« AnteriorContinuar »
An Impression of the Anthracite Coal Troubles. No investigation has made it quite clear why such constant friction between employer and employed shows itself in primary industries like those from which we are housed, warmed and clothed. It is obvious that competition acts with unusual intensity in our clothing industry, in mining and in building. In the American soft coal regions, it is difficult to conceive a field more fatally open to competition in its severest form.
The same is true with our garment-making industry, owing chiefly to a practically unlimited immigration of low-class labor. It is one of the marvels in trade union history that the garment makers have been able to unionize their labor to such an extent in spite of this immigration. There is, however, hardly a sign at present that the chronic strike or lockout is likely to be lessened. No year goes by without strikes of extreme gravity among these people. If any regulation in the soft coal fields were thought desirable, what degree of ingenuity would be able to deal with the first primary embarrassment; that of a situation in which “twenty thousand farmers, in the middle West, can at any time go out and scratch together all the coal they want?" In scores of these mines, the higher standards of living, as represented by English and Welsh, have been driven out by successively lower orders of labor, until now the negro is being introduced.
This is in part because the immigration of the better class laborer has not as a fact been adequate to the demand for miners. It is also because of a definite and conscious purpose among employers to have on hand a full supply of cheapest available labor. “Wherever I have had a serious strike, one of my best weapons has been to get in foreign workmen," was the frank admission of one of the mine owners.
Another, after admitting that he must have more men on hand than could be used at any except the best business periods, added, "Our positive encouragement of the more ignorant foreigners cannot be said to have turned out well, because the constant surplus, in times of depression, is open to so many dangers.”
It has been thought that the general situation presented by the hard coal region is, at every point, more advantageous to labor than is the case in soft coal districts. A Vice-President of one of the
roads, long in the coal business, told the writer a few weeks since, "You will at any rate find wages all right, whatever you may think of the strike or the company stores.” So far as the less skilled labor is concerned, the “stripping,” for example, the difference is of the slightest. There is the same oversupply of those who work for ninety cents per day and, except on the “boom curves” of business, may get work less than half the time. A frank talk with the mine owners or managers gives one a new respect for the savage things Marx has said about the "reserve army of industry.” One of the larger owners told the writer bluntly, "We can't give them work enough even at ninety cents a day because of the ups and downs of business. When things begin to improve, we must have enough on hand to satisfy the demand, and that means, when business slacks up, that many have to be idle.”
Here is obviously a tap root of much of the difficulty. Immigration has been purposely stimulated by these coal owners to the specific end that an adequate supply of the cheapest labor might be at hand for every rising exigency of business. It is extremely ignorant and easily a prey to the agitator.' In the enforced periods of idleness which come with the shifting conditions of the market innumerable occasions for troubles like those at Lattimer may at any moment appear. "What can you do with such wild beasts when they get off their heads but shoot 'em?” were words which the writer heard, and it may be, in any given moment, that the social safety demands quick, sharp and bloody enforcement of the law. It is, however, a very sinister state of affairs when conditions, which have been definitely encouraged by the mine owners and by our general policy of immigration, have come to be such, that, in their very nature, they are certain to breed chronic outbreaks like this in the Hazelton district.
A mine manager of twenty years experience said, “The truth is that the time came when somewhere hereabouts we had got to do some shooting. It could not be put off much longer."
.The question was put to him, “When will you have to do some more shooting?" The reply was, "In hard times, it is likely to come at any moment."
1 It is one of the pathetic features of the tragedy at Lattimer, that the miners had been told by speakers that they had a perfect legal right to march in the highways. They had in other words been told precisely what any reader of the two ablest papers in Massachusetts (the Springfield Republican and Boston Herald) would have gathered as sound opinion from repeated editorials.
This was followed by an attack upon the "agitator." There would be, it was maintained, no trouble whatever but for the pestilent representative of some outside labor organization. It is a pity that intelligent employers should be satisfied with this popular superstition about the agitator. He is often a nuisance. Often enough he hastens on troubles that are already started. Much ill may be truthfully said of him, but in the fundamental difficulties of this coal business, the agitator is not properly a cause at all. He too is an effect, and would be without any terrors if he did not have the support of an aroused feeling that is already started. The agitator can only take advantage of this rising tide of discontent. It is better to go straight to the roots of the evil. For any. thing like the average work to be done, there are far too many halfskilled foreigners who have been encouraged to come to these regions. They are without organizations such as exist in English mines, and without the possibility of organization. On the side of the employers in this hard coal industry is one of the most powerful trusts in the United States. The tonnage parcelled out to this or that railroad - 100,000 tons here, 200,000 there is ruthlessly enforced. If any company kicks, it is brought to terms as sharply as any trade union would discipline a recalcitrant member. No company has the slightest liberty to do as it pleases as to quantity of output or selling price.
There is no disposition here to vilify this trust. There is the strongest evidence that it is necessary. Competition had reached a condition for which the common term "cut-throat” is fitting. It is doubtful if the trust is getting anything like extortionate profits. The limits within which the trust can act in raising prices are narrow in the extreme. The always possible use of soft coal by thousands of consumers may affect the margin of advantage to such extent as to make it suicidal to crowd up the price in any considerable degree.
It is, however, in the background of this strong organization of employers that we see so vividly the desperate situation of the mob of miners. For any future worth discussing, no effective organization seems possible. The difficulties with a homogeneous population in English mines have been great. What shall be said of difficulties to be faced in case of fourteen or fifteen nationalities? The question of race enters here with almost terrific force. The least adroit of employers can play upon these race prejudices so effectively as to weaken the strongest trade union in times of excite
ment. It is this fact of race differences which baffles the student of trade unions in this country. It seems possible to understand organized labor in England, but the element of warring race prejudice plays such a rôle among us that the problem at every point is a different one. The situation then in these hard coal fields is one of organization upon the one side and the hopeless want of it upon the other: hopeless because of the conditions of the industry and the character of the mining population. One seems to see upon the side of the employer an invention adequate to its end. The output is rationally adapted to the state of the market. For the distribution of the merchandise, there has been a masterly contrivance brought into the field. On the other side, for this mass of struggling human beings, there is no rational ordering, nor even a thought of one. Here the competition goes on without let or hindrance. The question was put to one of the largest of the owners, who has lived constantly in this region an entire generation: “Do things seem to be getting worse from year to year?" "Yes," was the reply, "that is my experience. First we had to put on a police force, then that proved inadequate and we called in the green militia which we had a few years ago. Now we have a much better militia and more of them."
The evidence as to the shooting in Lattimer was such as to make one hesitate to pronounce hasty judgment. Like the bloody end of so many of our severer labor disturbances in the United States, something of a case may be made out for the pressing exigencies when the evils culminate into a threat against the social order. There had been intimidation of a rough and high-handed sort on the part of the miners. They had been warned by the authorities hours before the event. On the other hand, the nervous haste in using the rifles on the miners, without even a volley over their heads, or some more serious attempt to check them before resort was had to the "red argument,” it is quite impossible to excuse.
That which stands out most clearly in this troubled business, is the early need of an independent, well disciplined constabulary. That we should still be in this respect where England was at least sixty years ago, is without excuse. In those days the English used the same clumsy weapon of a local and extemporized police. They were caught up in the moment of excitement from the very heart of the disturbance. They were influenced by the fears, prejudices and passions incident to local traditions; they had the phrases about "law and order” which closed all argument as to better ways and
means of preserving law and order. There was a row on hand and blood must be let.
It would be easy to reproduce opinion of that earlier time that reads as if it were straight from Hazelton: the opinion that the necessity of shooting must be expected now and then.
If no șteps are taken in our coal regions to learn the elemental conditions of social protection, the shooting, with its ugly consequences, will continue. The material out of which the flames may burst at any moment are all there at hand. The English overcame this difficulty by a properly organized and adequately trained state police. It is a police wholly unmoved by the narrowly local feelings which are always a danger.
It is grotesque to expect the mastery of occasion, which coolness and disinterestedness assure, from a body so inexperienced as the deputies at Lattimer. To the inquiry, Is anything done for the miners in the way of education?” it was answered, “No, neither by any church nor employer.”
There was much good-natured feeling of a patriarchal type expressed and not a little bitterness that the men were so lacking in gratitude. A visit to five important centers showed, however, no trace of any attempt to civilize these men and women. There was even no disposition to do away with the truck store of the company. On every hand there were among the miners angry feelings about these stores. Nothing showed so well the patriarchal character of the employer as the defense of these institutions. It was thought enough to prove that they performed a service to the miners, and that it was quite immaterial whether the miners liked them or not. It was maintained stoutly that there was no trace of compulsion upon the men to buy there. With the habit of sending out men from the stores to “take orders,” nothing can be said with more absolute confidence than that a constant indirect compulsion is felt by the miners to patronize the company stores. This question was put to one of the employers, “If you had one hundred men out of work and were to take on twenty, would there be any temptation to select such as your books showed to be the best purchasers at your stores?” “Oh," was the reply, “human nature could not resist that; I do not, however, call that compulsion.” It is precisely this sense of indirect compulsion which has come to be felt so keenly among many of the miners. “I know," said one of them, "that my chances of keeping work are better if I do all my buying with them.” A man of leading influence in the trust said, rather hotly,