The Thirty-Fourth Constitutional Convention of the United Mine Workers of America, which convened from January 28 to February 7, 1936, found the Mine Workers Union in vastly different circumstances from those which had prevailed but a few years earlier. Opponents of John L. Lewis claimed that in 1930, only 84,000 out of 522,000 bituminous coal miners were in the UMW. 1 The union itself admitted to almost complete absence of organization in many parts of the country. District 5 in Western Pennsylvania, for example, was reduced to 293 members from 45,000 members a few years earlier. District 17 in West Virginia reported 512 members out of a potential 100,000. 2 Two years later, in 1932, total UMW membership has been estimated at between 100,000 and 150,000, with the greater portion of this membership in the anthracite industry. Between 1924 and 1928, the UMW had spent eight million dollars in assistance to striking members, 3 and the subsequent decline in membership made it impossible for the union to recoup its waning fortunes. On December 1, 1933, even after the membership curve had begun to rise sharply, the UMW had only $312,000 in its treasury. 4
The great decline in the demand for coal and the resultant reduction in employment opportunities for coal miners, coupled with sharply differing views among officers and members on how best to handle the situation, had led to internal dissention within and fission of the once powerful coal miners' union. 5 The most serious split was in District 12, covering the state of Illinois, which had long been one of the best organized divisions of the union. There the miners refused to accept a wage cut which Lewis had negotiated in 1932, and formed a rival organization, the Progressive Miners of America, which was destined to achieve a measure of stability. Other less successful challenges to the UMW came from the communist-led National Miners' Union; the West Virginia Miners' Union, led by Frank Keeney, a former official of the UMW; the Western Miners' Union, confined to the state of Washington; and the Independent Miners' Union, a company-
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Publication information: Book title: The CIO Challenge to the AFL:A History of the American Labor Movement, 1935-1941. Contributors: Walter Galenson - Author. Publisher: Harvard University Press. Place of publication: Cambridge, MA. Publication year: 1960. Page number: 193.