September 3 Progressive Miners of America Founded

September 3, 2017

On this day in labor history the year was 1932. 

That was the day the Progressive Miners of America wrapped up their founding convention in Gillespie, Illinois. 

Fed up with concessions and what they viewed as a heavy-handed, anti-democratic rule by UMW president John L. Lewis, Illinois miners met to break decisively. 

Area miners were active in radical politics and many supported currents within the Socialist and Communist movements.   

That July, Lewis opened the contract and agreed to a 20% pay cut. 

Tens of thousands of miners were furious and threw up picket lines at mines throughout central and southern Illinois.  

In Franklin County, striking miners were assaulted, shot and beaten by special deputies and strike breaking thugs. 

Many miners thought Lewis had a hand in the violence against them. 

Two miners were killed and hundreds more injured. 

By September 1, 273 delegates representing 40,000 miners resolved to break from the UMWA, form a new union, and plan immediate negotiations with coal operators. 

They drafted a constitution emphasizing rank and file industrial democracy. 

A women’s auxiliary was established, with Agnes Burnes Wieck at its head. 

It imbued union solidarity and leadership qualities among non-mining women. 

An enraged Lewis charged dual unionism but the new PMA alleged they represented ninety percent of Illinois miners. 

The split gave rise to the Illinois Mine Wars. 

Years of shootings, bombings, and assaults became almost commonplace as both unions struggled for power. 

The PMA soon faced internal fighting as conservatives attempted to wrest leadership from many of the founders.

By 1937 racketeering charges were engineered against PMA leaders and close to forty were tried and convicted. 

Though the union never dominated the industry, it continued to represent thousands of Illinois miners throughout the 20th century.

 

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