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Imprisoned Miner Has Long
Record of Union Struggle

(3 June 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 23, 9 June 1945, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

RICHEYVILLE, Pa., June 3 – What sort of man is William Patterson, the first American worker to be imprisoned under the Smith-Connally anti-strike law? Why did the capitalist government pick him as its first victim?

This afternoon, in this small mining town where UMW Local 2399 meets, I learned about Bill Patterson from the men who know him best, his union brothers, some of whom have worked in the mines with him since 1927.

Steve Panak, Local 2399 president, stated as a score of others crowded around the meeting platform and expressed their confirmation, that “ever since I’ve known Bill, he’s been a good union man, one hundred per cent.

Miner 17 Years

“He’s worked in this mine here (Vesta No. 4), why, I should say, for about 17 years.” Someone supplied the date. “Yes, that’s right, since 1927.”

To show the regard his fellow workers have for Patterson, Panak explained, “he’s served as mine committeeman off and on for four or five terms. He was always a man to put up a good fight for the rest of the men.”

As a committeeman, what kind of conditions was it his duty to fight against, I asked.

“Well, just to give you an idea of the kind of chiseling the company tries to put over all the time,” Panak explained, “we had to have the scales at the tipple checked six times in the past three months. And we found them off balance five out of six times. They’re always trying to short-weigh us.” .

Another worker interjected, “And how about the hard slate?” What was that, I asked.

“The company won’t pay us for when we have to work on hard slate where you can’t get the coal out. We have to pay for the powder to blast the slate where we can’t get any coal out.”

“If you want to know about chiseling, like Bill always had to fight against,” another stated, “it’s like the company putting supervisory monthly salary men, who’re non-union, to doing the jobs that’re under union contract – taking the work from the union men.”

Then they told me about the terrible accidents that are always happening in the mine. They told me case after case of men killed, maimed, seriously injured, in the past few months alone because the company doesn’t maintain proper equipment and safety conditions.

One worker was killed last Good Friday. Another was killed by a fall of rock on April 23. His brother had been badly hurt at the very same spot only the week before. Another man recently had his leg cut off. He was struck by a trip of coal – he had no man-way to go into on the haulage road. Another recently had his arm “cut clean off” by a fall of rock. Dozens of others have been injured – too numerous to mention.

Those are the conditions that Bill Patterson has fought against for 17 years. “He was a good fighter for the men – that’s why they made him the goat!” That’s how one worker summed it up, explaining why Bill Patterson is sitting in prison in Uniontown today.

I asked about Bill’s wife and family, because I was unable to get over to Daisytown to visit his home in time to get a report in to The Militant.

“Naturally, she’s very shocked and upset by what they put onto Bill,” said one of the men who’d been to see her to find out what the union could do for her.

“Bill’s wife, Ruby, is right with the union. She’s a real miner’s wife. Brought up in a miner’s family. She knows what the miners have to put up with. Why I bet you she’s been put out on the road three or four times with her family back in some of the strikes in the ’twenties.”

The miners here aren’t going to let Bill Patterson and his “real miner’s wife” down. And it’s up to the rest of labor not to let them down either.

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