Union official William Anthony ‘‘Tony’’ Boyle (December 1, 1901-May 31, 1985) was born in Montana. He went to work in the mines as a youth and soon became a labor activist. In 1940, he became president of United Mine Workers District 27 in Montana. UMW President John L. Lewis brought Boyle to Washington in 1947 as his assistant. Upon the retirement of Lewis in 1960, Boyle became vice president, then acting president. He was elected union president in 1963.
Lacking the charisma of Lewis, Boyle tried unsuccessfully to keep his predecessor’s tight rein on union affairs. As the 1960s progressed, union miners agitated for local and district autonomy and the right to ratify national contracts. On the day following the mine disaster at Farmington, which killed 78 men on November 20, 1968, Boyle infuriated mine workers by telling newsmen: ‘‘As long as we mine coal, there is always this inherent danger. This happens to be one of the better companies, as far as cooperation with our union and safety is concerned.’’
Opposition mounted in early 1969 in the wake of strong demands that state and federal action be taken on black lung and mine safety. Boyle made it clear that since the Farmington disaster had little to do with black lung, the major emphasis of the UMWA would be on mine safety. This timid message sparked a strike of 40,000 West Virginia miners in defiance of Boyle. The agitation was further fueled by evidence of corruption within the union. At the end of May 1969, former ally Joseph A. ‘‘Jock’’ Yablonski startled the Boyle forces by announcing his candidacy for UMWA president in the December 1969 election. After a bitter campaign, Yablonski, his wife, and daughter were murdered on New Year’s Eve 1969. Boyle was defeated by Arnold Miller in 1972.
Tony Boyle and three others were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the Yablonski murders.
This Article was written by Ken Hechler
Last Revised on September 26, 2012