Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area

By Harry M. Caudill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The Union Drives

THE DETERIORATION of the friendship between the Big Bosses and the miners was many-faceted. It was everywhere evidenced by an increasing harshness on the part of the bosses and by growing sullenness in the men.

Many, indeed a majority, of the original operators who are remembered so kindly by aged miners left the coalfield in the early Depression years. They had presided over the founding of the companies and the building of the camps. They read the handwriting on the wall and understood that the industry was so sick it was unlikely to recover in time to save the companies. They so informed the stockholders, then gathered up their families and left.

But rarely could the shareholders bring themselves to part so easily with their investments. They reorganized the companies and sent new executives into the field or raised lower echelon officials to the top positions. Such men came into the managerial offices with an impassioned determination to save their companies from ruin.

We have already seen the difficulties which beset these "New Bosses." In a coal market in which competition grew steadily more vicious at the expense of its pauperized laborers, the new managers could find no new solutions. They could only apply the old screws even more ruthlessly, demanding ever higher output for diminishing wages. In the mounting coal glut no amount of willingness to toil could suffice. The exertions eventually demanded of the men were so great that heart and hand could not perform them.

The New Bosses can, perhaps, be excused for a part of their misdeeds

-188-

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