Coal and Its People

March 7, 2015

From the March-April 2015 issue of News & Letters

Celebrating 60 years of News & Letters…

Reprinted from the first issue of News & Letters June 24, 1955


Editor’s note: As a part of acquainting readers with News & Letters over its first 60 years, we spotlight here the regular feature “Coal and its People” which featured the voices of coal miners, many from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Below we excerpt from the introductory statement and a miner’s story, both from the initial June 24, 1955 issue, when coal miners had long earned the title of shock troops of American labor.

A Coal Section because…

Morgantown, W.Va.—The coal miners of America have played, are playing and will play in the future, an important role in the shaping of the history of the United States. In the achievements of labor in this country, the miners occupy a singularly important position. They have been in the forefront of the battles that have resulted in gains, both large and small, for the whole of American labor. The term “Shock Troops of American Labor” has been applied to them with good cause.

And yet, it is not by accident that the miners occupy this position. It is a natural result of the conditions of their work and the lives that they and their families lead. This knowledge, however, is known to very few outside of the ranks of the miners themselves. Most of the things that the public hears about the miners center around strike situations. The press that reports the occurrences is almost invariably prejudiced in favor of the company’s position. The miners themselves have no press wherein their views or positions are honestly presented. There is, of course, The United Mine Workers Journal, but this official publication of the UMW generally concerns itself with the dealings of high politicians. It’s a rarity to see anything of the day-to-day existence of the men appear in its pages.

It is, nevertheless, the day-to-day experiences of the men that change their attitudes and aspirations. It is from an understanding of these circumstances that a true insight can be gained into why the miners act as they do, and why they must do it.

The man I work with

Fairmont, W. Va.—When I first got the buddy I work with, I had heard what the others had said about him—that he was lazy, didn’t want to work, made his buddy carry his load of work, and so on. But I knew that the company didn’t like him, so he must have something in his favor.

No matter what it was that had to be done or how much, he had his one pace and that was slow. Nobody or nothing could change that. There would be times when I’d get real sore at him.

Then I started to do some thinking. I began to realize that he wasn’t such a bad buddy at all. With the way things are in the mines now, he’s just right for me. The bosses are always on your necks trying to get you to put out more. But that just isn’t going to happen with a buddy like mine. We’ll go along and do our work, but there isn’t anything extra they can put on us. We work together fine now.

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