July 24, 2002
Miner victories this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.
Hello, Iím Steven Knoche Kite.
Mining has always been one of the more dangerous of occupations. Cave-ins, deadly gas and dust and explosions have caused for miners more than their fair share of death and despair. The miners across the country in the 19th century lacked any kind of organization or union that could aid them in their struggle. The Knights of Labor, a nationwide workers collective, fought for miners rights in the late 1800s but were for the most part ineffective.
In Indian Territory the situation of miners was more desperate than other parts of the country. So many explosions, cave ins, fires and deaths occurred in Indian Territory that the area quickly achieved the deserved reputation of having the most deadly mining operations in the world. It was not until 1890 and the formation of the United Mine Workers of America, or the UMWA, that Indian Territory miners saw a glimmer of hope for their situation. It was on March 2 of 1899 that Indian Territory miners walked off of their jobs demanding improvements in their work place. The minerís chief demands were simple: they wanted a recognition of the United Mine Workers of America as their bargaining agent, and eight hour day, better safety regulations and higher pay. Mine owners, however, saw the strike as taking away control of the mines and refused. The miners did not know it at the time but the strike that began in March of 1899 would last for almost four years and involve mines and miners in not only Indian Territory but Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas as well.
For years miners and those living in the area dealt with starvation, bombs, riots and the destruction of their property as mine owners attempted to force them back to their jobs. Organized and led by miner, safety expert and UMWA representative Peter Hanraty, the miners fought against what many conceived to be overwhelming opposition. Hanraty, a genius at organizing, never gave up in his struggle to unionize Indian Territory miners. Even as the national office of the UMWA abandoned the fight, Hanraty begged for money wherever possible, mortgaged his house for funds and continued the struggle. Slowly but surely Hanraty and his followers gained inroads into the mines.
It was in this week of 1903 that the Big Four mine operators of Indian Territory conceded to the demands of the workers ending the strike. Miners were finally guaranteed adequate pay, an eight hour day and perhaps most importantly the right to organize under the banner of the United Mine Workers of America.
I'm Steven Knoche Kite.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.