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Miners for Democracy

The Miners for Democracy, a dissident movement within the United Mine Workers of America, successfully challenged the corrupt administration of the union in the early 1970s. The Miners for Democracy or MFD as it was often called, was organized in Clarksville, Pennsylvania, in April 1970, a few months after the assassination there of Joseph ‘‘Jock’’ Yablonski, a rebel leader within the miners’ union. Although it was several years before UMWA President Tony Boyle was imprisoned in the murder-for-hire scheme that left Yablonski, his wife, and daughter dead in their beds on New Year’s Eve, the assumption was widespread in the coalfields that union leaders were responsible for the killings. The organization of the MFD reflected this assumption and the growing determination of rank and file miners to clean up their union.

From the beginning the Miners for Democracy had strong northern and southern factions, led respectively by Mike Trbovich of Pennsylvania and Arnold Miller of West Virginia. When the 1969 election of Tony Boyle as UMWA president was overthrown by a federal judge in 1972 on grounds of vote fraud, the Miners for Democracy attempted to compromise factional differences in order to produce a winning slate. At a conference at Wheeling College (now Wheeling Jesuit University) they chose to run Miller for union president and Trbovich for vice president. The MFD candidates won control of the UMWA in a special December 1972 union election.

The Miners for Democracy proved more effective in opposition than in office. Turmoil soon characterized the Miller administration, compounded by the original distrust of MFD coalition factions, a lack of administrative experience by the newly elected officers, and a general unrest in the coalfields during the energy crisis of the 1970s. Although important reforms in union procedures were made and a favorable coal industry contract was negotiated in 1974, President Arnold Miller managed to get reelected only by a plurality of votes in 1977. Miller survived an attempted recall on technical grounds but resigned his office in 1979 in a face-saving arrangement that made him the union’s president emeritus.