Labor strife made news in Carbon during Depression
Editors Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. These articles are being prepared as the 120th anniversary of the newspapers birth approaches in 2011.
A history of the Sun Advocate and Carbon County would not be complete without mentioning the labor situation and troubles that accompanied the Great Depression during the years 1930-1940. At the time that Hal MacKnight and Val Cowles assumed ownership of the Sun Advocate in 1935, Carbon County was in the throes of the greatest business recession of its history. A state of great turmoil and unrest, caused by lack of employment and extreme poverty, was a statewide condition.
The Sun Advocate reported in January, 1935 that, based on an estimated population of 18,749, the county had a total of 14.4 per cent of its population on relief. A total of 2,725 persons was on the F.E.R.A. (Federal Emergency Relief Association) rolls. Families numbered 516 as compared to 138 single persons who were on the program. Wellington suffered severely with 76.6 per cent of its population listed while Price suffered less with 27 per cent. Strangely, Columbia, Harper, Clear Creek, Consumers and Latuda had no residents on relief.
Ironically the newspaper announced on Feb. 14, 1935 that school teachers would be given a 5 percent increase in salary during the year.
The United States government, in its efforts to eliminate some of the countrywide suffering and unemployment, brought a CCC Camp into Carbon County in 1935. Two hundred enrollees began the first project, the fencing of "48,000 acres of grazing land which were mostly public domain land lying directly to the northeast of Price." Erosion control work projects followed the completion of the fencing project. Over a period of seven years, with a continuous enrollment two hundred men, approximately 2,600 men overall were enrolled and trained. Ages of the enrollees ranged from 17 to 23. Many of these young men were unable to read or write when the entered the camps. However while at the camp they were trained in a vocation and were able to read and write when they left the program.
Labor problems in the county during this period were serious. Strikers from four local branches of the National Miners' Union went on strike in 1933 because company officials refused to improve certain working conditions and failed to recognize the union locally. The strike was opposed by the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) who declared that the National Mine Union was a Communist-inspired union. The Sun Advocate reported on Aug. 24, 1933 that union organizations in Spring Canyon, Gordon Creek, Consumers and National were said at the time to be the infiltrated unions. The same article said that the UMWA demanded that the State Industrial Commission investigate the unions and remove and penalize the Communist leaders.
On Aug. 31, 1933 the Sun Advocate reported that leaders of the union had been arrested and strike lines had been broken. Three-hundred strikers in four camps were jailed. Since 130 of then were aliens, deportation proceedings were to be filed against those workers. The Public Forum (Letters to the Editor) in the paper printed letters which revealed the feelings of the public concerning the labor strife. The fact that 400 strikers met in Helper, transported themselves to Price where they staged a demonstration on the Main Street of Price before officers routed them with tear gas bombs and fire hoses added to the ill feelings of the citizenry.
On Sept. 26, 1933 the paper reported that three of the organizers of the union, which was established in 1927, were found to be members of the Communist Party. The marchers who had come to Price were protesting the incarceration of their leaders. As a result of their actions, civilian martial law was declared throughout the county in late September.
Two years later, in September, 1935, more strike troubles plagued the county, and strikers brought Carbon County mines to a standstill. Strikers demanded an increase in wages of 10 cents a ton on coal. Management offered only seven and one-half cents a ton. However an agreement was finally reached in October in which a compromise was effected. A final settlement of nine cents a ton was won by the miners as was reported the Sun Advocate on Oct. 3, 1935. This settlement was regarded as a signal victory for labor. It marked the first significant victory for western miners and was hailed as the beginning of a new era in labor-management relations in Carbon County.
The depression had caused a lot of problems in Carbon County, as it had across the nation. But as the first year of the new decade of the forties began to turn, the year of 1941 would become pivotal as huge changes began to take place in the county. Within two years, the depths of the depression was replaced by a life and death struggle against foreign powers that intended on the annihilation of the United States of America.
And Carbon County would have a lot to do with the victory over the powers of evil in the far flung corners of the earth.
(Sources for this article include "A History of the Sun Advocate 1891-1962" a masters thesis by Edith May Allred and "The History of Price CCC Camps" by W.W. West.