The Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 Research Paper
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The anthracite coal strike of 1902 that lasted from May 12 until October 23 demonstrated the following:
- The growing power of labor in American industry
- A greater willingness among elected officials to intervene in labor situations in order to reduce social turmoil
- To a large degree, it represented the point at which the policy of the federal government shifted away from a position of repressing the labor movement or indifference to the activities of industrialists to a position of fostering dispute resolution as an intermediary
At the same time, it demonstrated to other segments of American labor that it was possible to achieve meaningful gains in wages and working conditions through union membership, collective bargaining, and the use of the strike. Although there were high levels of violence associated with the strike as well as the shortage in heating fuel that it created, there was a great deal of sympathy towards the miners and their cause among the American public that was fostered by the press. As a result, Roosevelt’s role in ending the strike received popular support, although it engendered some criticism from industrialists.
Conditions in American coal mines had been very poor during the nineteenth century, with efforts by the coal miners to improve their working environment and wages meeting with little success. The work in the mines was inherently dangerous due to the constant potential for cave-ins and noxious gas. In addition, long-term exposure to coal dust shortened the lives of the miners as the result of emphysema and black-lung disease. Miners were paid by the load of coal brought to the surface, and any work that did not directly produce useable coal was considered unpaid “dead work.” The mine operators also charged the miners for essential equipment such as black powder for blasting. Because the mine operators controlled the communities in which the miners lived, housing and basic commodities were relatively costly, leaving miners with little wage surplus for luxuries or to develop other means of making a living. In addition, the operators were both the employers and civil authorities in the mining towns, creating conditions that fostered repression of dissidents and the development of frustration and hostility among the miners. These conditions led to the formation of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in 1890 as a splinter group of the Knights of Labor. In addition, the conditions in the coalmines were reasonable well chronicled in the progressive press of the period, which created a relatively high level of public awareness and sympathy for the plight of coal miners.