UMWA was founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1890 by the merger of Knights of
Labor Trade Assembly No.135 and the National Progressive Union of
Miners and Mine Laborers. The constitution adopted by the delegates to
the first UMWA convention barred discrimination based on race, religion
or national origin. The UMWA founding fathers clearly recognized the
destructive power of discrimination at a time when racism and ethnic
discrimination were accepted facts in some parts of American culture. The delegates also called for miners to obtain a fair share of the
wealth they created fully compatible with the dangers of our
calling. "The delegates pledged to use all honorable means to
maintain peace between ourselves and employers; adjusting all
differences, as far as possible, by arbitration and conciliation, that
strikes may become unnecessary."
UMWA has provided leadership to the American labor movement. Among the
great UMWA leaders were John L. Lewis, Phil Murray, Bill Green, William
B. Wilson, John Mitchell and Mother Jones.
history is full of legendary and often tragic names. The Molly Maguires;
the Lattimer Massacre and the Ludlow Massacre; Matewan and the Battle of
Blair Mountain; Paint Creek, Cabin Creek and Buffalo Creek; and Bloody
Harlan are some of many legendary stories that have been handed down in
the oral history of mining families.
the threat of physical harm and economic ruin, miners have constantly
struggled against great odds to achieve their goals: the eight-hour day
in 1898, collective bargaining rights in 1933, health and retirement
benefits in 1946, and health and safety protections in 1969.
UMWA was an influential member of the American Federation of Labor (AFL)
and was the driving force behind the creation of the Congress of
Industrial Organizations (CIO). Organizers from the UMWA fanned out
across the country in the 1933 to organize all coal miners after passage
of the National Industrial Recovery Act. The law granted workers the
right to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers.
UMWA was an early pioneer of health and retirement benefits. In 1946, in
a contract between the UMWA and the federal government, a multi-employer
UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund was created. The UMWA Fund would change
permanently health care delivery in the coal fields of the nation. The
UMWA Fund built eight hospitals in Appalachia, established numerous
clinics and recruited young doctors to practice in rural coal field
UMWA has also been a leader in the field of worker health and safety.
Since its beginning, the UMWA has pushed for technical and statutory
advances to protect "life, health and limb." Because of the
dust created in coal mines, the UMWA was forced to become expert in
occupational lung diseases such as silicosis and pneumoconiosis. In
1969, the UMWA convinced Congress to enact the landmark Federal Coal
Mine Health and Safety Act. That law changed a number of mining
practices to protect miners' safety and provided compensation for miners
suffering from black lung disease. Perhaps most important, it was the
first time that Congress mandated the elimination of a man-made
occupational disease. Despite reductions in coal mine dust
concentrations, after 25 years this mandate still has not been
fulfilled--coal miners still suffer from black lung.
the UMWA continues its primary role of speaking out on behalf of
American coal miners. But it also has taken on an active international
role by working to end apartheid in South Africa and by helping workers
in the former Soviet Union and developing nations form democratic labor
information on the UMWA can be found at www.UMWA.org.
Harris Jones was a powerful UMWA organizer and workers advocate in the
early 1900s. She was fearless in standing up to corporate executives,
governors and gun thugs. She was thrown into jails and vilified by the
public press for advancing the cause of coal miners and other workers.
of her courage and indefatigable spirit, she became known as the Miners'
Angel. Wherever the miners were on strike, there you would find Mother
Jones, giving the miners inspiration and advice. She was involved in the
strike in Pennsylvania in 1897, the Ludlow
strike in Colorado in 1913, and the Paint Creek and Cabin
Creek strikes in West Virginia in 1920.
Jones died in 1931 at the age of 100 after fighting for workers for more
than half a century.
Jones said, "Pray for the dead, but fight like Hell for the