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The Molly Maguires:Vigilante Miners With A Cause

The Molly Maguires:Vigilante Miners With A Cause

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Published by Kyle Snyder

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Published by: Kyle Snyder on Apr 14, 2012
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The Molly Maguires:
Vigilante Miners With A Cause
Kyle R. Snyder Senior ThesisProfessor Barbara HeadleUniversity of Colorado at Colorado Springs
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From the mid 1860s through the 1870s, the United States endured recovery andreconstruction as a result of the Civil War. But in eastern Pennsylvania, there wasanother struggle being fought within the anthracite coal region. The struggle thatensued was not a quarrel to free a particular race, gender, or to unite a nation. Thefight was for the safety and economic well being of the miners working hundreds of feetbelow the surface vacating underground caves of their precious resource of anthracitecoal. Many of these individuals were Irish immigrants recently entering America in thehopes of acquiring prosperity and enhancing their economic situation. In reality, theyfound labor controlled by a stingy and powerful industry whose economic profit meantmore than the safety, well being, and fair payment of its laborers. This unfair treatmentled to the formation of labor unions who would organize for the rights of the miners.The first authentic mining union to form in the coal region began in the spring of 1849. Formed under the name of the General Bates Union, the organization sharedmany principles and similarities to the trade unionism movements of England. Themovement appealed to the men working in the Pennsylvania coal fields because it gavethe miners the opportunity to raise their concerns without reprisal. The union haddemanded a diminution in working hours, the eradication of wage payments in orderson company stores, and limitations on the total production of coal. Although theGeneral Bates Union was a local union with no national support, it still numberedbetween four and five thousand members. Despite its size, the union proved to beunimportant to the industry, and set precedence for future mine unions to materialize. Italso had a significant impact on the disclosure of complaints by the miners and on themethods to improve the status of these men.
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In May of 1849, a strike was ordered to force the mining industry to compromiseon the grievances of the miners. It was enforced by bands of miners, often armed withweapons, who went from colliery to colliery compelling non-sympathetic miners to strikewith them. The strike lasted for several weeks mainly because the coal mine ownersrefused to meet with the union leaders to arrange for conditions to terminate the strike. After several more weeks of negotiations, an agreement was settled upon to cease thestrike because of compromises by both parties. The organization survived until the fallof 1850 when it was disbanded because the union president and founder, John Bates of Saint Clair, absconded with the contents of its treasury.
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  Although the General Bates Union failed when John Bates abandoned the union,it was highly unlikely that the organization would survive for an extended period of time.The organization lacked many resources that a larger union could provide. The unionmembers were miners who eventually would give in to the demands of the mine ownersbecause the union did not have large monetary resources to support the cause. Minerswere left without pay, food, and sometime shelter while the union struggled to raisefunds to maintain the strikes. The General Bates Union also had flaws in itsorganization. John Bates did not have the backing of major investors, lawyers, andtechnicians to support the strikes. There were no supporting structures to branch outand quickly organize the miners in the different coal fields. Often the miners were tornbetween monetary gain through continued work and the desire to improve conditions byparticipating in the strike. Often, these predicaments would cause the strikes to failbecause the employees of one mine may have been persuaded to strike while many
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 J. Walter Coleman,
The Molly Maguire Riots: Industrial Conflict in the Pennsylvania CoalRegion
(New York: Arno Press, 1969), 23.
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