The Progressive Miners of America, a reformist union, was organized in 1932 by miners dissatisfied with the leadership of the United Mine Workers of America. The movement had its roots in March 1930 when disgruntled members of the UMWA, led by Alexander Howatt and John H. Walker, formed the Reorganized United Mine Workers of America. This organization attempted to overthrow what they called the dictatorship of UMWA President John L. Lewis, appealing to the Illinois court system to recognize them as the legitimate UMWA. While the Reorganized Mine Workers initially gained substantial support in Illinois and West Virginia, the Illinois courts ruled in favor of the old UMWA. Without legal standing the rebel group collapsed in 1931.
One year later, in September 1932, the leaders of the Reorganized Mine Workers reunited to form the Progressive Miners of America. With Joe Ozanic as its president, this new union promised to give more power to local unions and allow them to elect their own officials, rights not then available to members of the UMWA. With support from the American Federation of Labor, the Progressive Miners aggressively campaigned against John L. Lewis and the UMWA.
Frank Keeney and Thomas Haggerty led the Progressive Miners fight in West Virginia. Competition between the rival unions grew intense in southern West Virginia, particularly at the mining town of Ward, Kanawha County. In certain instances UMWA members physically attacked field organizers for the PMA and, as a result, many miners were afraid to join the new union.
The conflict continued until UMW District 17 President Van A. Bittner negotiated a union-shop agreement with the local coal operators in May 1939. This union-shop agreement required any miner working at a given mine to join the UMWA. Shortly thereafter, support for the PMA collapsed and the union disbanded.
This Article was written by C. Belmont Keeney
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Harris, Evelyn K. & Frank J. Krebs. From Humble Beginnings: The West Virginia State Federation of Labor, 1903-1957. Charleston: West Virginia Labor History Pub. Fund, 1960.
Brophy, John. A Miner's Life. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964.
Cite This Article
Keeney, C. Belmont "Progressive Miners of America." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 October 2010. Web. 25 March 2017.