Wednesday, September 26, 2007

TR and the 1902 Coal Strike

Strikes are on my mind (looks like the nationwide GM strike (first in over 30 years) ended today after less than a week), so I thought discussing TR's involvement in the 1902 anthracite coal strike was appropriate.

In October of 1902, TR faced a possible coal famine and so took unprecedented action to summon the leaders to him. From the DOL's site we learn how unprecedented this was:
This meeting marked the turn of the U.S. Government from strikebreaker to peacemaker in industrial disputes. In the 19th century, presidents, if they acted at all, tended to side with employers. Andrew Jackson became a strikebreaker in 1834 when he sent troops to the construction sites of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.3 War Department employees operated the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad during the Civil War .4 In the violent rail strikes of 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes sent troops to prevent obstruction of the mails.5 Grover Cleveland used soldiers to break the Pullman strike of 1894.6

Roosevelt was a president who believed in intervention, unlike his predecessor (William McKinley):
President Roosevelt was an activist who itched to enter the fray. On June 8, 1902, he asked his Commissioner of Labor, Carroll D. Wright, to investigate the strike and report back to him. Wright avoided going to the coalfields because he felt that as the President's representative his "presence there would do more harm than good." Instead, he headed for New York City, where he interviewed presidents of coal roads, independent mine operators, financiers, mine foremen, and superintendents. He also heard the miners' side from John Mitchell, whom he summoned to New York. Wright worked assiduously, and within 12 days, he sent by special courier to the President a substantial report accompanied by tables and statistics's.18

As the strike continued, TR wanted to intervene, but his attorney general (Philander Knox) told him he had no authority to do so:
President Roosevelt was in a quandary. "There is literally nothing . . . the national government has any power to do," he complained to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. "I am at wit's end how to proceed."26 Lodge too was worried. He did not understand the folly of the operators which would cause great suffering and probably defeat the Republican party.27As winter neared and coal prices soared, Roosevelt feared "the untold misery . . . with the certainty of riots which might develop into social war." Although the President agreed with his advisers that he had no legal right, he determined to bring both sides together and see whether he could bring about an agreement. 28

TR's meeting didn't go as planned as the operators refused to deal with the union leaders. Nothing was working and TR was ready to call in the army to assure coal production. The Secretary of War, Elihu Root, got help from J.P. Morgan and managed to set up a deal that both sides could live with:
Roosevelt's Secretary of War, Elihu Root, was worried about the course of events. He had been a distinguished corporate lawyer and was a friend of banker J. P. Morgan. Root told Roosevelt that he would like to mediate in a way which would not commit the President. On October 9, he enlisted Morgan's influence in a proposal whereby the miners would go back to work while a commission considered the issues. Although this was an oft-made proposal, Root added a face-saving wrinkle. Each company and its own employees would present their differences to the commission. This would spare the operators from dealing directly with the miners' union and show the public that the coal industry would arbitrate with its workers.43

Morgan asked Root to come to New York. On October 11, 1902, the two men met for 5 hours on Morgan's yacht, the Corsair, allegedly because newspaper reporters could not bother them there. They drafted an arbitration proposal. The mine operators, fearful of rising public hostility and under pressure from Morgan, accepted the Root-Morgan recommendation provided that they could set ground rules. On October 13, Root and Morgan brought their arbitration proposal to Roosevelt, who then made it public.44

With this the commission was set up to fairly deal with the situation:
More important than the incredible maneuvering in the selection of the Anthracite Coal Strike Commission was the overriding fact that finally miners and operators alike agreed that all disputed issues should be submitted to arbitration. Both sides also agreed to abide by the findings of the commission. "The child is born," wrote Carroll Wright, "and I trust will prove a vigorous ... member of society."48

The commissioners started by inspecting the coal fields and then settled in to listen to testimony:
The commissioners, after their inspection tour, met for nearly 3 months. Five-hundred fifty-eight witnesses appeared, including 240 for the striking miners, 153 for nonunion mineworkers, and 154 for the operators. The Commission itself requested the appearance of 11 witnesses. The testimony ran to 10,047 legal-sized pages in addition to other exhibits. John Mitchell played a prominent role in presenting the case for the miners. George Baer made the closing arguments for the coal operators, while Clarence Darrow closed for the workers.

What did the commision find?
Although the commissioners heard some evidence of terrible conditions, they concluded that the "moving spectacle of horrors" represented only a small number of cases. By and large, social conditions in mine communities were found to be good, and miners were judged as only partly justified in their claim that annual earnings were not sufficient "to maintain an American standard of living."

The Commission's findings seemed to split the differences between mineworkers and mine owners. The miners asked for 20-percent wage increases, and most were given a 10-percent increase. The miners had asked for an 8-hour day and were awarded a 9-hour day instead of the standard 10 hours then prevailing.52 The operators refused to recognize the United Mine Workers union. But Mitchell believed that he had won de facto recognition and wrote that the "most important feature of the award" was the creation of a six-man arbitration board to settle disputes that could not be worked out with mine officials. The employees selected three members and the employers three members.

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