How the Molly Maguire Book Relates To Current Labor Union Issues

Howthe Molly Maguire Book Relates To Current Labor Union Issues


Inthe precedent world, trade unions were never supported by governmentauthorities. It was viewed as hindrance to needs and operations ofcompanies. Any attempt to form unions received immense frustrationand resistance. The directors of various companies made decisionsregarding the amount of wages and working conditions without anyinvolvement of workers. In fact, any attempt to form unions werethwarted through threats or relieved of duties. In the book, MollyMaguire, the aspects and grievances faced by coal mine workers information of trade unions have close relationship with the way ourstates tackles current unions.

Duringmid 19th century, coal mining dominated North EasternPennsylvania, a state with great potential of anthracite coal. In1870s, very powerful individuals controlled the coal fields andrailroads. These individuals monopolized the coal industry recruitingimmigrants to work for fewer wage than the American employees, luringthem with promises of fortune. Hundreds of immigrants, transported bytrains, replaced the local minors who were forced one by one to giveway for immigrants, either abandoning or re-treating the industry.

Howthe Molly Maguire Book Relates To Current Labor Union Issues

ProblemsExperienced by Workers

Asnoted by Mcilwee (2011), in absence of trade union to safeguard theworking conditions of its members, the immigrants were exposed tohealth risks and hazards since they were frequently unable to readand adhere to safety regulations. Frequent injuries and deaths incoal mines disaster reported in daily newspapers alarmed the nation.Currently, in every economy a trade union exists. Workers needs arefought with zeal and zest.

About22000 workers worked in Pennsylvania mines. 5500 miners were younglabor between the ages of 7 to 16, who separated slate from coal,earning wages between one to three dollars a week. As noted byMcilwee (2011), old or injured miners were allocated duties to pickslate at the breakers where coal was crushed into smaller size.Therefore, miners worked full time regardless of age or health livinga life of bitter and terrible struggle. Our trade unions havepetitioned the government and set up guidance and rules governing theemployment of young cheap manual labor and sick workers. The childrenbelow eighteen years do not qualify for employment and anyone foundexploiting young ones is arrested and charged (Rayback, 1959–1966).

Thestate was characterized by low wages, atrocious work conditionsculminating into hundreds of deaths and injuries each passing year.In September, 1869, fire broke out in Avondale Mine taking the livesof 110 coal miners. The deaths could have been averted if emergencyexits and proper ventilation and pumping systems had been put inplace. Over seven years, 566 and 1655 miners were killed andseriously injured respectively in Schuylkill (Horan 1952). Tradeunions have been advocating for adoption of occupational healthpolicy and whenever such death occurs as a result negligence bycompany’s directors, trade unions condemns such negligence andcalls for compensation of family’s victims (Rayback, 1959–1966).

Frommyriads of challenges in labor industry, consequently, workers unionnamed Workingmen’s Benevolent Association was formed. According toGoldstein (2001), during the search of bodies for burial, the head ofWBA stood on a wagon to address to a crowd of miners. He requestedthe miners to join WBA workers union to be able to address their workgrievances or else they continue being persecuted, and thousandsjoined the union that day. This is still in practice to date whereevery worker is advised to join at least one trade union.


Asnoted by Horan (1952), from 1873 to 1879, the nation was in greatpanic from worst depression caused by overexploitation of economy,stock crash and decline in money supply. By 1877, an approximatelyone-fifth of workers had been relieved of duties, two-fifth workedless than seven months a year, and a fifth worked full-time.According to Goldstein (2001), laborers watched angrily their coaland railway directors riding luxurious private cars publiclyannouncing their inability to pay wages to hungry coal workers. Withthe current strong trade unions, no employee can be relieved ofduties or denied wages in such circumstances.

Rivalrybetween Unions

Theexistence of Molly Maguires has not been traced and it is believed tohave diminished as a result of pressure from its activities changingits name to AOH initially having 450 members. The Molly Maquireismand trade unions had different style of organization and protest.With the five-year existence of WBA, the relationship betweenemployers and employees had considerably improved. WBA wereindisputably opposed to the Molly Maguires bringing to end the crimessubjected to coal miners (Wayne, 1965). In our societies, there aremany rival trade unions claiming to protect workers. Consequently,competition is part of daily routine, members of rival union turningagainst other unions.

MostIrish miners were members of WBA, with half of the officers bearingIrish names. On the other hand, there existed a disorganized group ofmen called Molly Maguires, consisting of only Irish (Wayne, 1965).According to Goldstein (2001), these unions endeavored to improve theworking conditions of workers in anthracite region. The WBA unionstrategy was indirect, peaceful, gradual and well organized acrossthe coal mine region, while that of the Mollies was direct, sporadic,violent and restricted to a specific location. As stated by Goldstein(2001), there were repeated tension between English and Welsh miners,who took over skilled positions, and the high number of unskilledlabors of Irish descent. However, despite such differences, WBAprovided remarkable solutions to overcome such differences. This isapplicable to modern unions since a well organized and unselectivetrade union in labor conflict arbitration cannot miss. Most unionsare formed based on religion, political or ethnic backgrounds.

Allanthracite workers, irrespective of national origin, religion andskill status, were permitted to join WBA. Hence, members of the AOHjoined, and some of them disgruntled the trade union favoringviolence against their leaders. The leaders of WBA, not representedby any Molly Maguires, condemned the use of violence in laborstruggle (Wayne, 1965). Thus, the wishes of trade union and secretsociety overlapped. Sometimes, memberships of unions are notscrutinized. Some members join only to fight for their personal needsbut for the entire union. This has led to most unions collapsing dueto internal wrangles.

Intimidationand Arrest of Union Leadership

Accordingto Goldstein(2001), justlike our modern world, the leaders who planned the aborted strike byworkers were rounded up and jailed by state militia and Coal and Ironpolice. The workers strike since the wages were reduced drasticallyby twenty percent. The press denounced and excoriated the leaders.John Siney, the head of union and Xingo Parks (Organizer of nationalassociation), and twenty six union officials were all arrested andcharged with conspiracy charges. The officials were all imprisonedfor two years. Even today, leaders who don’t bore down to pressurefrom government are howled and charged even if it was demanding forrights of workers.

Failingof Strikes

Asa result of imprisonment of its leaders, the union was almost brokenin addition to rampant attacks by vigilantes or Molly Maguiresagainst striking workers (Wayne, 1965). The press run stories ofstrikes in Ohio, Jersey City, and in Illinois mines inspired byheinous acts of Mollies. Citizens believed the stories. InSchuylkill, the striking workers and their families starved to deathdue lack of pay to purchase food. According to Goldstein (2001), thestrike which lasted for six months failed and workers accepted thetwenty percent wage cut. Usually, arrest and intimidation of tradeunion leaders breaks down unions and workers having no one to lookfor justice (Wayne, 1965).

Thepresence of unions in many states aids the maintenance of wages athigh level. The presence of WBA helped keep the prices of coal highand corresponding wages, this situation wasn’t disagreeable toindividual operators. However, this plan was attacked whenPhiladelphia &amp Reading Railroad raised coal rates drivingindividual operators out of business. War on the WBA was prepared bythe Reading Railroad president, Gowen, through formation of formationof National Detective Agency and Coal and Iron Police. Gowenpetitioned the government and paid the state police having directcontrol. This act is still evidenced in most companies. Barons useall methods at their disposal to scare away protesters.

Afterthe failed strike, workers were advised by WBA to return to workunder no conditions when coal operators reopened the mines butworkers in Schuylkill rejected the advice. These opposing workersorganized mass action demonstration and parades, when Coal and Ironpolice were mobilized. The capitalist press wrote that the WBAleadership should be arrested or shot to stop further disorder. TheWBA, through its newspaper retaliated but also admitted that someminors had committed violence against the interest of the union. Itdistanced itself with these miners even offering to furnish policewith their information to prevent acts of violence against rights toproperty. Sometimes when union members do criminal acts, trade unionsare in forefront to denounce and distanced itself from it (Wayne,1965).


Currently,different unions are formed all aimed at supporting the welfare ofworkers. But it is only one union which will stand out and representthe voice of the people. In this case, WBA had good organizationalstructure, collective vision and well developed labor relations. TheWBA is a typical example of a working class able to organize itself.Just like our modern unions, the WBA had opponents. There are alwaysa class of agitators hired to bring confusion, digression andundermine the confidence existing between the employers and employees


Goldstein,RJ. (2001). PoliticalRepression in Modern America.University of Illinois Press.

Horan,JD. (1952). ThePinkerton Story.Heinemann.

Kenny,K. MakingSense of the Molly Maguires,1998, pp. 3-5.

Mcilwee,M. (2011). TheLiverpool Underworld: Crime in the City, 1750-1900.Liverpool University Press.

Rayback,JG. (1959–1966). AHistory of American Labor.The Free Press, MacMillan.

Wayne,G.B. (1965). TheMolly Maguires.Chelsea House/Vintage book.