United Mine Workers of America Founded, 1/25/1890

From History.com’s “This Day in History”:

January 25, 1890

On this day, a fleet of workers whose jobs were spread throughout the massive coal industry banded together to form the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The UMWA rapidly became one of America’s most potent, and at times most troubled, labor organizations. In its earliest incarnation, the coal union was a close affiliate of Samuel Gompers’s America Federation of Labor (A.F. of L.). The partnership not only helped legitimize the UMWA, but also shaped its politics, as Gompers’s A.F. of L. placed its conservative stamp on the new coal union. However, by 1935, UMWA chief John L. Lewis had grown disenchanted with the A.F. of L. and in the same year, Lewis and the UMWA joined forces with seven other unions to form the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The partnership didn’t last long, at least for the coal workers: in 1942, the UMWA pulled up its stakes and withdrew from the CIO. On its own, the UMWA often fell prey to the anti-union tendencies of the federal government: in 1946 and 1948, Lewis and his union were found guilty of criminal contempt for failing to avert coal strikes. The UMWA persevered through the 1950s, but Lewis’s retirement in 1960 badly rattled the union. By the late 1960s, the UMWA was riddled with corruption and internal struggles. The UMWA seemingly hit bottom in 1970, when reform minded president Joseph A. Yablonski, as well as his wife and daughter, were found murdered. However, a few years later, the situation turned even uglier when W.A. (Tony) Boyle, who had preceded Yablonski as the union’s chief, was convicted of ordering the murders. The chaos continued until Richard Trumka’s rise to the presidency in 1982: he cleansed some of the corruption and brought a modicum of stability back to the organization. In 1989, the UMWA ended its long stint as a lone wolf and joined forces with the AFL-CIO.

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