History of coal mines proves value of labor standards

History of conditions in coal mines proves value of labor standards

Divine Right Baer (George Frederick Baer, 1842-1914) was the right-hand man of J.P. Morgan who owned many companies, including the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Co. In 1902, there were few federal regulations for coal operators. Taxes were almost nil; consequently there were enormous profits made by the companies that J.P. Morgan owned or operated.

In protest of wages and working conditions, some 147,000 anthracite coal miners went on strike. Mr. Morgan put Baer in charge of the problem. Mr. Baer made this statement: “We will give no consideration to any plan of arbitration or mediation or to any interference on the part of any outside party.”

Some citizens supported Baer’s position, but many did not. A minister from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., urged Baer to end the strike. In a letter dated July 17, 1902, Baer responded with a letter that many considered blasphemous. The letter read, “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in his infinite wisdom has given control of the property interests of the country and upon the successful management of which so much depends.” Clarence Darrow entered the fray by calling Baer, “George the Last.”

It should be noted that the miners did not have a wage increase in 20 years. The work-day was 10 hours and the work week was six days (no overtime). Compensation for death and severe injuries was minimal. My grandfather was a company man and was killed in the Dixon colliery of the Hudson Coal Co. in 1933. My grandmother received $70 a month for five years. My friend’s father lost three fingers on one hand in the 1920s and was blackballed for getting injured and complaining.

Is it any wonder that in the central square of Scranton, Pa., there is a life-sized statue of John Mitchell, labor leader, giving him the honor of negotiating for the eight-hour day, a guaranteed minimum wage and better working conditions?

Robert E. Hopkins, Hubbard