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 Post subject: New Book Retraces Lives of NEPA Miners
PostPosted: Mon Sep 10, 2012 5:12 am 
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Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2009 7:16 pm
Posts: 478
Location: Anthracite Region of PA
New book retraces lives of NEPA miners

By Paul Golias (Correspondent)

Published: September 10, 2012

It was a never-ending struggle for anthracite miners to obtain better pay, better working conditions and the basic dignity worthy of a working person. Even as the last deep mines petered out in Northeastern Pennsylvania, skirmishes marked the divide between capital and labor.

A new book, "Anthracite Labor Wars," will be out around Thanksgiving Day. It promises to relive the bitter and deadly life of miners and their employers.

The authors are Dr. Robert P. Wolensky, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and William "Bill" Hastie, West Pittston, a professor of sorts in that he tells wonderful stories of a life lived amid and within the mines.

Hastie's own college "career" lasted three days and that in itself is a great story. More on Hastie at Wilkes College later.

"Anthracite Labor Wars" focuses on the period from the 1890s to the 1930s. There were several historic strikes in that period, including the 1902 strike famous for the intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt. It was a turning point in the effort of the miners to gain a greater voice in their lives.

"The coal companies did not recognize the (United Mine Workers) union," Wolensky said during an interview. However, the companies did bargain but famously did not abide by the contracts and the miners had to strike repeatedly.

The history of the Pennsylvania Coal Co. is explored intensively. The company had 13 collieries in Northeastern Pennsylvania and its 12,000 miners and laborers were the last to organize.

The men found the UMWA "too conservative," Wolensky said, and they went on strike in 1916 without a union and lost. By 1920, the miners had joined the UMWA and that helped make UMWA District 1 in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area the largest in the union with 60,000 members. The districts in the middle and southern fields had about 30,000 members each.

The Pennsylvania Coal miners had struck earlier, in 1905, in a dispute not over pay but over "docking." That was the coal company practice of reducing a man's pay by claiming loaded coal cars had too much rock mixed with the coal. Ironically, it was the company that turned to John Mitchell, president of the UMWA, for help.

Mitchell and the UMWA were rejected by the Pennsylvania Coal employees because they wanted a more aggressive approach to bargaining. Wolensky said about one-fourth of the company's employees came from Sicily, Italy, where they were sulphur miners at a time of intense militancy and anarchy.

"Anthracite Labor Wars" tells the stories of the strikes in 1924 and 1928; the leadership role of UMWA District 1 president Renaldo Cappellini and how mine owners used the leasing technique, or sub-contracting sections of mines to other companies, to break down the traditional miner-laborer role.

The role of organized crime figures in becoming subcontractors is told. Santo Volpe, the crime boss in Northeastern Pennsylvania, led the mob infiltration of the industry in which some local UMWA unions were corrupted. Rebel unions then emerged but by 1936, the anthracite miner basically had been beaten in the struggle for dignity, Wolensky said.

Mitchell is cited as the one who united the various ethnic groups working in the industry. The Lattimer Massacre of 1897, in which miners of several nationalities were killed while on a protest march, set the stage for Mitchell's rallying of men and their families behind the UMWA cause.

Hastie adds some first-hand flavor in the telling of the Knox Mine disaster story. Hastie said he was due to report for work in the afternoon on the day the Susquehanna River broke into the Knox Mine at Jenkins Township.

The date was Jan. 22, 1959. Twelve men died and three were at the coal face, where Hastie would have been working had the accident happened later in the day.

Hastie said he helped rescue some of the 69 miners who escaped. He said he will never forget the words of his foreman: "Billy, we have trouble here."

At age 93, Hastie is an energetic supporter of those who strive to record and tell the coal mining story. He worked in the mines for only six years, at Knox, but his life is chock full of anecdotes. He worked as a steamfitter, played football for the Pittston Vocational School against college teams, served in the Army during World War II and fought at North Africa, Sicily and Italy; sustained wounds on the Anzio beachhead, worked making truck bodies, worked for Conrail, served on West Pittston Borough Council and tried college.

Hastie swears that he would have aced the linguistics section of a test he took when he enrolled at Wilkes College in 1948.

"There was a mistake on the test or I would have had a perfect score," he said. Hastie says he pointed out the error on the test but "they wouldn't correct it."

After three days in college, and after being assigned to write a paper on what he did for the summer, Hastie said, he quit.

"I wrote that paper when I was in the fifth grade," he said.

Wolensky has written several books on anthracite mining history from his perspective as a sociologist. They include books on the Knox Mine disaster, Avondale tragedy of 1869 in which 110 men and boys died, a history of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union, the story of the Wyoming Valley's rebirth after the 1972 Agnes flood and papers and books on local government. Kenneth Wolensky and Nicole Wolensky are co-authors of some of the works.

Bob Wolensky coordinates an annual anthracite history seminar and he is sought after as a speaker by such groups as the Huber Breaker Preservation Society. He said he has toured mining sites in Scotland, England, Wales and Germany, where millions of dollars have been invested in tourism.

The Huber Breaker is worth saving, Wolensky said as recently as last week at a breaker society meeting.

Scott K
"Watch Your Top"

 Post subject: Re: New Book Retraces Lives of NEPA Miners
PostPosted: Sun Jun 05, 2022 6:11 am 

Joined: Wed Oct 16, 2019 3:03 pm
Posts: 12
Location: United States
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