A predictable outcome, the company won again

Sandy Vasko

    We have been going through the long hot summer of 1889 with the striking miners. How long would it last this time? Who would win?
    I think you can predict it without any ESP talents at all. Let's go back to August 1889 to see how it played out.
    The first thing we read is on Aug.10 and things were not going well. “Joliet, IL, after lengthy session the coal operators' and miners' conference with the Board of Arbitrators came to an end, at a late hour last night, without any result looking toward a settlement of the Northern Illinois coal miners' strike.
    “The miners agreed to meet the operators half way, to accept 75 cents at Streator, 85 cents at La Salle and 90 cents at Braidwood. This concession the operators refused to accede to, insisting on the 10 percent reduction.”
    A few days later the companies printed this thinly veiled threat against them miners. “Streator, IL., A new phase of the mining situation has developed which will give the striking miners more trouble than they had previously anticipated.”
    “It is said on good authority that the Chicago, Wilmington and Vermillion Company, which has given employment to at least 2,000 men, is said to be negotiating for men from other points. This company operates mines at Braidwood, LaSalle, Seatonville and other places, and has grown tired of the repeated strikes.”
    If the miners of these places desire to resume work they will have to do it quickly, the operators say, as they do not propose to stand idly by and see Southern operators take all the contracts and olet the market for their products be forever destroyed.”
    “Many of the miners own their own homes, and are willing to go to work at the prices offered, but are prevented from so doing by the more radical element and the hot-headed foreigners who are in the majority.”
    It must be remembered that Illinois was not the only state involved in this strike. This strike was nationwide in scope.
    The Miners' Union was in hopes that if miners all over the country struck at once, the companies would have to settle. However, the coal companies did the same, and all staid fast to their original demands.
    In an article dated Braidwood, IL., Sept. 7 we read, “Secretary Ryan, of the Illinois Miners' Union, before leaving for Columbus today said, 'The fact that the operators of Northern Illinois refused to attend any conference looking towards the settlement of the strike, establishes the fact that there can be no general settlement at the present time.”
    “Should the Pittsburg miners accept the 65 cent rate and resume work, the Illinois miners will be left to hold the bag. A resumption of work in Illinois at the reduction means a loss to the Pittsburg miners of an advance inside of 60 days. The strike was inaugurated as a national issue and should end in the same way, win or lose.”
    Meanwhile the wolf was at the door. A mass meeting was held in Chicago at the City Council Chambers, asking them for food and other assistance. Only six people showed up, including the representative of the miners, George Martin, of LaSalle.
     Chicago Mayor Dewitt Creiger showed Martin a petition sent to him by citizens of Coal City. It said in part, “The miners of Illinois averaged under 72 cents per day ($20 today.) Many of the miners are literally starving. My own house is besieged each day with men and women, asking bread for their little ones. On the 25th an old man came to my house and stated that his family had had neither supper nor breakfast that morning.”
    “The same day a woman came to say she had nothing for her five little ones. They represent thousands. If not soon relieved many of our little ones will be beyond the reach of suffering. We ask the City of Chicago to allow its heart to go out to the suffering of its own people.”
    He responded that “I am satisfied the miners need assistance and need it at once. Whatever the causes that lead to their present condition, it is certainly one of extreme want, and Chicago must not turn a deaf ear to their supplications.”
    He went on to explain that the Citizens Committee had thousands of dollars on hand left from the collection for the flood victims of Johnstown, Penn. But he did not have the power to do it, as the individual contributors would have to consent. And of course, he said that he would appoint a committee to visit Braidwood to see for themselves.
    Not enough aid reached the miners, and so literally under the pain of death, they went back to work on the company terms. The 1889 strike was not the last by any means.
    The shaft mining industry in this area was dying, and within a few decades mining would be done in a whole different way, and a new set of problems arose.