against organized capital. The individual workman has been lost somewhere in the shuffle, and the union has taken his place. The completeness of its organization nothing show more conclusively than the method of managing its relief. This has been the strongest weapon in its fight.

Strikes Relief - 1902
Strikers waiting for their semi-monthly Relief at a “Station”

Without aid the miners must have starved or given in long ago, but so perfect has been the union’s system of meeting the greatest number of needs with the smallest number of dollars, that is has kept its great army from actual hunger all this time.

The amount of relief is apportioned among the districts with strict impartiality. Money is not given out, only orders for provisions. The average amount give to a man and his wife for two weeks’ living expenses is about $2.50, with 35 cents additional for each child.

Strikers Home and Family
Type of Striker’s Home and Family among the Foreign Element

Featured Image: Miners lining up for UMWA relief in 1902. (Harper’s Weekly)

Read more about labor history in the Coal Region here


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