Sunday, April 3, 2011

The 1902 Coal Strike, Rev. W. R. Harshaw's Views

In 1902 there was a strike called by the United Mineworkers among the anthracite miners in the Scranton/Wilkes Barre/Pittston area. See this wikipedia article. In the aftermath of the strike, Rev. William Harshaw published this article.

By Rev. W. R. Harshaw.
Good comes out of evil. The great strike of the anthracite region is calling the attention of the public to the masses of foreigners that make this serious problem. The philanthropic and Christian public need to know of it. Ignorance has allowed it to lie almost untouched and it has festered and become a running sore that is dangerously contagious. When it has been mentioned those outside the valleys in which it lies have been accustomed to look upon it as a local condition, furnishing a local problem, which the Christian and patriotic public immediately in touch with it, ought to be able to solve without much difficulty. That it rises above the local in importance the strike has demonstrated. Vast industries far beyond the anthracite region have been partially paralyzed and millions of people have been forced to suffer in pocket and person. Those who live in these regions understand very clearly that the magnitude of the problem puts it beyond their power to handle unless they can count on sympathy and active cooperation from the outside.
What are some of the facts that are familiar to those who live in this region infested by this foreign mass?
There are one hundred and fifty thousand people in the Wyoming and Lackawanna valleys alone who can neither speak nor understand the English tongue. Along with these may be put a vast number of others, who in a feeble way, are able to speak English and yet at no other point are the superiors of their fellows. Cut off from contact with Americans, through inability to communicate with them, they live by themselves. They have their own merchants, their own priests, their own teachers in the parochial school. In no way do they become identified with the life of the community in which they live. Indeed, they have no community interest. They are here because the opportunity to make a better living is afforded them, but to all intents and purposes they live the life of Hungary, or Poland, or Italy on this soil. They are the undigested and the undigestible element in every community. No intelligent man needs to be told that the presence of such a mass is a menace to the best life of every community where it may chance to be.
Now, when you put alongside of the number of these people the conditions under which the larger portion of them live you have made the question more startling. They live either in little villages of their own, outside the towns and cities, or else on the outskirts of the cities. They herd together in huts and hovels that are largely unfit for human habitation. And this sort of habitation is not the result of the "grinding greed" of the coal
operator, but it is the result of choice. They choose to live under these conditions. These people make fair wages. Most of them have bank accounts. They prefer to live as they do. Living under such conditions, it is not strange that the type of morality is of the lowest sort. It would be strange were it otherwise. The crowding together under these conditions brings with it a morality that degrades manhood and womanhood and brings a multitude of children into the world by birth and heredity bent in the wrong direction. Then, too, all sanitary regulations are thrown to the wind. Last year when the smallpox prevailed it was very largely centered in these foreign communities, and it was almost impossible to stamp it out, because it was impossible, even by the stern pressure of the police authorities, to force the observance of the regulations necessary for its destruction. Petty thievery is almost characteristic of this element. The fruit trees and gardens of the community are never safe. The farms of the neighborhood are considered a legitimate field for their operations. The criminal court is the evidence that more than threefourths of the crime is committed by these men, who have no conception of what law means; who have no higher conception of right and wrong than personal wish and will.
These people live in the saloon. You have only need to look as you pass through one of these foreign communities to be convinced of this. Every other door is a saloon. The patronage must include almost the whole population in order that the number of saloons should be legion. Then when you add to this the almost unnumbered groggeries that are hidden away out of sight in order to escape the license fee, one is amazed at the amount of drink that must be stowed away in these men and women.
Among a people born as these people are born and living as they do, the seeds of anarchy are sown and readily received. The utmost efforts of labor leaders, under the strong pressure of public opinion, have been brought to bear upon them during this strike to keep them within bounds and prevent outbreak, and yet it has only been partially successful. Again and again the pressure of lawlessness has been too strong and they have broken out in defiance of law to beat and dynamite and kill and destroy. Of course, in the presentation of this dark picture of the present conditions I have not overlooked the fact that there are exceptional cases where these peoples have furnished to the community intelligent, upright, useful, patriotic citizens. But. making all possible allowance for these, one is forced to admit that they are the exceptions, and that these exceptions are few and far between.
Thus far practically very little has been done to better the conditions. An occasional mission has been established, an occasional missionary has been set to work and these men have done efficient service, so far as the limits of time and ability have gone, but nothing adequate to the conditions has been attempted either by the Church or State. Certainly, something ought to be done. Every intelligent and patriotic citizen is asking in these days with emphasis, "What can be done?"
The first thing is to get the younger generation to speak the English tongue. The sending of missionaries who speak to them in their own tongue may accomplish something for the older ones, but it will never meet the conditions. The thing that is needed is to get them to the point where they will throw away the old speech and begin to talk the tongue of the new land and the new civilization in the midst of which they live. One of the serious facts that faces the philanthropist is that great numbers of the children are not in the public school. They cannot be received. They do not talk English. The teacher does not talk Italian, or Hungarian, or Polish or Lithuanian. There is no point of contact between them. They cannot communicate with each other. Hence they have been allowed to run the streets. Perhaps the most effective work that has yet been attempted lias been the kindergarten work attempted in some parts of these valleys. These kindergartens have gathered the younger children in, given them enough of English, then turned them over to the public schools. Perhaps this may surprise a good many people when they are told that in many cases these "selfish coal barons," about which we have heard so much in recent days, have furnished the money and expressed themselves as glad to furnish it, in order that this kindergarten work might be carried on. Does that seem as though these operators were the incarnation of selfishness? But the little that has been attempted along this line is only a drop in the bucket. Whether the State ought to undertake this work or the Church assume the support and control of it or private philanthropy be expected to furnish the funds, one thing is certain, there is no more needy field to-day, and no other field will furnish richer results, than the work of teaching these children enough English so that they can get into the public schools and enjoy the intellectual training there afforded, and in addition to that, come into contact with American children imbued with American ideas, and in their way, loyal to American ideals.
But there is a vast generation of young people, especially young men, that are gone beyond the possibility of the public school. For these scarcely nothing has been done. What they need is an institution patterned after the Young Men's Christian Association. I am not sure but that the association itself might profitably undertake the work. It might attach it to the associations that already exist in the region or it might_ establish new institutions to meet the need of this class. They need the educational class. They need to learn English. They need to be taught to read. They need to be furnished something to read. They need to be taught how to care for their bodies. They need some place of comfort beside the saloon. They have no homes. They have nothing to-day but the saloon. For tens of thousands of these young men the only open door that will furnish them light and heat is the saloon. Of course, association buildings exists in these towns and cities, but they are located for the American young men and are inaccessible by distance or for various other reasons for any great number of these foreign young men. Would they avail themselves if the opportunity were furnished? Yes. They are anxious to learn English. The few small attempts that have been made are a sufficient indication of their readiness to seize the opportunity with eagerness and use it for all there is in it.
It is a question in my mind as to whether it is wise to send these people the gospel first. Send the missionary to them, if with his preaching of the gospel, he is fitted to establish a night school and speaks English well enough to teach them. But my experience is that the first thing to do, the place to lay the stress to-day, is upon their education, and then, along with the education, give them the gospel as rapidly as they are able to receive and assimilate it.
This question is not simply one in which the Church is interested. It is not a question in which the only issue involved is the personal salvation of the individual. In their present condition the presence of these multitudes is a menace to our social and industrial and commercial life. In a thousand ways it affects and affects seriously.
The peril of their presence is recognized in political life. Many of these men are citizens. The balance of power in many of these counties lies with these men. Under the skilful leadership of some ambitious demagogue it is possible for these men, ignorant of what American principle is and ignorant of what American citizenship means, it is yet possible for them to determine the political life of the countv. I am no alarmist. Neither am I a pessimist. But it seems to me that the general public, outside the anthracite region, ought to understand the serious problem with which we are wrestling and they ought to give us their sympathy if they have nothing more tangible to give.
West Pittston, Pa., Oct. 1, 1902.

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