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The bodies of dissident union leader Joseph "Jock" Yablonski, his wife, and daughter are discovered in their Clarksville, Pennsylvania, farmhouse by Yablonski’s son Kenneth. The family had been dead for nearly a week, killed on New Year’s Eve by killers hired by the United Mine Workers (UMW) union leadership. Yablonski’s murder eventually brought down the whole union leadership and ended the widespread corruption of the union under UMW President Tony Boyle.
Jock Yablonski ran against Boyle in the 1969 election for the leadership of the UMW. He accused Boyle of nepotism and misuse of union funds, while also pushing for greater voting rights for rank-and-file members. On December 9, 1969, Boyle won the election but Yablonski asked the U.S. Labor Department to investigate the election for possible fraud.
At that point, Boyle sought to have Yablonski killed. Paul Gilly and Claude Vealey were hired by a UMW leader, Albert Pass, to carry out the murder. In mid-December, Gilly and Vealey went to Yablonski’s house but lost their nerve at the last moment. When they returned two weeks later with Buddy Martin, they shot Yablonski, his wife, Margaret, and 25-year-old daughter, Charlotte.
Eventually, an investigation into the murders exposed the conspiracy and nine people were convicted for their involvement, including Tony Boyle, who died in prison. Fortunately, the scandal prompted serious reform of the UMW union.
Bodies of family killed by United Mine Workers found - HISTORY
The West Virginian (Fairmont) Fate Of 34 Miners Unknown Rescue Workers Redouble Efforts To Reach Victims Rescue Crews Begin Six-Hour Shifts at 3 o'Clock Red Cross Issues Appeal for Pies to Feed Workers. John L. Lewis Wires Sympathy
March 18, 1925
Fate Of 34 Miners Unknown
Rescue Workers Redouble Efforts To Reach Victims
Rescue Crews Begin Six-Hour Shifts at 3 o'Clock Red Cross Issues Appeal for Pies to Feed Workers.
John L. Lewis Wires Sympathy
Determined if possible to reduce the estimates time that it will take to reach the 34 miners entombed in the old Jamison No. 7 mine at Barrackville, members of the rescue shift which went into the mine at 3 o'clock this afternoon were prepared to battle with super-human effort to break through to the ill-fated men by 9 o'clock tonight.
Whether their efforts will be successful is a matter of serious doubt. R. M. Lambie and other leaders in the work of reaching the men in the mine have not retracted previous statements that it would be midnight before the men were found, however.
A heavy rain, which began shortly after 2 o'clock, drove all of the spectators behind the police lines away except relatives of the men, who stood their ground minute after minute and hour after hour, hoping against hope for some cheering news.
There had been no word or signal of any kind from the miners since the explosion last night. According to those who have had long experience in mine disaster rescue work, there is but small chance that the men will be found alive, although there is a possibility that through some good stroke of luck they may have been sheltered behind some protection when the blast let go.
Under a general order signed this afternoon by Jack Berry of the Bethlehem Mines Corporation, George McCas of the Pittsburgh branch of the United States Bureau of Mines and R. M. Lambie, chief of the West Virginia Department of Mines, rescue crews will work in six-hour shifts.
The crew which went on at 3 o'clock this afternoon will be directed by Mr. McCas, George Groves and Pete McLinden, with Mr. Berry and J. Wells as captains.
The 9 p. m. crew will be under the general direction of Lilly, Riggleman, Morris and J. Berry, Bill Hacker and James Haley will be captains. The shift for 3 o'clock tomorrow morning has not yet been prepared.
Coroner at Mine Opening.
County Coroner L. C. Fitzhugh arrived on the scene of the disaster shortly after 2 o'clock. He announced that he would view the first body brought from the mine and then impanel a coroner's jury. If it is found that many of the entombed miners are dead, their bodies will be distributed to the various undertaking parlors, where they will be prepared for burial. Relatives may either identify the victims when they are brought from the mine or at the undertakers.
Mayor T. V. Buckley, City Attorney Albert Kern and City Clerk Luke C. Arnett visited the mine this afternoon. Mr. Buckley said that he had no statement to make officially in behalf of the city at this time.
Lewis Expresses Sympathy
John L. Lewis of Indianapolis, international president of the United Mine Workers of America, in a telegram late this afternoon to Van Bittner, chief international representative in Fairmont, said "I authorize a contribution of $500 by the international secretary for relief of the dependents of victims of the Barrackville disaster.
"The fact that the victims of this disaster were non-union miners working under guards and search lights, employed by Bethlehem Mines Corporation, does not set aside the question of humanity which is involved.
"The international union will be glad to leave you administer this fund and be helpful in any possible way to the stricken families of the victims of this terrible disaster."
Red Cross Asks for Pies
An appeal was issued by the Red Cross this afternoon for pies to feed mine rescue teams at work in the mine.
The call for pies was made late this afternoon by Miss Florence Kneisel, connected with the local office, who obtained promises of many women by telephone messages, but later decided to make a general call.
Reports on Progress Differ
At 3 o'clock this afternoon it was estimated that the rescue crews working to reach the entombed miners in the mine at Barrackville were not back more than 300 feet. Earlier in the day it was said that the men were back a much greater distance, one estimate placing the distance at one mile.
Drexel George, deputy sheriff, said this afternoon that timbers were being placed at the bottom of the shaft at 10 o'clock today, and others agreed with him that in view of the shattered condition of the entry the rescue crews could not have penetrated more than a few hundred feet. Fallen debris is said to have hampered progress to a very considerable extent.
Sheriff John C. Riggins went on duty again at noon today, after snatching a few hours' rest at home. He expected to make another visit to the mine this afternoon.
Mr. Riggins, himself an experienced miner and former superintendent, said this afternoon that he would not offer any opinion as to the cause of the explosion. He intimated that there is nothing as yet to show conclusively what occurred in the shaft at 9:30 last night.
Disaster Causes $500,000 Damage To Mining Plant Chief of State Department of Mines Sees Little Hope for 34 Lives Crews Doing Everything Possible To Reach Men Red Cross Establishes Headquarters at Scene to Aid Rescue Men.
Chief of State Department of Mines Sees Little Hope for 34 Lives
Crews Doing Everything Possible To Reach Men
Red Cross Establishes Headquarters at Scene to Aid Rescue Men.
Although rescue workers had been busy all morning in an effort to locate the 34 miners entombed in Mine 41 of the Bethlehem Corporation at Barrackville, which was blown up at 9:28 o'clock last evening, it was announced at noon today by R. A. Lambie, chief mine inspector, that the men, either dead or alive, could not be reached before late tonight.
In a statement issued earlier in the morning, Chief Lambie said that the situation was "bad," intimating that the chance of finding the miners alive was only slight. The Red Cross and several rescue crews were on hand, doing all that is within the ability of human beings to break down the barriers that are holding the unfortunate workers in the shaft.
Company officials, while they did not make an official announcement, declared that the loss in all probability would reach a figure close to $500,000. The mine is practically a total wreck.
Thirty-six horses which are used in the mine were found dead in an under-ground stable 300 feet below the surface of the earth. All of these were found dead this morning, but there were no human bodies near them.
Sends Telegram to Gore.
While thousands jammed the rope "dead line" along the highway various rescue parties were battling their way this morning through the mine chambers in the hope of reaching the entombed miners shortly after noon. At 11 o'clock R. A. Lambie, chief mine inspector of the state, sent a telegram to Governor Howard Gore, in which he intimated that the situation was bad and that it was impossible yet to tell whether when found any of the miners would be alive.
T. R. Johns, general manager of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, with headquarters at Johnstown, Pa., arrived on the scene about 10 o'clock, and after making a survey of the situation with Benton Mitchell, he returned to Fairmont without giving a statement to press representatives.
Safety teams from three sections of Pennsylvania arrived about 9 o'clock. These parties left Johnstown by automobiles at 2 a. m. today. In the Ellsworth division were A. J. Frazier, Edward Python, Vince Sikota, William Beverage, Charles Lewellyn, Charles Grim. In the Johnstown division, Edward Williams, David Malcolm, Owen Robertson, Richard Lewis, Euen Reese, Alfred Wallace, Joe Martin, George Winder, Arthur Shallenberger.
In the Preston division were E. J. House, Andy Debaise, John Fallon, Rollow Friend, Rex Longude, Frank Allison, Jeff Clark, Louis Hazadon, Dale McClure, Vernon Bernard and George Bernard.
Red Cross Gets on Job
The local Red Cross is giving full assistance to J. A. Northwood, general safety director of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, with offices in the Cambria plant, Johnstown, Pa. Local Red Cross workers on the scene are Miss May Maloney, Miss Nellie Nash, Miss Ruth Heintzelman, Miss Florence Kneisel and Miss Francie Sorensen.
Miss Elsie Lawrence of Washington, D. C., national field director of the American Red Cross wired that she would arrive this afternoon.
Two rooms in the office of the company have been fitted up as a temporary and emergency hospital and headquarters for the Red Cross workers.
Shortly before noon, J. A. Northwood conferred with Dr. E. P. Smith, one of the company physicians, in regard to making arrangements for a temporary morgue in case it would be found that the miners had been killed. The bodies will be placed in the morgue after being prepared for identification. Here relatives will be permitted to identify the dead.
Carpenter and Ford, it was said, are the company undertakers, but it was decided that arrangements should be made to have all local undertakers available at a moment's notice if necessary.
Among the members of the local rescue crews are J. B. and Frank Berry, James Holy, I. E. Bayles, Arthur Tennant, Al Victor, Furman Suttkin and William Hacket.
Frank Woodward went down in the mine with the first phone set shortly after 3 o'clock this morning. He now is an employe of the traction company, but is a former telephone man. He volunteered his services.
Rescue Car Arrives.
Rescue car No. 3 of the United States Bureau of Mines at Pittsburgh arrived at the mine early this morning, in charge of G. S. McCas, assistant chief engineer.
He was accompanied by two experts, G. W. Grove and R. S. Thornburg also of Pittsburgh. A short time after the arrival of the car, the Federal Bureau of Mines representatives made their first trip into the workings. Other mine experts at the scene are R. M. Lambie of Charleston, chief of the West Virginia Bureau of Mines William Riggleman, Fairmont district inspector, and C. T. Wolty, Bethlehem Mine Corporation inspector.
Early this morning a recheck of the men who went to work last evening showed that 34 miners had entered the workings, and this morning the little community of Barrackville was wrought with sorrow. Women and children with tear-stained faces were standing about the police lines which held back the crowds from the entrance to the mine.
Hundreds of persons were attracted to the scene, many automobiles being parked along the highway near the mine. State police and mine guards were keeping the crowds orderly.
Whistle Misleads Rescuers.
Shortly after the explosion the whistle used by the men in the mine to signal the hoist engineer to bring up the cage started blowing. It was believed that the men were sending a signal. This whistle soon ceased to blow and was not heard again.
Several of the men who were caught in the explosion had just obtained work with the company yesterday and were working their first trick in the ill-fated mine.
Arthur Woody of Huntington and W. H. Kittle of Norton were two who obtained jobs at the mine yesterday. Walter Richter and two other men in the mine whose names could not be learned came to Fairmont yesterday to purchase automobiles.
Rescue crews from Pittsburgh and the Bethlehem Mines Corporation properties on the M. & K. Railroad were started toward Fairmont as soon as possible after the explosion.
The federal rescue car from Pittsburgh arrived here at 4 o'clock this morning, while the crew from the M. & K. arrived on a special train about three hours later.
Superintendent Called Back.
Superintendent Benton Mitchell of the mine was en route to Charleston when the blast went off. He was located in Grafton and was brought back to this city on a special train, reaching the scene of the explosion shortly after midnight.
The fact that the fan was wrecked by the blast was one of the first serious obstacles encountered in making for the possible rescue of the men. By heroic work the fan was repaired and in operation by 1 o'clock this morning, however.
Several times it was reported that signals had been received from the entombed men, but these proved to be false.
List of Entombed Miners
William Sanick, 38, Pole, loader, Brownton.
A. C. Brake, 21, single, driver, Rock Cave.
Curtis Kennedy, 25, single, Meridan first night in mine after layoff of two weeks.
J. A. Cosner, 53, American, shot firer wife in Barrackville, three children under and two children over 16.
Burt Marshall, 40, machine boss, Idamay four children under 16 and one over 16.
Leonard Saunders, 25, brattisman, single, Barrackville.
Walter Thompson, 24, colored, track helper wife in Masontown, Pa. one child under 16.
Willie Robinson, 26, colored, loader, single, Glen White.
Willie Alston, 30, colored, driver wife in Barrackville, two children under 16.
Pete Temest, 25, Italian, motorman, Barrackville two children under 16.
W. H. Kittle, 23, loader, Norton.
J. C. Steele, 47, loader wife in Norton, three children under 16 and one over 16.
Walter Richter, 24, Pole, single, Cincinnati, loader.
J. H. Butler, 32, colored, loader, single, Fairchance, Pa.
G. W. Knotts, 22, loader, wife in Shadyside, Fairmont, one child under 16.
J. W. Braggert, 30, loader, Barrackville, one child under 16.
Harry Marston, 52, English, night foreman, Barrackville three children under 16.
A. J. Harper, loader, 35, wife in Elkins, five children under 16.
Elmer Stiffler, cutter, 28 five children under 16, Barrackville.
James Tyler, cutter, colored, 30, single, Barrackville.
T. R. DeHart, 42, American wife in Philippi, two children under 16 and two children over 16.
Hobart Waldon, colored, 28, married, cutter wife in Monessen, Pa., two children under 16.
Callie Alstead, 38, cutter, widower four children under 16, Barrackville.
Charles Osborn, 30 wife at Barrackville, one child under 16.
Claude Wells, 37, cutter wife at Barrackville, two children under 16.
Hayes Perkins, 25, cutter wife at Barrackville, two children under 16.
John Ambros, 38, Austrian, cutter, wife at Barrackville, seven children under 16.
Arthur Wody, 31, cutter, working extra for I. S. Carson, Barrackville two children under 16.
Tom Day, 32 wife at Barrackville, five children under 16.
Harold Evans, 24, Fairmont, motorman, single.
Lloyd Wilson, 50, loader widower, home in Elkins, two children under and two children over 16.
Bernard Ammer, 30, Romanian, loader, Lyburn two children under 16.
Walter Mordas, 48, Russian, loader wife at Brownton.
Lack Of Disorder Marks Scenes At Mine Explosion Sheriff and State Police Aid Mine Officials - Salvation Army Busy. Bereaved Members of Miners Sob By Ropes Unhurried Efforts of Workers Rapidly Bring Order Out of Chaotic Scene.
Sheriff and State Police Aid Mine Officials - Salvation Army Busy.
Bereaved Members of Miners Sob By Ropes
Unhurried Efforts of Workers Rapidly Bring Order Out of Chaotic Scene.
Among the outstanding features of the events immediately following the mine disaster at Barrackville last night was the cool generalship of mine officials, who had the situation well in hand within a few minutes, the co-operation and quick response of Sheriff John C. Riggins and of the State Police under Capt. Hobart Brown.
State Police were on the ground within a short time, and their presence as patrols on the road that runs past the mine and at points above and below kept the heavy traffic in some semblance of order and prevented a jam which would have added considerably to the confusion.
When Sheriff Riggins arrived upon the scene the mine officials, augmented by 40 mine guards, were rapidly bringing order out of the chaos which immediately followed the explosion. The blast extinguished every light about the shaft and in the adjacent houses, and until nearly midnight the men were forced to work with only flashlights and sometimes automobile headlights to brighten the scene.
Ropes were stretched beside the road and here several hundred persons, among them the wives and mothers and children of the men entombed inside, congregated to stand with strained, anxious faces while they listened for some word from below.
Deputy sheriffs and mine guards patroled the line of ropes while employes of the Bell Telephone Co. and electricians sent by the Monongahela West Penn Public Service Co. worked like beavers to re-establish communication. Men from these two companies were on the scene within a remarkably short time, and their ready response won commendation from all sides.
Meanwhile investigations were being made at the mine shaft where the explosion occurred. Work crews were rapidly organized, strengthened by the arrival of experienced miners and rescue men from mines in adjoining towns. The chaotic scene rapidly took on a semblance of order. There was no evidence of confusion within the roped-in inclosure after the first half hour, and while there was no apparent hurry, every man did the job he was sent to do and did it quickly and quietly.
Despairing Cries of Grief
Only a few relatives of the entombed miners appeared in the crowd beside the road. One of these little groups was the wife, daughter and small son of one of he miners. They stood beside the ropes, muffling their sorrow as best they could, but occasionally breaking into sobs and despairing cries of grief. The most pitiful thing about this grief was its alternate sound of hope and of despair. Sometimes, when the word would be passed that the men below were uninjured and would be brought up alive, the sobbing would take on a note of relief. Then, with a little prayer that the news might be true, the afflicted family would wipe away the tears and make a pitiable effort at cheerfulness.
Again, a few minutes later, some old miner would speak lightly of the chance that anyone in the mine remained alive, and then the sobbing would begin with all of the pathos and horror of loved ones suddenly left without their protector.
The suffering of these people was lightened by the work of Ensign Alfred Carr and other members of the Salvation Army. These workers arrived early and immediately directed their efforts to soothing the bereaved members of entombed miners.
Little Confusion at Any Time
Some of the women, standing beside the ropes for so long, had become chilled, and the heavy fog which settled over the scene had dampened their scanty clothing. Mrs. Carr and other Salvation Army folk bundled the women into closed cars, parked near the ropes and there comforted and soothed during the trying wait.
At 11:30 the lights were turned on again and the scene took on a more lively aspect. Men were sent to Farmington for a shaft bucket, to use in sending men down the shaft to discover if possible the extent of the explosion, and work on the fans was hurried. First aid teams and rescue crews were already on the ground and officials had everything in readiness to go into the mine as soon as the air was turned on.
During all of the first excitement there was little commotion. The occasional voice of an official raised in issuing orders, the nervous sobbing of a woman as her nerves gave way under the strain, and low hum of voices as men discussed with each other the possibility of men below remaining alive and the possible cause of the explosion, everything was orderly, and there was little confusion at any time.
Bittner Pledges Union Funds For Widows, Orphans Issues Statement Expressing Sympathy for Workers Trapped in Mine.
Issues Statement Expressing Sympathy for Workers Trapped in Mine.
Sympathy for the entombed miners trapped in the Barrackville mine of the Bethlehem Mines Corporation was expressed today by officials of the United Mine Workers of Northern West Virginia. In a statement made today Van A. Bittner, international representative in charge of the organization of Northern West Virginia, said that unfortunately most of the men at work in the mine were inexperienced, at least insofar as that particular mine was concerned.
A substantial donation will be made by the miners union to the widows and orphans, which is a custom with the United Mine Workers of America, regardless of whether it is a union or non-union mine, he added.
"Everybody connected with the mining industry and especially the officers of the United Mine Workers of America were shocked to learn of the terrible catastrophe at the properties of the Bethlehem Mining Corporation at Barrackville. It has been the purpose of the United Mine Workers of America during its entire existence to have laws enacted and enforced that will prevent these terrible mine disasters. There has not been an explosion in any mine in the United States that could not have been prevented if the proper precautions to safeguard the lives of the miners had been taken by the coal companies.
"A statement appearing in the Fairmont Times to the effect that a dynamite glycerine bomb caused the blast is the most preposterous explanation of a mine explosion that I have ever heard. When men in their prejudices will attempt to spread nefarious propaganda over the dead bodies of the men killed at Barrackville, all I have to say is that they are beyond redemption and such statement cannot come except from a diseased mind.
"The paramount issue now before the people of Northern West Virginia is to properly take care of the widows and orphans that have been created by this terrible explosion. I do not want to enter into a discussion as to the statement made by the editor of the Fairmont Times that the explosion was caused by a dynamite glycerine bomb because I know that no mining men take that seriously.
"Everybody knows the condition of the Barrackville mine everybody knows that the majority of the men at the mine at the time of the explosion were inexperienced, at least so far as the conditions of that mine were concerned, and I feel that the Federal Bureau of Mines and other experts who are on the ground will determine the real cause of the explosion.
"The United Mine Workers of America will make a substantial donation to the widows and orphans created as a result of the explosion. Our organization always does this. Under such circumstances, the question of whether a mine is union or non-union is never given consideration. All we hear is the cry of the widows and orphans and we do our best to alleviate their suffering to the greatest possible extent."
Theories Differ Concerning Mine Explosion Today Some Officials Suggest Bomb at Shaft's Bottom - Old Miners Say Gas
Some Officials Suggest Bomb at Shaft's Bottom - Old Miners Say Gas
At 10 o'clock today it was given out semi-officially that the explosion at Bethlehem Mine No. 41 at Barrackville last night was caused by the explosion of a glycerine charge set off at or near the bottom of the shaft.
This verdict was reached because of the strong odor of nitro glycerine which hung in the valley and about the shaft following the explosion, and because of conditions discovered in the shaft itself, it is said.
One man, a veteran oil well shooter, who worked for years with nitro glycerine, said that he caught the odor of the explosive clearly as he approached the bridge at Maple Point last night. Others also noticed the odor about the shaft opening.
Sources of accurate information concerning this phase of the situation were closed early today, however, pending the arrival of officials from the United States Department of Mines.
A veteran miner of 25 years experience said this afternoon, however, that there is still doubt concerning the cause of the explosion. He pointed out that the explosion may have been caused by what is termed "gob gas," collected around old pillars near the opening, and which may have collected in sufficient quantities to bring about an explosion, possibly when the mine locomotive came through.
This theory is offset, again, by the fact that Mine Inspector Lambie went through the mine yesterday and pronounced it in good condition.
The fact that there was little dust thrown out of the mine by the explosion may perhaps be accounted for by the location of the blast, it is said. If the explosion occurred in the distant portions of the mine, then there would have been a great deal of dust. If it was near the opening, however, this would not necessarily be true.
One instance which is said to be unusual is the fact that the pulleys and much of the machinery directly over the shaft's mouth remained intact, although other machinery and buildings in either direction from the opening were practically demolished. This at first gave rise to the belief that an overhead explosion, perhaps some sort of bomb, had also occurred. Once again, however, old miners discount this theory on the ground that the vacuum occasioned by the explosion in the shaft would cause the partial destruction of the buildings surrounding the shaft as the air rushed again into the 300-foot hole.
Deputy Sheriff J. E. Masters, who was stationed at the mine last night, said today that the explosion was terrific, rocking mine buildings dangerously.
No authoritive statement has been made yet concerning the possibility of the explosion having been caused by a glycerine bomb, but sufficient confidence was placed in the report to warrant the arrest of three men, W. D. Edmonds, Clarence Whetzel and A. G. Kendall, who are held in the county jail pending further investigation. No specific charge has been placed against the men.
At noon today it was reported at the courthouse that mine inspectors have pronounced the explosion due to gas in the mine, but the report could not be verified.
Boyle was born in a gold mining camp in Bald Butte, Montana (about two miles southwest of Marysville), in 1904 to James and Catherine (Mallin) Boyle. His father was a miner. The Boyle family was of Irish descent, and several generations of Boyles had worked as miners in England and Scotland. [ citation needed ] Boyle attended public schools in Montana and Idaho before graduating from high school.  He went to work in the mines alongside his father. Shortly thereafter, Boyle's father died from tuberculosis, a lung disease often associated with mining, or exacerbated by its conditions.
Boyle married Ethel Williams in 1928 they had a daughter, Antoinette.
Boyle joined the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) soon after going to work in the mines. He was appointed president of District 27 (which covers Montana) and served in that capacity until 1948. During World War II, Boyle served on several government wartime production boards, and on the Montana State Unemployment Compensation Commission.
In 1948, UMWA president John L. Lewis named Boyle as his assistant in the UMWA. He served until 1960, acting as Lewis' chief trouble-shooter and the union's chief administrator. Lewis simultaneously appointed him director of UMWA District 50 and regional director of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) for four Western states.
Boyle was elected vice president of UMWA in 1960. That same year, Lewis retired and 73-year-old Thomas Kennedy assumed leadership of the union. Kennedy had been vice president since 1947. Although Lewis favored Boyle as his successor, Kennedy was well liked and well known. Kennedy was in failing health, however, and Boyle took over many of the president's duties. In November 1962, Kennedy became too frail and ill to continue his duties. Boyle was named acting-president. Kennedy died on January 19, 1963. Boyle was elected president shortly thereafter, obviously Lewis's handpicked choice.
From the beginning of his tenure, Boyle faced significant opposition from rank-and-file miners and UMWA leaders. Miners' attitudes about their union had changed. Miners wanted greater democracy and more local autonomy for their local unions. [ citation needed ] There was a widespread belief that Boyle was more concerned with protecting mine owners' interests than those of his members. Grievances filed by the union often took months—sometimes years—to resolve, lending credence to the critics' claim. Wildcat strikes occurred as local unions, despairing of UMWA assistance, sought to resolve local disputes with walkouts. [ citation needed ]
In 1969, Joseph "Jock" Yablonski challenged Boyle for the presidency of UMWA. Yablonski had been president of UMWA District 5 (an appointed position) until Boyle had removed him in 1965. In an election widely seen as corrupt, [ citation needed ] Boyle defeated Yablonski in the election held on December 9 by a margin of nearly two-to-one (80,577 to 46,073). Although Boyle won, the election was the first time since 1920 that the incumbents had less than 80 percent or more of the vote, or that there was any opposition at all. Observers expected the union to make changes in response to the growing insurgency movement and demands for change.
Yablonski conceded the election, but on December 18, 1969, asked the United States Department of Labor (DOL) to investigate the election for fraud. He also initiated five lawsuits against UMWA in federal court. 
On December 31, 1969, three killers shot Yablonski, his wife, Margaret, and his 25-year-old daughter, Charlotte, as they slept in the Yablonski home in Clarksville, Pennsylvania. The bodies were discovered on January 5, 1970, by Yablonski's eldest son, Kenneth.
Boyle was found to have ordered Yablonski's death months earlier, on June 23, 1969, after a meeting with his opponent at UMWA headquarters had degenerated into a screaming match. [ citation needed ] In September 1969, UMWA executive council member Albert Pass received $20,000 from Boyle (who had embezzled the money from union funds) to hire assassins to kill Yablonski. Paul Gilly, an out-of-work house painter and son-in-law of a minor UMWA official, and two drifters, Aubran Martin and Claude Vealey, agreed to do the job. Pass arranged for the murder to be postponed until after the election, to avoid suspicion falling on Boyle.  
Yablonski's murder acted as a catalyst for the federal investigation already requested. On January 8, 1970, Yablonski's attorney requested an immediate investigation of the 1969 election by DOL. [ citation needed ] The Department of Labor had taken no action on Yablonski's complaints in the brief time since his December request. After the murders, Labor Secretary George P. Shultz assigned 230 investigators to the UMWA investigation. [ citation needed ]
The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) of 1959 regulates the internal affairs of labor unions, requiring regular secret-ballot elections for local union offices and providing for federal investigation of election fraud or impropriety. DOL is authorized under the act to sue in federal court to have the election overturned. By 1970, however, only three international union elections had been overturned by the courts. 
Meanwhile, a reform group, Miners for Democracy (MFD), had formed in April 1970 while the DOL investigation continued. Its members included most of the miners who belonged to the West Virginia Black Lung Association and many of Yablonski's supporters and campaign staff. The chief organizers of Miners for Democracy included Yablonski's sons, Ken and Joseph (known as "Chip"), both labor attorneys Mike Trbovich, a union leader, and others. 
DOL filed suit in federal court in 1971 to overturn the 1969 UMWA election. On May 1, 1972, Judge William B. Bryant threw out the results of the 1969 UMWA international union elections. Bryant scheduled a new election to be held over the first eight days of December 1972. Additionally, Bryant agreed that DOL should oversee the election, to ensure fairness. 
Over the weekend of May 26 to May 28, 1972, MFD delegates gathered in Wheeling, West Virginia, nominated Arnold Miller, a former miner and leader of a black-lung organization, as their candidate for the presidency of UMWA. 
On December 22, 1972, the Labor Department certified Miller as UMWA's next president. The vote was 70,373 for Miller and 56,334 for Boyle. Miller was the first candidate to defeat an incumbent president in UMWA history, and the first native West Virginian to lead the union. [ citation needed ] 
In early March 1971, Boyle was indicted for embezzling $49,250 in union funds to make illegal campaign contributions in the 1968 presidential race. He was convicted in December 1973 to a three-year sentence and imprisoned at the federal penitentiary in Springfield, Missouri.
On September 6, 1973, Boyle was arrested on first degree murder charges in the deaths of Jock Yablonski and his family. That month, Boyle attempted suicide but failed.  National attention had been riveted on the investigations into the conspiracy to slay labor leader Joseph A. Yablonski. A nationwide FBI investigation produced sufficient evidence to charge three Cleveland-area residents with conspiracy to slay Yablonski. Through Grand Jury proceedings, a series of three conspiracy indictments were returned, charging five individuals. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Attorney Robert B. Krupansky, with Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Jones (Ohio lawyer). 
Finally documentation and witnesses led to Boyle: “TONY BOYLE CHARGED IN YABLONSKI KILLING” they screamed on September 6th, 1973.  His trial lasted from 25 March until April 11, 1974, when he was convicted. He was sentenced to three consecutive terms of life in prison.
On January 28, 1977, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overturned Boyle's conviction and ordered that he be given a new trial. The court found that the trial judge had improperly refused to allow a government auditor to testify. Boyle's attorneys said that the auditor's testimony could have exonerated Boyle. 
On January 16, 1978 Boyle's murder retrial was set to resume. He had been convicted, but the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court had set aside the convictions on grounds Boyle was denied the right to present a complete defense. 
Boyle was tried a second time for the Yablonski slayings and found guilty on February 18, 1978. Boyle filed a third appeal to overturn his conviction in July 1979, but the motion was denied. Boyle served his murder sentence at State Correctional Institution – Dallas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.  He suffered from a number of stomach and heart ailments in his final years and was repeatedly hospitalized. He had a stroke in 1983. He died at a hospital in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on May 31, 1985, aged 80.
Barbara Kopple's 1976 documentary Harlan County USA included a segment on Yablonski's murder and its aftermath. It also includes the song "Cold Blooded Murder" (also known as "The Yablonski Murder"), sung by Hazel Dickens.
The murders were also portrayed in a 1986 HBO television movie, Act of Vengeance. Charles Bronson (a native of Ehrenfeld, in the western Pennsylvania mining region) portrayed Yablonski and Wilford Brimley played Boyle. 
Fifty Years Ago, the Murder of Jock Yablonski Shocked the Labor Movement
On New Year’s Eve, 1969, Chip Yablonski called his father. Or at least, he tried to.
“The phone didn’t answer,” Yablonski recalled nearly a half-century later. “We thought [he] went out for the evening.”
Yablonski, at the time an attorney in Washington, D.C., didn’t think anything of it until a few days later, when his father, United Mine Workers (UMW) leader Joseph “Jock” Yablonski, didn’t show up for a swearing-in of elected officials in Washington, Pennsylvania, a small city about a half-hour south of Pittsburgh. Chip and his brother, Ken, had feared for their father’s safety since he announced the previous May that he would challenge W.A. “Tony” Boyle for the UMW presidency. He’d lost the election earlier that month but was challenging the results as fraudulent.
Ken, who lived in Washington, went to check on his father in his farmhouse in Clarksville, about 20 miles away in the heart of southwestern Pennsylvania’s coal country, where he found the results of a grisly execution.
Jock Yablonski was dead, as was his wife, Margaret, and their 25-year-old daughter, Charlotte. All had been murdered by gunshot. His dad’s Chevrolet and sister’s Ford Mustang had their tires slashed, and the phone lines to the house had been cut.
Even in the early stages of the investigation into the triple homicide, authorities believed that more than one person was involved. But investigators ultimately uncovered a conspiracy that stretched all the way to Boyle himself, and the ensuing criminal cases would lead to the UMW and to the labor movement overall changing how they operated.
“After Boyle was arrested, you have this moment when [the UMW] opens up, and it’s a critical moment,” says labor historian Erik Loomis. “In many ways, the modern leadership of the [UMW] comes out of that movement.”
Reform—if not revolution—flowered in the 1960s and that extended to the maturing labor movement. The first generation of organizers was retiring, including John L. Lewis, who had spent more than 40 years as president of the UMW, which he called the “shock troops of the American labor movement.”
Lewis was a transformational figure in the American labor movement, founding the Congress of Industrial Organizations (the CIO, which later merged with the AFL) and serving as its first president from his offices in Washington, D.C. Lewis encouraged the growth of unionization nationwide, but was also an autocrat, purging anyone that disagreed with him. In fact, that’s how Jock Yablonski rose to prominence within the union.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1910, Yablonski went to work in the coal mines of southwestern Pennsylvania at the age of 15. A mine explosion killed his father in 1933, and for years after, mine safety was a key issue to him. Yablonski caught Lewis’ eye and soon received the titan’s backing: first to run for executive board in 1941 and then the following year for president of the district encompassing his home region of Pennsylvania. (Incumbent district president Patrick Fagan had drawn Lewis’ ire for supporting Franklin Roosevelt’s bid for a third term Lewis favored Republican candidate Wendell Willkie.)
John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers, ruled the union with a strong arm. (Bettman / Contributor)
In 1960, Lewis retired and was succeeded as union president by Thomas Kennedy, but the real power behind the throne was Boyle, the vice president, who rose through the ranks in his native Montana before being brought to Washington by Lewis to be groomed as his true heir apparent. As Kennedy’s health failed, Boyle took over executive duties, and finally became president upon Kennedy’s death in 1963. Boyle shared Lewis’ dictatorial tendencies, but none of his acumen.
“Tony Boyle operated the United Mine Workers like John Lewis did, but he was not John Lewis, and did not achieve what he had,” says Chip Yablonski, now 78 years old and retired from his law practice. “It was a corrupt institution from top to bottom.”
Former United Mine Workers president, W.A. "Tony" Boyle enters the courthouse during his trial for masterminding the 1969 Yablonski murders. (Bettman / Contributor)
The by-laws of the union stated that retirees retained full voting benefits, and Boyle had maintained power with what the younger Yablonski calls “bogus locals,” full of retirees and not necessarily enough representation of active members. Boyle also seemed to find high-paying jobs within the union for family members.
When Boyle spent lavishly on the union’s 1964 convention in Miami—the first outside of coal country, he met with opposition among the UMW. “If you try to take this gavel from me,” Boyle was quoted by United Press International as saying, “I’ll still be holding it when I’m flying over your heads.” In Miami, a group of miners from District 19, which encompassed Kentucky and Tennessee, physically assaulted anti-Boyle speakers.
The union also owned the National Bank of Washington (D.C., not Pennsylvania), a unique arrangement that had helped the union expand and purchase their own mines in fatter times, but by the 1960s had become rife with fraud and poor management. For years, the union improved the bank’s finances at the expense of union members’ benefits, a scheme that wouldn’t be exposed until later in the decade.
On top of that, Boyle had become too cozy with the mine owners, as evidenced by his tepid reaction to the Farmington mine disaster in West Virginia. Early on the morning of November 20, 1968, a series of explosions rocked the region. Of the 95 men working the overnight “cat eye” shift, 78 were killed. The remains of 19 remained in the shaft, which would be sealed off 10 days later with no input from miners’ families Boyle called it “an unfortunate accident,” praised the company’s safety record and didn’t even meet with the miners’ widows.
Jock Yablonski, meanwhile, was an unlikely revolutionary. In his 50s, he was part of the inner circle running the union, but he saw the problems within the union’s operation and was outspoken about it. “He’s no radical,” Loomis says of Yablonski. “He’s an insider, but he recognized what was happening among the rank and file, and the union wasn’t really serving its members well.”
Boyle had Yablonski removed from his position as district president in 1965, ostensibly for insubordination. But Yablonski’s son Chip saw another reason.
“Boyle saw my dad as a threat,” recalls Chip. “[My dad] stewed for a few years and decided to challenge Boyle [in May 1969].”
“From the moment he announced his candidacy, we were afraid goons from District 19 would be activated,” says Chip.
And that’s exactly what happened. After the murders, the criminal warrant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania stated that Boyle went to Albert Pass, a Boyle loyalist and president of District 19, and said, “Yablonski ought to be killed or done away with.” Shortly thereafter, District 19 received $20,000 for a research fund from the union. Checks were cut to retirees, who cashed them and kicked them back to Pass, who then used the money as payment to order the murder of Yablonski.
At the same time, the union newspaper, the Mine Workers’ Journal, became a house organ for Boyle during the campaign, publishing anti-Yablonski propaganda. Boyle had an additional 100,000 ballots printed up to stuff the ballot box and on Thanksgiving, two weeks before the election, Pass told Boyle the vote totals from District 19. Of course, Boyle won the district decisively, and just as unsurprisingly, he won the election.
Through it all, Yablonski and his attorneys beseeched the U.S. Department of Labor to get involved, to no avail. “The Department of Labor had no interest in investigating,” says the younger Yablonski. “The entire process was riddled with fraud. It was a flawed process from beginning to end. It had reversible error all through it.”
It took the murder of his father, mother and sister for the federal government to step in.
The shocking brutality of the murders soon gave way to the startling ineptitude of the crime and cover-up. Within a month, federal investigators discovered the embezzlement to pay for the assassins, who were quickly arrested in Cleveland. A vital clue was a pad in Yablonski’s home with an Ohio license plate number on it. Apparently, the killers had been stalking him for some time – even missing several occasions to kill him when he was alone.
The sons of slain UMW official Joseph A. Yablonski, shown at press conference here, demanded prompt criminal prosecution of UMW officials who-they charge-"Have stolen money from the miners of this nation." Left to right: Kenneth J. Yablonski, Joseph A. Yablonski. (Bettman / Contributor)
Silous Huddleston, a retired miner in District 19, enlisted his son-in-law Paul Gilly, charitably described as a house painter , for the job. He, in turn, roped in Claude Vealey and Buddy Martin, two other itinerant criminals. There wasn’t a high school diploma between the three of them.
Like most people in Pennsylvania, attorney Richard Sprague read about the murders and the initial arrests in the newspaper. But he was about to become intimately involved. Washington County, like many less populous counties in Pennsylvania at the time, only had a part-time district attorney. Washington County’s D.A., Jess Costa, knew the case would be far bigger than anything he’d ever handled so he asked Sprague, who worked for future U.S. senator Arlen Specter in Philadelphia, to be special prosecutor.
Sprague brought to bear an investigation that was already shaping up to be one of the largest in state history, with local law enforcement working with the Pennsylvania State Police and FBI. “All the law enforcement agencies worked like a clock,” says Sprague, who at 94 still comes to work daily at the Philadelphia law practice he founded. “There was no jealousy.”
Ultimately, the prosecution reached Boyle, who in a moment of bittersweet satisfaction, was arrested for the murders in 1973 while he was being deposed in a related civil lawsuit by Chip Yablonski. By then, Boyle had already been convicted of embezzlement, and the following year, he was convicted of murder, one of nine people to go to prison for the Yablonski killings.
“It was really a feeling of total satisfaction that justice had fought its way through,” Sprague says. “It was a long, long road.”
The road would be just as long – and the satisfaction short-lived – to reform the union.
When news broke of Yablonski’s murder, thousands of miners in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia walked off the job. Before his death, he was a reformer. Now he was a martyr to the cause.
In April 1970, Miners for Democracy was formed to continue the reform efforts with Yablonski’s campaign – and also to continue Yablonski’s efforts to have the 1969 election invalidated. Ultimately, a judge threw out those election results and set new elections in 1972. This time, Boyle was challenged by (and lost to) Arnold Miller, a West Virginia miner whose diagnosis of black lung disease led to him becoming an advocate for miners stricken by the disease.
The year after Miller’s election, the union – with Chip Yablonski as its general counsel – rewrote its constitution, restoring autonomy to the districts and eliminating the bogus locals Boyle had used to consolidate power. But the district leaders weren’t as reform-minded as the staff, many of whom were taken from the Miners for Democracy movement, and worse yet, Miller was ill and ineffectual as president. “A lot of movements in the 1970s thought more democracy would get a better outcome, but that isn’t the case, because some people aren’t prepared to lead,” Loomis says.
The labor landscape is vastly different than it was at the time of Yablonski’s assassination. The nation has moved away from manufacturing and unionized workforces. Twenty-eight states have right-to-work laws that weaken the power of unions to organize. In 1983, union membership stood at 20.1 percent of the U.S. workforce today it’s at 10.5 percent.
That, coupled with the decline of coal use,and the rise of more efficient and less labor-intensive methods of extracting coal, has led to a decline in the coal mining workforce. “The UMW is a shell of its former self, but it’s not its fault,” Loomis says. “I’m skeptical history would have turned out differently” if Yablonski himself had made changes.
Chip Yablonski believes his father would have served just one term had he survived and become UMW president. But in death, Yablonski’s legacy and the movement his death helped inspire, lives on. Richard Trumka, who like Yablonski was a coal miner in southwestern Pennsylvania, came out of the Miners for Democracy movement to follow the same path as John L. Lewis, serving as UMW president before being elected president of the AFL-CIO, a role he still holds today.
“[Trumka] helped restore things to the way they should have been,” Yablonski says.
April 20, 1914: Ludlow Massacre
Howard Zinn first learned of the Ludlow Massacre from a song by Woody Guthrie, which Zinn says, “nobody had ever mentioned in any of my history courses.” To help future generations of students learn about Ludlow, here are Zinn’s description of the history from A People’s History of the United States and a video interview with Zinn about the significance of Ludlow.
Striking family at Ludlow shortly before the April 20, 1914 massacre.
Shortly after Woodrow Wilson took office there began in Colorado one of the most bitter and violent struggles between workers and corporate capital in the history of the country.
This was the Colorado coal strike that began in September 1913 and culminated in the “Ludlow Massacre” of April 1914. Eleven thousand miners in southern Colorado … worked for the Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation, which was owned by the Rockefeller family. Aroused by the murder of one of their organizers, they went on strike against low pay, dangerous conditions, and feudal domination of their lives in towns completely controlled by the mining companies. …
When the strike began, the miners were immediately evicted from their shacks in the mining towns. Aided by the United Mine Workers Union, they set up tents in the nearby hills and carried on the strike, the picketing, from these tent colonies.
The Ludlow Tent Colony, before the massacre.
One of 1,200 striking miner families in the Ludlow Tent Colony.
The gunmen hired by the Rockefeller interests—the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency—using Gatling guns and rifles, raided the tent colonies. The death list of miners grew, but they hung on, drove back an armored train in a gun battle, fought to keep out strikebreakers. With the miners resisting, refusing to give in, the mines not able to operate, the Colorado governor (referred to by a Rockefeller mine manager as ‘our little cowboy governor’) called out the National Guard, with the Rockefellers supplying the Guard’s wages.
The miners at first thought the Guard was sent to protect them, and greeted its arrival with flags and cheers. They soon found out the Guard was there to destroy the strike. The Guard brought strikebreakers in under cover of night, not telling them there was a strike. Guardsmen beat miners, arrested them by the hundreds, rode down with their horses parades of women in the streets of Trinidad, the central town in the area. And still the miners refused to give in. When they lasted through the cold winter of 1913-1914, it became clear that extraordinary measures would be needed to break the strike.
In April 1914, two National Guard companies were stationed in the hills overlooking the largest tent colony of strikers, the one at Ludlow, housing a thousand men, women, children. On the morning of April 20, a machine gun attack began on the tents. The miners fired back. Their leader, …, was lured up into the hills to discuss a truce, then shot to death by a company of National Guardsmen. The women and children dug pits beneath the tents to escape the gunfire. At dusk, the Guard moved down from the hills with torches, set fire to the tents, and the families fled into the hills thirteen people were killed by gunfire.
The following day, a telephone linesman going through the ruins of the Ludlow tent colony lifted an iron cot covering a pit in one of the tents and found the charred, twisted bodies of eleven children and two women. This became known as the Ludlow Massacre.
The Ludlow Tent Colony ruins.
The news spread quickly over the country. In Denver, the United Mine Workers issued a “Call to Arms”—“Gather together for defensive purposes all arms and ammunition legally available.” Three hundred armed strikers marched from other tent colonies into the Ludlow area, cut telephone and telegraph wires, and prepared for battle. Railroad workers refused to take soldiers from Trinidad to Ludlow. At Colorado Springs, three hundred union miners walked off their jobs and headed for the Trinidad district, carrying revolvers, rifles, shotguns.
In Trinidad itself, miners attended a funeral service for the twenty-six dead at Ludlow, then walked from the funeral to a nearby building, where arms were stacked for them. They picked up rifles and moved into the hills, destroying mines, killing mine guards, exploding mine shafts. The press reported that “the hills in every direction seem suddenly to be alive with men.”
In Denver, eighty-two soldiers in a company on a troop train headed for Trinidad refused to go. The press reported: “The men declared they would not engage in the shooting of women and children. They hissed the 350 men who did start and shouted imprecations at them.”
Five thousand people demonstrated in the rain on the lawn in front of the state capital at Denver asking that the National Guard officers at Ludlow be tried for murder, denouncing the governor as an accessory. The Denver Cigar Makers Union voted to send five hundred armed men to Ludlow and Trinidad. Women in the United Garment Workers Union in Denver announced four hundred of their members had volunteered as nurses to help the strikers.
All over the country there were meetings, demonstrations. Pickets marched in front of the Rockefeller office at 26 Broadway, New York City. A minister protested in front of the church where Rockefeller sometimes gave sermons, and was clubbed by the police.
The New York Times carried an editorial on the events in Colorado, which were not attracting international attention. The Times emphasis was not on the atrocity that had occurred, but on the mistake in tactics that had been made. Its editorial on the Ludlow Massacre began: “Somebody blundered …” Two days later, with the miners armed and in the hills of the mine district, the Times wrote: “With the deadliest weapons of civilization in the hands of savage-minded men, there can be no telling to what lengths the war in Colorado will go unless it is quelled by force … The President should turn his attention from Mexico long enough to take stern measures in Colorado.”
Clip from the The Survey newspaper. Source: WikiCommons.
The governor of Colorado asked for federal troops to restore order, and Woodrow Wilson complied. This accomplished, the strike petered out. Congressional committees came in and took thousands of pages of testimony. The union had not won recognition. Sixty-six men, women, and children had been killed. Not one militiaman or mine guard had been indicted for crime.
The Times had referred to Mexico. On the morning that the bodies were discovered in the tent pit at Ludlow, American warships were attacking Vera Cruz, a city on the coast of Mexico—bombarding it, occupying it, leaving a hundred Mexicans dead—because Mexico had arrested American sailors and refused to apologize to the United States with a twenty-one gun salute. Could patriotic fervor and the military spirit cover up class struggle? Unemployment, hard times, were growing in 1914. Could guns divert attention and create some national consensus against an external enemy? It surely was a coincidence—the bombardment of Vera Cruz, the attack on the Ludlow colony. Or perhaps it was, as someone once described human history, “the natural selection of accidents.” Perhaps the affair in Mexico was an instinctual response of the system for its own survival, to create a unity of fighting purpose among a people torn by internal conflict.
The bombardment of Vera Cruz was a small incident. But in four months the First World War would begin in Europe.
— By Howard Zinn fromA People’s History of the United States, pages 346-349.
Song: Ludlow Massacre
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie
It was early springtime when the strike was on,
They drove us miners out of doors,
Out from the houses that the Company owned,
We moved into tents up at old Ludlow.
I was worried bad about my children,
Soldiers guarding the railroad bridge,
Every once in a while a bullet would fly,
Kick up gravel under my feet.
We were so afraid you would kill our children,
We dug us a cave that was seven foot deep,
Carried our young ones and pregnant women
Down inside the cave to sleep.
That very night your soldiers waited,
Until all us miners were asleep,
You snuck around our little tent town,
Soaked our tents with your kerosene.
Continue reading lyrics on the Woody Guthrie website here.
Ludlow Massacre Documentary
By Colorado Experience, 28. min.
The sources for this post are as follows: Text by Howard Zinn from A People’s History of the United States. Photos from the Colorado Coal Field War Project. Song lyrics from WoodyGuthrie.org. Film clips from You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train and Colorado Experience.
The Colorado Coal Field War Project offers extensive resources for teachers on the Ludlow Massacre, including a series of photos on the daily life of strikers in the Ludlow tent camps, the prelude to the massacre, and the ruins of the tent community.
Killings of UMWA leader Jock Yablonski, his family shocked Western Pa. 50 years ago
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As Joseph Albert &ldquoJock&rdquo Yablonski began his 1969 campaign for the presidency of the United Mine Workers of America, he was confident that he had picked the right time to challenge incumbent W.A. &ldquoTony&rdquo Boyle, who he believed was not in touch with the miners.
&ldquoMy dad had the power base, and when it came time to take on Boyle, he took him on,&rdquo said Yablonski&rsquos last surviving son, Chip, at his home in Bethesda, Md. &ldquoThere was no one who had administrative experience that was elected and had shown a relationship between their role in the union and the membership. My dad had that.&rdquo
The campaign stretched from summer to fall and became increasingly brutal.
As soon as Jock Yablonski, who lived in Clarksville, Washington County, declared his candidacy, Boyle had his goons stalking him wherever he went. Yablonski was going into the coal fields to campaign almost every weekend from June to early December, and he posed a considerable threat to Boyle&rsquos corrupt regime.
On New Year&rsquos Eve 1969, Jock Yablonski, his wife, Margaret, and 25-year-old daughter, Charlotte, were killed in the family&rsquos farmhouse.
Leading up to his death, he knew that his life was in danger. He pressed on with his campaign all the while knowing shady characters had been following him.
Early in the campaign, after speaking to what he thought was a group of supporters in Springfield, Ill., Jock Yablonski was attacked by an assailant who was on Boyle&rsquos payroll. He was knocked unconscious and thought he was paralyzed. He realized later that he had been set up.
Knowing he was in a fight he might well lose, Boyle met with Albert Pass, secretary-treasurer of UMWA District 19 in East Tennessee and Kentucky. Pass came up with a plan to hire three men from Cleveland to kill Yablonski. They were Paul Gilly, Aubran &ldquoBuddy&rdquo Martin and Claude Vealey, and they ended up splitting $20,000 later found to have been embezzled from the UMWA.
&ldquoHe wasn&rsquot frozen (with fear). He was a 59-year-old man beaten up in Illinois. But he kept going into places that could have been hostile. That really takes courage. I can&rsquot imagine,&rdquo Chip Yablonski said. &ldquoThere were celebrated stories of guys threatening him with weapons and he told one of them from eastern Kentucky, &lsquoI&rsquoll take that gun and shove it down your goddamned throat.&rsquo &rdquo
With all of the campaign violence and threats being made, Jock Yablonski and his lawyer, Joe Rauh, asked Labor Secretary George Shultz to investigate. They knew that Boyle was engaged in illegal activity, including bribes and intimidation. But he was repeatedly told that nothing could be done until after the election.
The election was held Dec. 9, and Boyle defeated Jock Yablonski by a landslide, a nearly 2-to-1 margin. But on Dec. 18, Yablonski asked the U.S. Department of Labor to conduct a fraud investigation. He vowed not to give up and believed there was a good chance the results would be overturned. That possibility undoubtedly concerned Boyle.
Three weeks later, Gilly, Martin and Vealey converged on Jock Yablonski&rsquos Clarksville farmhouse. Up to that point, they had proven to be a clumsy and inept threesome. They had been following him for months. The plan was to corner Jock Yablonski and carry out an assassination. The gunmen had driven from Ohio to Clarksville, then to Washington, D.C., to Scranton and back to Clarksville but had failed in their attempts to this point.
Into the early-morning hours of Dec. 31, 1969, they watched from a hillside, drinking beer and booze until the lights of the house went out. They drove a blue 1966 Chevy with Ohio plates alongside the home and broke in through the back door.
Gilly, Martin and Vealey quietly made their way up the winding wooden staircase to the bedrooms. Martin went to the bedroom where Charlotte was sleeping and shot her in the head.
&ldquoThe bullet she took in the back of her head could have been me a day earlier,&rdquo Chip Yablonski said. &ldquoShe was sleeping in my bed the night she was murdered.&rdquo
Indeed, Chip Yablonski had been making a holiday visit and slept in that same room the night before. He left the following afternoon to attend a New Year&rsquos Eve celebration in Virginia.
The killers then crept into Jock and Margaret&rsquos bedroom and shot them both. The bodies weren&rsquot found for several days.
Chip&rsquos older brother, Ken, was worried because no one had heard from his parents. On Jan. 5, 1970, he drove from his law office in Washington, Pa., to Clarksville, where he made the gruesome discovery.
Chip Yablonski was at his law office in Washington, D.C., when he received a phone call informing him that his father, mother and sister had been slain. He picked up his wife, Shirley, at the school where she was teaching and their son, Jeffrey. They boarded a plane for Pittsburgh.
It was a hectic period for the surviving brothers. They had learned of the deaths of their parents and sister on Monday and buried them on Friday.
During the four days in between, they were making arrangements with a funeral home as they waited for the bodies to be released by the county coroner, picking out caskets and walking through knee-deep snow choosing cemetery plots.
&ldquoIt was really just horrendous,&rdquo Chip Yablonski said.
Monsignor Charles Owen Rice presided at the funeral in Immaculate Conception Church in Washington, Pa. As he spoke, Rice compared Jock Yablonski to other iconic leaders who had been assassinated during the 1960s, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.
Coal miners carried Jock Yablonski&rsquos casket. Upon hearing the news of the killings days earlier, thousands of them went on strike.
Chip and Ken Yablonski focused on getting the FBI to launch an investigation.
&ldquoMy dad, my mother and my sister sacrificed for what he believed in. At that point, we were committed,&rdquo Chip Yablonski said. &ldquoWe were not going to let this sit. We were convinced at the very beginning that District 19 and Albert Pass were involved. We were Jock&rsquos sons, and we were not going to rest. We were single-minded.&rdquo
It wasn&rsquot long before Gilly, Martin and Vealey were arrested in Ohio. Gilly and Vealey confessed to the murders. It then became a matter of law enforcement officials making the connection to Boyle and others running the UMWA.
Pittsburgh FBI agents initially refused to get involved. At the time, J. Edgar Hoover was still the director of the FBI, and he didn&rsquot like unions.
&ldquoHoover didn&rsquot want anything to do with it,&rdquo Chip Yablonski said. &ldquoHe wanted the locals to handle it.&rdquo
Meanwhile, Joe Rauh, Jock Yablonski&rsquos lawyer, pressured U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell to get the Justice Department involved.
&ldquo(Joe) went to the Justice Department because the Labor Department had totally screwed this up by ignoring my dad and Joe Rauh&rsquos pleas,&rdquo Chip Yablonski said. &ldquoFor six months, Joe said repeatedly, &lsquoThis violence will beget more violence.&rsquo &rdquo
Mitchell had an idea that the murders were connected to the union election. He got word to Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond Shafer to send him an official request. With Shafer&rsquos letter in hand, Mitchell ordered the FBI to open an investigation.
Over the next few years, the dominoes began to fall.
In 1973, Boyle was arrested on first-degree murder charges. Gilly agreed to cooperate with the prosecution and appear as a commonwealth witness in Boyle&rsquos trial the following year. He was found guilty and sentenced to three life terms. Though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1977, Boyle was tried again and found guilty once more. He died in prison in 1985.
In all, seven men and one woman were charged with three counts of murder for the slayings of Jock, Margaret and Charlotte Yablonski. They included Albert Pass, the secretary-treasurer of UMWA District 19, who saw that the murder plan was carried out.
&ldquoHad he lived, Jock Yablonski probably would have ascended to the UMWA presidency,&rdquo said Charles McCollester, a retired professor of industrial and labor relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania . &ldquoHe was tough. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 is a direct result of Yablonski.&rdquo
He also was instrumental in getting victims of black lung compensated under federal law.
The results of the 1969 UMWA election were overturned by U.S. District Court Judge William B. Bryant on the grounds of &ldquomassive vote fraud and financial manipulation.&rdquo
Another election was held in 1972. Arnold Miller, a veteran coal miner who had been diagnosed with black lung disease, defeated Boyle by 14,000 votes.
&ldquoUnfortunately, it took Jock Yablonski&rsquos death to start the democratic reform of the United Mine Workers of America,&rdquo said former District 4 and District 2 president Ed Yankovich. &ldquoWhen he died, rank-and-file miners got together and said, &lsquoEnough of this.&rsquo &rdquo
Chip Yablonski was appointed general counsel of the UMWA and worked with his brother and others to form Miners for Democracy, a reform movement within the union.
Changes that followed included union members electing local and district leaders and voting on contracts, something Jock Yablonski had pushed for. Health and safety standards for miners were bolstered as well.
&ldquoI have so much respect for Chip. His dedication to union principles in spite of the fact of everything that his family had gone through is really remarkable,&rdquo said former District 2 president Nick Molnar. &ldquoI&rsquove never met Chip but, to me, just having Jock&rsquos son there was really something.&rdquo
By 1975, Chip Yablonski was ready to move on.
He went on to work as outside counsel for the National Football League Players Association, among other labor groups.
&ldquoWhat I miss is when you succeed in something and you have what you think is an enormous success, like when I took on a mining case in Central Pennsylvania in the heart of nonunion coal country and managed to get $2.5 million for a widow and her kids, I wanted to be able to call my dad and say, &lsquoYou won&rsquot believe this. …&rsquo I miss that.&rdquo
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]
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Local historian believes Herrin Massacre may have prevented further clashes
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, ILLINOIS (WSIL) -- The history of coal mining runs deeps in southern Illinois, both figuratively and literally. While the industry helped to put food on the table for local miners and their families, it also had a dark past.
This week marks 99 years since the Herrin Massacre and its aftermath, something local historian Scott Doody has spent years of his life studying. Those hours paid off helping to recover some of the bodies from the massacre in a long-forgotten graves -- we'll get to that part later.
To understand the infamous event, Doody says, you have to know the context of the times. In 1922, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) went on a nationwide strike.
"The miners weren't on strike in 1922 for safe working conditions there were no safe working conditions," he explains. "They were on strike for what makes the world go round, money."
That includes miners at the Lester strip pit, located behind where the Marion Pavilion sits today.
The President of the company called in non-union workers to do the job, many of them from Chicago, along with body guards for protection. As clashes between union and non-union groups were known to get out of hand.
The non-union workers took in a train to Carbondale knowing that coal miners would be at the Marion station waiting to send back anyone trying to work the coal mine.
Damage at the coal mine from clashes between union and non-union workers
Yet, violence broke out the day of June 21st between the two groups and the body guards killed two union workers. By the next morning, the non-union workers were ready to surrender and leave but that never happened.
"The Hargrave detectives were cowards," Doody says of the hired body guards. "Once they killed two union coal miners, there was about 15 of them, they realized the mistake that they made. They snuck through a corn field, made it back to the Marion train station, bought tickets and left."
Now defenseless, the non-union workers were lead from the strip pit to Herrin. During that walk, 21 were killed by gun shot, hanging or tortured. While many others were wounded.
In the following days, a parade took place to honor the two killed coal miners.
Parade in downtown Herrin for the two union coal miners, who died
While the bodies of the non-union workers were put on display for the town to see. Then, either picked up by their out-of-town families or put into an unmarked graves in the Herrin City Cemetery.
Those graves went undisturbed for decades, until Doody found records of a World War I soldier named Antonio Molkovich, who died during the clashes, laid to rest in the cemetery but no marker standing.
Union workers preparing mass grave site for non-union workers killed in massacre
Starting in 2010, Doody and a group of other researchers and scientists worked to find historical documents, create 3D maps, and gain access to the gravesites from city leaders.
By the fall of 2013, the graves of the 12 non-union workers were found and later a memorial was placed in the Herrin City Cemetery remembering all of the victims.
Doody says, the families of these men getting closure puts a positive ending on the story. He's even had the chance to meet with some in person retracing the moments of those days together.
The Herrin Massacre marked the last clash between union and non-union coal miners in southern Illinois as reports of death and violence go back to the late 1800s.
He believe more eruptions would have happened if the massacre didn't take place, possibly preventing the deaths of more coal miners. Both union and non-union.
"That broke the back of any people outside the area thinking that they would come to southern Illinois and mine with non-union coal miners," he adds. "So in a way, the massacre was a horrible thing no doubt, but it probably saved people's lives."
No one was ever convicted of any charges for the crimes that happened during the Herrin Massacre.
Scott Doody has written a book about his experience, which can be found here.
Linderfelt and his men stormed into the inferno and captured Tikas. The story Linderfelt told was that he was forced to shoot Tikas because he tried to flee. Witnesses told a different tale, that Linderfelt took his rifle and whacked Tikas over the head with such force it broke the gunstock and left a wound that exposed the victim's skull. Then he ordered other soldiers to shoot him.
At least 20 people died at Ludlow that night, more perished in violence fueled by revenge in the 10 days that followed.
Still, the strike continued until December, when the exhausted miners gave up.
After it was over, more than 400 strikers were arrested and 332 were indicted for murder, but years of trials led to only one conviction and that was overturned. There were a dozen court martials among the National Guardsmen. Only one man, Linderfelt, was found guilty of assault for the skull bashing-blow he meted out to Tikas.
The Ludlow tragedy is mostly forgotten today, but its impact is felt throughout the world. John D. Rockefeller Jr., was subjected to such condemnation that he turned to Ivy Ledbetter Lee — a newsman turned expert in the infant field of public relations — to improve his image, thus giving birth to the modern era of spin. And, for workers, Ludlow put labor struggles in sharp focus, and is a key reason why Americans now enjoy an eight-hour day.
The richest American family hired terrorists to shoot machine guns at sleeping women and children
T he bloody history of the American labor movement has never really been taught in schools. Its antagonists are powerful entities who’d rather be remembered for their visionary contributions and largesse. Take the Rockefeller family, some of the most celebrated philanthropists in American history, whose heirs and business partners would like to be known for financial contributions to medical science — not for being responsible for the deaths of the children of striking miners who worked for the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Co.
The incident, known as the Ludlow Massacre, occured in April of 1914, and it sparked a 10-day battle in the coalfields of the American West. It was one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of American class conflict, and one of the closest things to war between compatriots since the Confederacy was defeated a half-century earlier.
T he first labor unions arrived in Colorado nearly as quickly as the first coal miners. There were strikes in the Colorado coalfields in 1884, 1894, and 1904. But none rivaled the rebellion of 1914.
Between 1870 and 1910, Colorado’s non-Native American population had multiplied 20 times over. By then, Colorado Fuel & Iron Co. (CF&I) was the largest employer in the state. Its workers were a combination of American-born men of English and Scots-Irish descent and immigrants from places as far-flung as Greece and Japan. Working and living conditions for the thousands of miners were harsh and dangerous. Dynamite explosions, mine collapses, and premature death from work-related illness and injury were common. When an inspector visited the site of a mine explosion that had killed 56 in a coal town called Starkville in 1910, he was startled to see not just how the miners and their families had died, but how they’d lived, writing:
The residences or houses and living quarters of the miners smack of the direst poverty. Practically all of the residences are huddled in the shadow of the coal washers and the smoke of the coke ovens making the surroundings smutty with coal dust and coke smoke. Not all of the houses are equipped with water, and practically none have sewerage they depend for their water upon hydrants on the streets. The people reflect their surroundings slatternly dressed women and unkempt children throng the dirty streets and alleys of the camp. One is forced to the conclusion that these people must be very poorly paid, else they would not be content to live in this fashion.
They were not content. The miners agitated for better pay and conditions on their own, but they were repressed at every turn. In Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West, Scott Martelle writes, “They did not have a political voice. The courts and the local political structure in the south [of Colorado] were directly controlled by, or friendly to, the interests of mine owners. In elections, local mine superintendents often cast their workers’ ballots for them.” Companies like CF&I had undercover detectives and private security who would spy on union organizers and run them out of town. The mine operators would collude with one another, for instance sending letters with warnings like this one: “All superintendents: look out for Jack Nelson, commonly called the Big Swede. He has been working at Wooten and he is an organizer for the U.M.W. of A.” — that is, the United Mine Workers of America (UMW).
The company towns, writes historian Philip Foner, were “feudal domains with the company acting as lord and master. The ‘law’ consisted of company rules. Curfews were imposed, company guards — brutal thugs armed with machine guns and rifles loaded with soft-point bullets — would not admit any ‘suspicious stranger’ into the camp.” CF&I was the most restrictive of all, and its employees often lived 20 to a shack, in houses owned by the company itself.
In 1913, CF&I workers sought representation from the UMW, which had increased its presence throughout the region despite the attempts of company spies to drive them out. In September, after the company refused demands for an eight-hour workday and the elimination of company guards, the workers went on strike. The labor organizer Mother Jones gave a rousing speech in support of the strike, for which she was imprisoned for 20 days. In her autobiography she writes of her time in a Trinidad, Colorado, prison:
Day was perpetual twilight and night was deep night. I watched people’s feet from my cellar window miners’ feet in old shoes soldiers’ feet, well-shod in government leather the shoes of women with the heels run down the dilapidated shoes of children barefooted boys. The children would scrooch down and wave to me but the soldiers shooed them off.
When she was released, she saw that the miners had been evicted from their shacks for attempting to strike. They were now living in tent colonies outside the towns of boarded-up shanties they had once called home. Not only that, but the company guards were arresting the newly homeless miners for vagrancy and forcing them to work for no pay as punishment. The miners were regularly beaten by the guards, but still they wouldn’t stop striking. They knew that the only way to get concessions from Rockefeller’s company was to hold out and watch the profits plummet.
O utraged by the workers’ insubordination, CF&I gave its hired thugs — or “detectives,” working for a private security company called Baldwin-Felts — the liberty to try a new tactic: outright terrorism. The Baldwin-Felts detectives began to drive around at night and fire into the tents, terrifying, injuring, and on occasion killing the sleeping miners and their families. The miners organized armed patrols to ward off the detectives, but they were no match for the “Death Special.” That was the name Baldwin-Felts agents gave to the car, equipped with a machine gun, in which they roamed the coalfields at night.
In response to the terrorism of the agents, the miners and their families dug pits in the earth under their tents, in which they hid at night to avoid being sprayed by bullets. They endured this violence, living in their tents with their pits, all through the winter and spring. The few occasions they fired back at agents were used as justification for calling in the Colorado National Guard.
On April 19, the striking miners at Ludlow put on an Orthodox Easter celebration for the Greek families in their tent colony. On April 20, the Colorado Guardsmen came to Ludlow, claiming to be searching for a suspected criminal. It’s still unclear who fired the first shot, but a ten-hour gun battle between the armed striking miners at Ludlow and the Colorado National Guard ensued. Martelle described the scene, which would later come to be known as the Ludlow Massacre:
Seven men and a boy were killed in the shooting, at least three of the men — all striking coal miners, one a leader — apparently executed in cold blood by Colorado National Guardsmen who had taken them captive. As the sun set, the militia moved into the camp itself and an inferno lit up the darkening sky, reducing most of the makeshift village to ashes. It wasn’t until the next morning that the bodies of two mothers and eleven children were discovered where they had taken shelter in a dirt bunker beneath one of the tents. The raging fire had sucked the oxygen from the air below, suffocating the families as they hid from the gun battle.
A fter the massacre, the strikers formed a militia with volunteer fighters from tent colonies throughout the coalfields. For ten days that militia went from town to town, dueling with Colorado Guardsmen and private agents and declaring each subsequent encampment safe for the strikers. Seeking revenge for the massacre in Ludlow, they spared no bullets. “A week after Ludlow the strikers had already taken an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for each of the lives lost in the course of the tent colony’s destruction,” Thomas G. Andrews writes in Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War.
The immigrant and native miners alike were no strangers to armed conflict. “Among the strikers’ ranks were veterans of broader conflicts: the Spanish-American War, Italy’s North African campaigns, the Balkan Wars and many others,” Andrews writes. One Colorado Guardsman remembered that they were “ten times better soldiers than we were.” Another added soberly, “They were trained, them guys.”
Mines in the Colorado towns of Berwind, Tabasco, and McNally were seized in a hail of gunfire. Those in Aguilar and Walsenburg were completely torched. The final battle occurred on April 29 in Forbes, Colorado. Greeks, Italians, Slavs, and Mexicans were among the 700 to 1,000 men who set out at dawn from the refugee tent colony established for the Ludlow families, called Camp San Rafael. At Forbes, the strikers encountered the state militiamen, mine officials, and strikebreakers. The camp fell in less than an hour.
As one Denver journalist put it at the time, “Like the Indians who once owned these hills, the men had sallied forth, struck deep and hard and then returned to camp.” After Forbes, the miner militia made its way to the next town, Trinidad. By midday, covered in dirt and streaked with blood, they “paraded the streets of Trinidad with the guns upon their shoulders.” They appeared to all onlookers to be victorious.
T hough they had conquered the Colorado coalfields, the strikers had no plan and ultimately little power. President Woodrow Wilson, having been informed that the situation in Colorado was out of control and the Colorado Guardsmen were defeated, dispatched federal troops to the region. On hearing this news, the strikers made a judgment call: if they fought the feds, they would surely lose. Exhausted and hoping that the Wilson administration would go easy on them in light of the massacre — after all, Wilson’s labor secretary had come directly from their union, the UMW — they conceded.
More than 400 miners were arrested and charged on nearly as many counts of murder, but only one was convicted, and the verdict was eventually overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court. It turned out that the State of Colorado, while waging war with guerrilla fighters within its own borders, had never declared martial law.
All told, the conflict claimed 75 lives. Many were not miners or their families, but guardsmen, union officials, and strikebreakers. Martelle writes of the miners, “They might have been victims of an oppressive political and economic system, but they did not suffer their grievances meekly, and proved to be quite deadly.” But while they were not innocent martyrs, he adds, “they were fighting for their lives and livelihoods in a tableau established by the mine operators, and against an overwhelming system of corporate feudalism in which the U.S. Constitution was trumped by greed and prejudice.”
The Rockefellers and the rest of CF&I sought to suppress the story when possible when that was not possible, they painted the conflict as an insurrection of immigrant anarchists and radical troublemakers. But the labor movement had its own portrayals of the Ludlow Massacre and the Ten Days’ War, as it came to be called. Woody Guthrie even wrote a song about Ludlow. It went, in part:
We were so afraid you would kill our children,
We dug us a cave that was seven foot deep,
Carried our young ones and pregnant women
Down inside the cave to sleep.
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It's no secret that coal miners have one of the most dirty and dangerous jobs in the world. Hundreds of thousands of miners have been killed in the United States. For a long period an average of 7 died every single day. Mining goes back centuries, but it wasn't until 1910 that a Bureau of Mines was even established. Open flame lamps that cause coal dust and methane explosions and dangerous train link-pin couplings banned on US railroads in 1893 weren't outlawed in the coal mines until a federal mine safety law was passed in 1969. Tens of thousands of miners long suffering through the horrors of black lung weren't able to collect compensation until the same year.
“Murder and the Mines” covers the struggles of coal miners against the coal companies, government, and even their own union throughout the 1960's. It reads a bit like a long newspaper article, but that's okay. As the book itself points out, no other media outside of the left wing press was really interested in the plight of coal miners until the Farmington Mine Disaster of 1968 and more so the assassination of United Mine Workers presidential candidate Jock Yablonski in 1969.
The book does have some minor errors. For example in one place it says a district in Ohio is "across the river" from a district in Pennsylvania. The panhandle of West Virginia actually sits between the two. In another part of the book, the author mentions a UMWA presidential candidate named Steve Kochis "from Clarksville." Jock Yablonski was from Clarksville, Pennsylvania. Steve Kochis was from Bobtown, and he is even quoted saying as much earlier in the book. This is all easy enough to overlook.
Harder to overlook are author Brit Hume's slights towards coal miners and their families. While he may have been sympathetic to the miners he borders on the insulting more than once. He calls miners "benighted" and says they "are notoriously unselective in the targets of their wildcat strikes." Of course miners know exactly who their enemies are, which is why their wildcats usually lead to victories.
Of course Hume's outlook is one shared by the union bureaucracy itself. The book quotes Jock Yablonski's son, the attorney Chip Yablonski, as he sarcastically worried aloud that miners might try to spend election observation credentials they were being sent because they looked official.
UMWA President Tony Boyle was a corrupt despot through and through. He was in bed with the mine bosses, one of whom was his own brother. But he didn't innovate this sort of behavior, and Jock Yablonski didn't have a real remedy for it either when he launched his campaign for the union presidency.
The murder of Jock Yablonski and his wife and daughter by thugs working for Tony Boyle, an event which gets little actual coverage in this book, was absolutely sinister. But there's a lot more to the story of the miners and the UMWA than this horrible event. Some of it is covered here. Some is not.
Miners, like all workers, can only ever really represent themselves in struggle. Professional union bureaucrats can at most negotiate their rate of exploitation at the hands of the bosses. The success of miners and workers in general depends on the self-activity of the working class itself. That was never a perspective shared by people like Jock Yablonski, his erstwhile supporter Ralph Nader, or Jock's attorney Joseph Rauh.
Yablonski and Rauh showed a touching faith in the state. This is the same state, made up of legislature, courts, prisons, and police, that had repeatedly repressed mine workers in the interests of the mine bosses. This is the same system of legislatures that wrote laws serving the coal companies, courts that ordered injunctions against striking miners and their union, prisons that locked up miners and even union leaders, and police that broke up picket lines and protected the scabs who crossed them! The state is not a neutral arbiter. It is an armed and organized body that enforces the interests of the bosses.
Raud repeatedly ran to the federal government and called on it to interfere in the UMWA throughout Yoblonski's campaign. Yablonski himself campaigned on the promise that he would hand over union documents to the federal government so that Tony Boyle could be locked up in prison. Yablonski's successors went on to invite the government into the union after Jock was killed.
There was never any mention of mobilizing the miners themselves to take over the organization and seek justice. Wildcats and rank and file committees were never encouraged. The idea was to get a "better leader" to the top of the union bureaucracy, with the aid of the Federal Government if necessary, without ever examining the role of the organization itself.
As a Washington attorney, Rauh's position is easy to understand. Jock's view makes sense too. He started out in the mines but became a well-paid, suit-wearing union bureaucrat. He lived on hundreds of acres in a huge stone house just outside of the Clarksville coal patch of company houses where his well-off brother Ed owned the water company. He sent his children off to expensive universities where they became well paid attorneys. He may have still felt the pain of the miners, but he no longer lived it.
As this book reveals, Jock Yablonski abhorred firearms and trusted in the state. One night he was visited at home by some suspicious men. He gave their license plate number to the Pennsylvania State Police. The police said they would follow up but never did. Later the men returned to the Yablonski house and shot Jock, his wife, and his daughter. An unloaded shotgun was found near Jock's body.
The UMWA bureaucracy claimed they had nothing to do with the Yablonski murders. The bureaucrat who took over Jock's official position blamed the crime on communists. Yablonski's team went on to form “Miners for Democracy” while Chip Yablonski begged the state for justice.
“Death and the Mines” was published in 1971. It concludes rather abruptly just as things seemed to be concluding for Boyle. It doesn't mention what happened to Boyle as it was probably pushed out to press while the issue was still on the minds of many.
Tony Boyle was charged with the murder of Yablonski and family in 1973. He attempted suicide after the conviction but failed. It turned out he was better at having others killed than offing himself. Boyle had his conviction overturned on a technicality in 1977 but was convicted again in 1978. He had a stroke in 1983 and died two years later.
Ardent Yablonski supporter and Miners for Democracy leader Arnold Miller became UMWA president in a 1972 election overseen by the US government. Yablonski supporter and Miners for Democracy member Mike Trbovich was his vice president and Jock's son Chip was named the union's top lawyer. The Miller presidency quickly lost popularity among miners as it went down the same path as the union bureaucrats who came before, minus the cold blooded murder.
Miller negotiated contracts with the mine bosses that were hated. Tens of thousands of miners rejected his attempts and struck, sometimes officially often times in wildcats on their own accord and against the wishes of the union tops. As early as 1974 during the big soft coal strike, Trbovich was publicly criticizing Miller. Infighting was rife. Miners were still being exploited and laboring in terrible condition. By 1977 miners were calling for Miller's resignation. Trbovich rode off into the sunset. The miners were still militant.
A major 111-day strike raged in 1977 and 78 after another one of Miller's crap contracts was rejected. President Carter ordered the miners back to work. They ignored his federal injunction and stayed on strike saying "Let Carter mine the coal!"
Miller finally resigned in 1979. Sam Church took over and continued on the same path. Attorney Richard Trumka won the 1982 election for union president after spending just enough time in the mines to build up his credibility. Trumka went on to oversee major losses for the union that were only surpassed by those of his vice president and later successor Cecil Roberts. Trumka rejected
the miner's tradition of solidarity and industry-wide strikes to shut down production in favor of "civil
disobedience" tactics like picketing Wall Street and isolated "selective strikes" that could easily be
defeated. He abandoned the long-held "no contract, no work" principle. He sold out the major strike at Pittston and condemned roving pickets, another long-used tactic of striking miners.
Today, the UMWA now has 20,000 members in the mines (down from 800,000 at its heights and less than half of active miners in the US) and looks to be in a steady downward trajectory. The coal fields are devastated with poverty, illness and drug addiction. Black lung is now at its highest rate in
25 years in Appalachia. In 2016, the UMWA leaders endorsed billionaire coal baron Jim Justice for governor of West Virginia. Richard Trumka is now president of the AFL-CIO. He is quite cozy with more than a few corporate bosses who appreciate his service. In 2017, Trumka publicly pledged to "partner" with the Trump administration.
Hazel Dickens said it best in her song “Cold Blooded Murder:”
Well Jock Yablonski was a coal miner's friend
He fought for the rights of the working man
He begged the law to protect him, but they turned him down
Now Jock, his wife and daughter all lay beneath the ground
Oh Lord the poor miner, will his fight never end?
They'll abuse even murder him to further their plans
Oh where is his victory how will it stand?
It'll stand when poor working men all join hands
The reader would be well served to read The Devil is Here in These Hills and Murder by Contract along with “Death and the Mines.”
US Workers Were Once Massacred Fighting for the Protections Being Rolled Back Today
Editor’s note: Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre. For more information about this landmark event in US labor history, visit PBS’ “American Experience.”
On April 20, 1914, the Colorado National Guard and a private militia employed by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (CF&I) opened fire on a tent camp of striking coal miners at Ludlow, Colo. At least 19 people died in the camp that day, mostly women and children.
A century later, the bloody incident might seem a relic of the distant past, but the Ludlow Massacre retains a powerful, disturbing and growing relevance to the present. After a century of struggling against powerful interests to make American workplaces safer and corporations responsive to their employees, the US is rapidly returning to the conditions of rampant exploitation that contributed to Ludlow.
A century ago, miners led the fight for workers’ rights. The Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a period of great upheaval for the American working class. For decades, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had worked to organize the nation’s coal miners. Its success often hinged on whether the government helped mining companies crush strikes or protected workers. In 1897, deputies in Luzerne County, Pa., killed 19 striking miners in the Lattimer Massacre. But five years later, when Pennsylvania miners struck again, President Theodore Roosevelt intervened on their behalf, providing them with a partial victory. Roosevelt’s actions, while hardly indicative a new pro-labor federal government, reflected a growing belief that labor deserved a fair shake.
John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his father John D. Rockefeller in 1915. (American Press Association, Library of Congress)
Colorado Fuel and Iron, part of John D. Rockefeller’s empire, was the largest coal company in the American West. Colorado had laws regulating mine safety, but CF&I ensured they remained unenforced. Workers weren’t paid for time spent traveling into or out of the mines, shoring up mine ceilings or fixing tools. CF&I brought in a polyglot group of laborers to these remote southern Colorado mines — Mexicans, Italians and Greeks dominated. They lived in company towns under the control and watchful eye of CF&I bosses.
Conditions were deadly inside the mines. Flooded mines forced workers to toil in standing water. Hazardous gases filled the cramped spaces, and miners constantly inhaled bad air. They relied on animals to warn them when the gases turned deadly. Explosions were frequent, and carbon monoxide seeping through mines felled workers after the blasts. Coal dust coated miners’ lungs and gave them what is today known as pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease. All of these problems made for short, danger-filled lives. In 1909, 259 coal miners died at the Cherry Mine Fire in Illinois.
Colorado coal miners first struck in 1894, led by the UMWA. Over the next 20 years, workers fought often bloody battles for better pay and working conditions. In 1913, the miners demanded an eight-hour day, the right to choose their own homes and doctors, a pay raise, and the enforcement of existing mine safety laws. The union presented these and other demands to CF&I. The company rejected them out of hand and the miners went on strike.
But by the spring, the state had run out of money to fund the National Guard’s presence. So, leaving two Guard units in Ludlow as support, Colorado pulled out but gave CF&I permission to fund its own security forces.
On the morning of April 20, the Monday after Easter, the security forces lured strike leader Louis Tikas out of camp. One of the Guard commanders, Karl Linderfelt, promptly broke a rifle butt on Tikas’ head, then the Guardsmen shot him in the back, killing him. The CF&I militia opened fire on the camp, sparking a day-long battle. Finally, the militia set the camp on fire, killing 15 women and children hiding in cellars built for protection against gunfire. It was the death of these 15 innocents that led to the term, “Ludlow Massacre.”
The strikers didn’t meekly return to work. A 10-day guerilla war ensued, resulting in 75 to 100 deaths. Strikers destroyed mine buildings and tunnels and blew up the dam providing water for the Ludlow mines. Finally, President Woodrow Wilson sent in the US Army to end the hostilities. Unlike previous examples of federal intervention in strikes, Wilson ordered that the Army remain neutral, and soldiers arrested several members of the company’s private militia. Nevertheless, by December, the UMWA had run out of funds and the strike ended in a total defeat.
The Ludlow Massacre was a public relations disaster for Rockefeller. He was vilified in the press for the killing of women and children. The US Commission on Industrial Relations savaged the mining company in their report on the massacre, calling Rockefeller’s representative in Colorado, L.M. Bowers, “bitter and prejudiced in the extreme, with an adherence to the individualistic economic doctrines of a century ago that was almost grotesque in its intensity.”
To limit the public relations damage, Rockefeller created a company union that allowed workers to present their grievances to management, but it was a sham the workers had no power in the bogus union.
John L. Lewis, chairman of the Congress of Industrial Organizations signs autographs just like any movie star for his admirers at the CIO Convention in Pittsburgh, Nov. 16, 1938. (AP Photo)
But Ludlow and other acts of violence against labor unions helped convince Americans of the need for real reform. Over the next several decades, conditions for all American workers improved dramatically. United Mine Workers president John L. Lewis created the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the 1930s, leading to the unionization of millions of industrial workers. New Deal legislation forced companies to negotiate with their workers in good faith. In the 1960s, rank and file mineworkers, angry over the continued lack of safety in the mines, organized to protest their working conditions. This led to the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, one of the most important pieces of worker safety legislation in American history.
In recent years, American mining companies have undermined the effectiveness of many of these reforms. West Virginia mandates that the state legislature must approve all environmental regulations, making meaningful regulation all but impossible. The companies managed to influence the scientific testing of black lung claims. Miners suffering from black lung need to have their cases confirmed by doctors, but a single pro-coal scientist at Johns Hopkins University denied all 1,500 cases he saw between 2000 and 2013. After the Center for Public Integrity exposed this travesty — winning a Pulitzer Prize in the process — Johns Hopkins suspended its black lung testing program.
In 2010, 29 miners died at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, the nation’s deadliest mine explosion since 1970. Don Blakenship, CEO of the mine’s owner, Massey Energy, had long fought against safety and environmental regulations. The mine’s operation was officially and notoriously unsafe, having racked up over 500 safety violations in the year before the explosion. After the disaster, Massey denied time off for miners to go to their friends’ funerals. Blankenship called the explosion an “act of God” and denied all responsibility.
Mine helmets and painted crosses sit at the entrance to Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine Tuesday, April 5, 2011, in Montcoal, W.Va. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)
Upper Big Branch was a non-union mine. The coal companies have managed to reduce the UMWA to a shell of its former strength by closing union mines while investing in new non-union mines in the West, and automating jobs that allow them to lay off union members. And when workers lack a voice to fight for their own safety, the results can be disastrous. The UMWA only has 75,000 members today, down from 500,000 in 1946 and 240,000 in 1998. In 2006, an explosion at the non-union Sago Mine in West Virginia killed 13 miners, but the mine was only fined $71,800 for safety violations. Robert Murray, owner of the non-union Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah blew off the safety violations his operation received in 2006 as trivialities. The next year a mine collapse killed six miners and, later, three rescue workers searching for their bodies. When the UMWA criticized Murray’s safety record, he told family members of the dead, “the union is your enemy.” The coal industry is now fighting to reduce the already limited inspections of its mines.
The UMWA struggles to keep up its fight against black lung disease. The number of miners afflicted with the illness has risen in recent years, especially among younger miners. Fifty-two percent of the 113,000 mine dust samples turned into government regulators by coal companies since 1987 exceeded federal standards. Seventy-one percent of the miners who died at Upper Big Branch had already developed the lung lesions that are typical of black lung.
Like John D. Rockefeller Jr., a century ago, Blankenship, Murray and other coal mining CEOs destroy lives and ecosystems without consequences.
What is happening to miners is a sign of our declining labor rights more broadly. We’ve entered a New Gilded Age, a period of intense income inequality where capital mobility, corporate control over politics, union busting and degraded environments have lowered American workers’ standard of living.
Ludlow may seem a distant memory, but today the mine companies continue to exploit miners and corporate domination over our lives again threatens our rights.