Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Montage of images and link description. Eleanor Roosevelt Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
The Film & More
Interview Transcripts | Bibliography | Primary Sources

Donald Miller : The Layers of Control
Donald Miller John Mitchell's great difficulty was that he was running up against a situation where the entire anthracite region had begun to come under the control of two groups of people, both of them inordinantly powerful coal-carrying railroads like the Erie Railroad and the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the Reading Railroad. These railroads both owned mine property and carried coal to market and charged enormous prices for it. So, in effect, transportation controlled the resource, controlled the coal. But behind a transportation revolution, there was another revolution that was taking place, a financial revolution. This is the beginning of the control of American industry by Wall Street and 1900 is a very significant year in that regard in that Morgan has not only by 1900 wrapped up the anthracite industry through his control of these railroads; he's beginning to control other huge sections of the country and New York becomes a major financial center and headquarters of major corporations, of course, but also it's funding American industry. It's funding American industry and that's what's beginning to happen and that's what's scaring people. There are layers of control. There were still mines in the region that were still controlled by the men who had built those mines, John Markel and the Pardee Family, and they ran them as family concerns. And there was old man Markel right there in the region, living there, and you could focus your discontent and your hatred or your support right there. It was hand to hand and that's how Markel dealt with his workers. But these are distant forces and I think this is what's happening in the country at large. People feel their lives are coming under the control of forces, distant forces, outside their kin, outside their communities. Who are these people who are running this strike? I think that was a major question among the miners. Who are the owners? Who are we dealing with here? And Mitchell was very effective in making that point to them.

The United Mine Workers wanted recognition. And that's what the coal owners claimed they would never allow, ever, because that was intrusive. There, the worker begins to break in the management and tell management how to run its operation. Then you start to have control over safety conditions, which are going to be expensive. You start to have control over wages and hours. You start to have control over the technology and workers become in a sense part of the enterprise and that could never be.

Mitchell timed the strike perfectly. The national election had a huge impact on the strike. He timed the strike to occur just before the national election and to make a fool out of McKinley with his campaign slogan of "a full dinner pail". And when you cut down the anthracite production, I mean you can't even heat your homes in New York City and Philadelphia and places like that. Also you kind of throw the issue over to William Jennings Bryan, and Bryan's running a campaign against these consolidations, against these large industries that are wrapping up entire areas of the economy and the way they're treating their workers. So Mark Hannah is working behind the scenes. Hannah, of course, is an associate of McKinley's, very powerful Ohio politician. And he's working behind the scenes trying to get these tough intransigent coal operators to go to the bargaining table with Mitchell. He approaches the owners and he lays it right on the line. "If this strike is successful and it has an impact on the election, the impact's gonna be this. It's gonna be Bryan, rather than McKinley, and you're in some real hot water at that point because this is the cross of gold, man, and this is the guy who's going after the major monopolies and corporations. You want this rabble-rouser in the Presidency or do you want McKinley in the Presidency?" You know, it's as simple as that.

McKinley stands for the interests. He's willing to protect the interests of the coal owners. He's a friend of capital. Bryan is a friend of the working man and the issue is that it's dark. Bryan is a loose cannon. He seems willing to say anything and his oratory was always more militant than his actual actions, but he was really revvin' up the country in 1900 on the issue of monopolies. And here, Hannah must have been saying, "You people are running, one of the most tightly-knit and far-reaching industrial monopolies in the history of the world. I mean you're under the gun. We've got reporters all over the region. Frank Norris is up there, people from McClure's Magazine are up there, Lincoln Steffens is up there. All this stuff is coming back to New York. The miners are being starved out. The public opinion's swinging to the side of the workers. You've got to end it right now."

When they refuse, he goes over their head to Pierpont Morgan, and Morgan by this time owns most of the anthracite in the region and Morgan put heavy pressure on and all of a sudden signs begin to appear outside collieries that say "Yes, we're open for work at an increase of five and six percent of the wage scale," but no recognition of the union. That's one thing they did not do and wouldn't do.

back to Interview Transcripts

Interview Transcripts | Primary Sources | Bibliography

Program Description | Enhanced Transcript | Reference

The Film & More | Special Feature | Timeline | Maps | People & Events| Teacher's Guide