Coaldale Dedicates Mine Memorial Ceremony At Route 209 And First Avenue Coincides With 1937 Weeklong Sit-down Strike At No. 8 Colliery.

October 16, 2000|by JACKY MARTIN (A free-lance story for The Morning Call).

"A Car More A Day Means More Pay" declares the slogan painted by Michael Havrischak, local resident, regional historian and creator of the No. 8 Coaldale Miners Memorial on Route 209 at First Avenue.

The memorial's sign is a Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. slogan circa 1950 and is painted on the side of a historic bus shelter used by the miners.

Sunday's dedication of the memorial coincides the date of the legendary 1937 sit-down strike at the No. 8 Colliery, which is visible from the memorial site.

The weeklong strike received international news coverage, including a prominent story in Life magazine.

In 1937, an issue of Life cost 10 cents. The average coal miner earned $1.25 per day for a 12-hour shift and worked six days a week.

Havrischak planted flowers around the memorial bus shelter, saying, `These men did not have time to stop and smell the flowers during their lives. The flowers came at their funerals.`

The miners on the seventh floor of Colliery 8 decided to strike after seeing the results of similar efforts by the country's auto workers.

It took from 1934 to 1937 before the miners finally went through with their plan. All wanted fairer wages and better working conditions. The bare essentials were all that they were able to provide their families, and it was the rule rather than the exception for sons to leave school as soon as they were old enough to work the mines.

The dreaded black lung disease also had begun invading their lives, making many of the women young widows with poor prospects for survival.

For the first two to three days, only the seventh level struck, along with Major, the mine mule.

The other men, realizing there is strength in numbers, put down their picks and joined the strikers, effectively shutting down the colliery.

With the world press focused on Coaldale, Pennsylvania Gov. George Earle, up for re-election that year, was advised to come to the area to settle with the miners.

He impressed the men by personally going into the mines and inviting all to Harrisburg to discuss the matter.

For the nickel raise that they received and no improvement in working conditions, the strike seemed hardly worth the effort.

World War II came along and, although miners were exempt from service because of the value of coal production, many felt the call to serve their country and enlisted.

Statistics have shown, according to Havrischak, that many more casualties came from the coal mines than from war. "In one mining accident alone, three members from one family were killed," he said.

John Radocha, 80, Coaldale's mayor for nearly 12 years, recalled his own days in the mines. "I started in 1939," he said. "I worked at the Greenwood Colliery, then Tamaqua, Greenwood No. 11, down at No. 9, all over.

"I tried to mine at night and go to school during the day, but that didn't work out. Eventually, I took a correspondence course and graduated that way."

Radocha, who won his first mayoral election on a write-in vote, "worked in the mines until they closed down. I had no choice. I had to work."

A victim of black lung disease, he says bending down to tie his shoes winds him. He was hospitalized six months ago because he could not breathe. He also has arthritis and gout from the cold conditions in the mines and lost the use of two of his fingers nearly two years ago.

In his dedication, Havrischak said, "This day has been a long time coming about. God gave this area the very special blessing of anthracite coal which has been exported throughout the world. The ironic thing is that there is still enough coal underneath us that we could mine for another 200 years, but other energy forms put us out of business.

"This memorial gives us a permanent reminder of the miners and their families. Every day throughout our area, our miners die. There are only a few hundred men left from all of those thousands who worked underground."