Anthracite Coal Strike Ended

A national emergency was averted in 1902 when Roosevelt found a compromise to the Anthracite coal strike that threatened the heating supplies of most homes.

Roosevelt forced an end to the strike when he threatened to use the United States Army to mine the coal and seize the mines. The labor union and the owners both reached an agreement after this episode where the labor union agreed to not be the official bargainer for the workers and the workers got better pay and fewer hours.

The issues that lead to the strike of 1900 were just as pressing in 1902: the union wanted recognition and a degree of control over the industry. The industry, still smarting from its concessions in 1900, opposed any federal role. The 150,000 miners wanted their weekly pay envelope. Tens of millions of city dwellers needed coal to heat their homes.

John Mitchell, President of the UMWA, proposed mediation through the National Civic Federation, then a body of relatively progressive employers committed to collective as a means of resolving labor disputes. In the alternative, Mitchell proposed that a committee of eminent clergymen report on conditions in the coalfields. George Baer, President of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, one of the leading employers in the industry, brushed aside both proposals dismissively:

"Anthracite mining is a business, and not a religious, sentimental, or academic proposition.... I could not if I would delegate this business management to even so highly a respectable body as the Civic Federation, nor can I call to my aid . . . the eminent prelates you have named."

On May 12, 1902, the miners went out on strike. The maintenance employees, who had much steadier jobs and did not face the special dangers of underground work, walked out on June 2. The union had the support of roughly eighty percent of the workers in this area, or more than 100,000 strikers. Some 30,000 left the region, many headed for Midwestern bituminous mines; 10,000 returned to Europe. The strike soon produced threats of violence between the strikers on one side and strikebreakers, the Pennsylvania National Guard, local police and hired detective agencies on the other.

As the strike continued into October, and the winter months rapidly approached, citizens were becoming very concerned about a possible coal shortage during the winter. President Theodore Roosevelt was also becoming concerned and decided to take unprecedented action. President Roosevelt invited representatives of the United Mine Workers and coal operators to the White House on October 3, 1902 becoming the first president to personally intervene in a labor dispute (Coal Strike Conference 1902). President Roosevelt reiterated the concerns of the American public that was being affected by the shortage in coal (Anthracite Coal Strike). The UMW President, John Mitchell, agreed to call off the strike if a tribunal of presidential representatives, UMW representatives, and coal operators could be assigned to continue to deal with the issues of the strike, like union recognition. Mitchell also asked for an immediate small increase to miners' wages until the tribunal had time to work out an agreement. The public saw the efforts of President Mitchell to be noble and fair (Coal Strike Conference 1902). The coal operators did not see this agreement as fair and once again refused to deal with the United Mine Workers Union, despite the pleas of President Roosevelt.