Vote Dershowitz! Labor Days

Good morning, it’s Thursday, January 25, 2018. On this date 128 years ago, the United Mine Workers union was forged in Columbus, Ohio. It was a seminal event in the history of the Buckeye State and in the labor movement. Its reverberations are being felt to this day in cities across the United States.

On January 25, 1890, delegates from the Knights of Labor’S National Trade Assembly, No. 135, and the National Progressive Union of Miners and Mine Laborers, met in Columbus to formally merge their two organizations.

The idea was to create a more powerful union, and the labor leaders’ decision to quit feuding and join forces accomplished that goal: The United Mine Workers became one of the most potent forces in the U.S. labor movement.

The Columbus meetings began on January 22. By the third day, a new constitution had been hammered out. In the early 20th century, the name John L. Lewis would become synonymous with the mine workers union, but Lewis was not quite 10 years told when the UMW was formed. And the key to its influence was present in the document produced at its genesis.

The UMW constitution finalized on this day in 1890 combined the everyday workplace improvements demanded by the “Knights” with the progressive political views of the NPUMML. In the new union, racial discrimination against those “of African descent” was prohibited — an African-American was named to the board — and among its demands were the following:

– An 8-hour workday.
– The abolishment of “company stores,” which prescribed where miners and their families could live and shop.
– A minimum wage scale, ranging from 50 cents an hour to $1 an hour.

The UMW constitution also called on communities that employed miners to require police officers to live in the towns where they work. This was an attempt to check the mine operators’ penchant for importing Pinkertons and other strike-breaking law enforcement agents.

But it also was a nod to the simple human dynamics present in today’s “community policing” movement, the idea being that if law enforcement personnel live in the cities and towns they police, tensions between cops and civilians will be lessened.

The new union, which set dues at five cents a month for its members, vowed to use “conciliation, arbitration, and strikes” to accomplish its goals. As the future decades unfolded, it used all of those tools — and more. Over time, the UMW and other labor unions would add the weapons of public relations and politics to their arsenals.

This intention was made explicit in the original UMW constitution, which excoriated elected officials in neighboring Pennsylvania “for their cowardice and inhuman treatment in not protecting the rights of miners.” This was a reference to contemporaneous labor strife 280 miles away in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. And at their 1890 Columbus convention, the delegates took up a collection for the families of striking coal miners there who’d been evicted from their (company-owned) homes.

Fast-forward to November 2011 when Republicans, out-of-state observers, and even many national Democrats were surprised when Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected a law passed by the state’s legislature curbing the ability of unionized public employees to engage in collective bargaining.

Despite what his critics claimed, Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s legislative agenda, which mirrored like-minded efforts by Republican governors in other states, was not motivated by animus for organized labor. It was driven by the stark exigencies of profligate pensions, contracts, and workplace rules granted by towns, cities, counties, school boards, and state legislatures that have busted the budgets in many cities, counties, and states — to the point of constraining them from hiring new workers.

At the same time, Ohioans are proud, and rightly so, of their state’s history in the labor movement. And any solution to the state’s budget woes that was viewed as trampling on that legacy was destined for difficulty.

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

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