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Donald Miller : The Need for a Strike
Donald Miller The issue in this strike was a living wage, a wage whereby you could support your family. The average miners were making about $400 a year and I don't know what that is exactly translated into 1999, currency, but it wasn't nearly enough to support a family. Consequently, child labor is common practice. When you were nine-ten years old you were drawn from school, pulled out of school really, whether you like it or not, and off you went into the work force. The boys went into the mines and the girls went to work in the textile industry that begin to locate itself in the region around 1900. It moved outside of New York and over to the coal regions and young girls 14, 15, and 16 years old worked there. When Louis Hine went up to photograph the miners around this time, Louis Hine, the famous documentary photographer, he photographed these children and expected to, in a sense, go after the conscience of the nation. But the workers themselves resented his efforts. They needed the work of their children and they would forge false birth certificates, lying and saying in a sense that their child was 16, rather than 13 or 11. In my own investigation of the anthracite region around 1900, I found that as much as a third of a family's income came from children under the age of 15.

By 1900, the big thing is that many of these Eastern European and Italian miners finally had something to lose. They had come over here, by and large, in the beginning of the 1880s as, single men had come first, young men between the ages of 18 and 22 and 23 years old, lived in boarding houses, saved their money, worked in some boarding houses they would have 16-17 guys in a room. Say, if there was 18 there, they'd have nine beds. Nine guys would have one shift, get up, go to work, and the other nine would come in and take their beds. They'd save, save, save, send the money back to the home country, bring their families over. Sometimes they'd send for a wife. Their mother would secure a wife for them. She'd send them a tin-- little tin type with a photograph of it. And sometimes these guys would go to New York City when the immigrant boats were unloading and they'd look at the tin type and scan the crowd looking for their wives. They'd bring them into the region. They had a family to raise now. They had homes of their own through constantly saving, and the Slavic people especially, you know, save like crazy. They were able to be the second largest home owners in the region by 1900. The Polish were by 1900. So they had homes. They had families. They had built churches and they invested so much emotionally and financially in the erection of these churches, which were community centers as well. The parish priest sent letters back to the home country. They had a whole structure of community life and they had benevolent societies of their own. And so this is a strike that is, in a sense, fought out for very conservative reasons. These are not radical people. They're fighting for a piece of the American action. They're fighting for a piece of the American pie. They're fighting for home and stability and church and country. They're citizens now and this makes it so unusual, the strike, in a sense. They're not anarchists. This isn't a Haymarket Riot led by anarchists in the 1880s. These are people who are now Americanized and are very conservative in their politics and their social mores. And this is why during the strike public opinion, and again in the 1902 strike, public opinion swung rather quickly, once the strike broke out, to the side of the miners. Because they were fighting for, in a sense, so little, a decent living wage so they could continue to support their churches, support their communities and support their families.

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