Chapter 8 - Roosevelt Sent for John Mitchell
The strike of the anthracite miners which started in the spring with $90,000 in the treasury, ended in the fall with over a million dollar in the possession of the United Mine Workers The strike had been peaceful. The miners had the support of the public. The tie up of the collieries had been complete. Factories and railroads were without coal.
Toward fall New York began to suffer. It October, Mr. Roosevelt summoned “Divine Right Baer,” President of the Coal Producers Union, and other officials of the coal interests to Washington. He called also the officials of the miners’ union. They sat at the cabinet table, the coal officials on one side, the miners officials at the other and the president at the head of the table in between the two groups.
They discussed the matter and the mine owners would not consent to any kind of settlement. Mr. Baer said that before he would consent to arbitration with the union he would call out the militia and shoot the miners back into the mines.
The meeting adjourned without results. Mr., Roosevelt sent for John Mitchell. He patted him on the shoulder, told him that he was the true patriot and loyal citizen and not the mine owners. After the conference there was a deadlock.
Mr. Mitchell reported the conference to the miners. They said, “All right. We have money enough to see this thing through. We will fight to a finish. Until the coal operators recognize our union and deal with our demands.”
Wall Street sent for Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan to come home from Europe. He came. The situation was serious for the mine operators. The public was indignant at their stubbornness. A Mr. – wrote to Montgomery where I was organizing and asked me to come to New York, saying he wished to discuss the strike with me. I went to headquarters at Wilkes-Barre and asked Mr. Mitchell what I should do.
He said, “Go, Mother, but whatever you do, do not consent to any outside group arbitrating this strike. The union won this strike. The operators know that they are beaten and that they must deal with the United Mine Workers.”
“No,” I said, “I will consent to no other group undertaking the settlement. I will report to you.”
I met Mr.- and we went over the situation. He then went down to Mr. Morgan’s office and I waited for him in his office until he returned. “Mr. Morgan is most distressed,” he said on his return. ‘He says the miners have us!”
On Sunday afternoon, Mr. Baer and his group met on Mr. Morgan’s yacht out in the bay of New York. Mr. Root came down from Washington to represent Roosevelt. Not a newspaperman was permitted out on that yacht. There were no telegrams, no telephones, no messages. How to lose the strike without apparently losing it was what they discussed. But give the victory to the union they would not!
Mr. Root proposed the way out. The President should appoint “an impartial board of inquiry.” This method of settling the strike would avoid capitulation to the union, put the operators in the position of yielding to public opinion, make the miners lose public support if they refused to submit their cause to the board.
The next morning, Monday, my friend, Mr. – met Mr. Morgan at 209 Madison Avenue. He returned from that appointment, crying “The strike is settled.” I went back to Wilkes-Barre and found that Mr. Mitchell had already been to Washington and had consented to the arbitration of the strike by a board appointed by the president.
“It would never do to refuse the president,” he said, when I tried to dissuade him from taking part in the conferences.
“You have a good excuse to give the president,” I replied. “Tell him that when you came home from the last conference in the cabinet room, Mr. Baer said he would shoot the miners back before he would deal with their union.” Tell him that the miners said, ‘All right. We will fight to a finish for the recognition of The United Mine Workers’.”
“It would not do to tell the president that,” he replied.
That night, Mr. Mitchell, accompanied by Mr. Wellman, Roosevelt’s publicity man, went to Washington. He had an audience with the president the next morning. Before he left the White House, the newspapers, magazines and pulpits were shouting his praises, calling him the greatest labor leader in all America. Mr. Mitchell was not dishonest but he had a weak point, and that was his love of flattery; and the interests used this weak point in furtherance of their designs.
When he returned to Wilkes-Barre, priests, ministers and politicians fell on their knees before him. Bands met him at the station. The men took the horses from his carriage and drew it themselves. Parades with banners marched in his honor beside the carriage. His black hair was pushed back from his forehead. His face was pale. His dark eyes shone with excitement. There were deep lines in his face from the long strain he had been under.
Flattery and homage did its work with John Mitchell. The strike was won. Absolutely no anthracite coal was being dug. The operators could have been made to deal with the unions if Mr. Mitchell had stood firm. A moral victory would have been won for the principle of unionism. This to my mind was more important than the material gains which the miners received through the later decision of the president’s board.
Mr. Mitchell died a rich man, distrusted by the working people whom he once served.
From out that strike came the Irish Hessian law-the establishment of a police constabulary. The bill was framed under the pretext that it would protect the farmer. Workingmen went down to Harrisburg and lobbied for it. They hated the coal and iron police of the mine owners and thought anything preferable to them. They forgot that the coal and iron police could join the constabulary and they forgot the history of Ireland, whence the law came: Ireland, soaked with the blood of men and of women, shed by the brutal constabulary.
“No honorable man will join,” said a labor leader to me when I spoke of my fears.
“Then that leaves the workers up against the bad men, the gunmen and thugs that do join,” I answered. And that’s just where they have been left.
I attended the hearings of the board of inquiry, appointed by President Roosevelt. Never shall I forget the words of John Mitchell as he appeared before the commission:
“For more than twenty years the anthracite miners have groaned under most intolerable and inhuman conditions. In a brotherhood of labor they seek to remedy their wrongs.”
Never shall I forget the words of President Baer, speaking for the operators:
“The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected not by the labor agitator but by the Christian men and women to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of this country.”
Never shall I forget the words of labor’s great pleader, Clarence Darrow:
“These agents of the Almighty have seen men killed daily; have seen men crippled, blinded and maimed and turned out to alms-houses and on the roadsides with no compensation. They have seen the anthracite region dotted with silk mills because the wages of the miner makes it necessary for him to send his little girls to work twelve hours a day, a night, in the factory . . . at a child’s wage. President Baer sheds tears because boys are taken into the union but he has no tears because they are taken into the breakers.”
Never, never shall I forget his closing words, words which I shall hear when my own life draws to its close: “This contest is one of the important contests that have marked the progress of human liberty “since the world began. Every advantage that the human race has won has been at fearful cost. Some men must die that others may live. It has come to these poor miners to bear this cross not for themselves alone but that the human race may be lifted up to a higher and broader plane.”
The commission found in favor of the miners in every one of their demands. The operators gracefully bowed to their findings. Labor walked into the House of Victory through the back door.
Next page: Chapter 9 - Murder in West Virginia