Jerome, Pennsylvania - The Miners' Strike of 1922-1923 - The Strike at Jerome Begins

The Strike At Jerome Begins

On April 14, Jerome miners dressed for work and gathered at the shaft head, but refused to enter the mine. Blankenhorn, in his history of the strike, wrote, "The super began a conciliatory speech of promises of good treatment, 'What's the good of that? We've heard that bull for ten years,' cried Gregory.....'If you don't go to work, I'll shut down this mine till the grass grows over the drift mouth,' ....A boy miner, DiGiancomo, shouted back, 'I'll eat that grass before I'll scab." And the strike was on. The men marched through Jerome, with an accordion player in the lead, to a mass-rally that was still going strong when union organizers arrived around noontime. The mine owners were thunderstruck; never before had they been hit by a successful universal rebellion against their rule. The Jerome action lit the fuse; the strike spread to non-union mines in Hiyasota, Kelso, Boswell, Jenners, Listie, Acosta, Gray and elsewhere the next days; within one week a regional non-union coal work stoppage was in full force. The Jerome strike was significant in that it was among the first and the largest non-union site in the region to join in the nationwide strike called by the United Mine Workers Union, thus provided tipping-point momentum for the strike, or as Blankenhorn expressed it in his book's table of contents, "Jerome's Explosion." The 1922 strike became the largest action in United Mine Workers Union history; at its peak more than 500,000 union and non-union miners, in the bituminous and anthracite fields, had walked off their jobs.

Jerome was turned into an occupied camp by a strike that lasted sixteen months. By mid-May 1922, for instance, 29 Somerset County sheriff's deputies patrolled Jerome, along side a much larger contingent of company police and a unit of the Pennsylvania State police. The State Militia arrived a few months later. During this period, Hillman Coal systematically began to evict miner families from company-owned housing. According to Hillman records, quoted by Blankenhorn, 192 families in Jerome were set out into the street, about one-third of Hillman employment at the mine at the time. A 'tent city' was established for homeless strikers and their families on the nearby lands of sympathetic farmers. These evictions here and elsewhere in Somerset County sparked an unusual swell of public sympathy. A commission appointed by the Mayor of New York City, which got its coal to run subways from various Somerset County coal mines, found "hundreds of strikers evicted and suffering from the cold", "saw in tents, hen-houses, stables and other improvised homes women and children whose feet were bare and bleeding" and declared that living and working conditions "were worse than the conditions of slaves prior to the Civil War." John D. Rockefeller, Jr., whose family owned several Somerset County coal mines, but not Jerome's, wrote, "I believe that the underlying grievances of the miners in this district are well founded, and I have urged with all the sincerity and vigor at my command that the present labor policy of the operators, which seems to me to be both unwise and unjust, be radically altered."

The strike held together, despite its length and brutality; the Company said later that, of the approximately 750 miners on strike at its beginning, only about 100 broke ranks and returned to work early. In the last days of the strike in 1923, a number of buildings, railroad bridges and other property were destroyed by dynamite in acts of sabotage. A gunpowder or dynamite blast destroyed a shelter for homeless striking families. Dynamite destroyed a 200-foot steel railroad bridge spanning the Stonycreek River near Jerome on July 19, 1923. Somerset County Sheriff J.W.Griffith told writer Blankenhorn that both strikers and company employees held responsibility for explosions. "There are guards who want to keep their jobs going and strikers who have been making threats," Sheriff Griffith said.

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