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Erik Visits an American Grave (VIII)



This is the grave of Philip Murray, former CIO president and of the United Steelworkers of America. Born in Blantyre, Scotland in 1892. His father was a miner and union leader who had himself immigrated from Ireland to Scotland. By 1902, Murray, the oldest son, was working in the mines as well to help support the growing family with all his younger siblings. Murray and his father emigrated to the U.S. in 1902, arriving in Pittsburgh. Murray himself was 16 years of age. He then went into the coal mines of Pennsylvania.

Murray became involved with the United Mine Workers of America in 1904 and he punched the man who weighed his coal because he felt the man was cheating him. The company then threw Murray’s family out the company housing where they lived. At that moment, a lifelong unionist was born. He became president of his local in 1905 and engaged in a self-education program to be able to represent other workers as effectively as possible. By in 1912, he was on the UMWA executive board A relatively conservative unionist in terms of worker militancy, Murray soon became a favorite of UMWA leadership, including John L. Lewis. He became a vice-president of the Mineworkers in 1920. Murray followed his mentor out of the AFL and became vice-president of the CIO. Murray and Lewis were very close. In fact, Murray was one of the only people in the union Lewis really trusted. They basically split duties, with Lewis taking the public face and political lobbying and Murray handling organizing and member issues. A supporter of World War I, President Wilson appointed Murray to Pennsylvania regional panels of the National War Labor Board and the National Bituminous Coal Production Committee.

When the UMWA created the Steel Workers Organizing Committee in 1937 to organize the steel mills, Murray led that charge and became first president of the union, which became the USWA in 1942. When Lewis left the CIO in 1940, Murray took over. Lewis and Murray soon split over the latter’s independence from his mentor and their friendship ended. That Murray strongly supported FDR and the New Deal while Lewis became an isolationist and endorsed Republicans over Roosevelt contributed to this divide. Murray continued leading the USWA and CIO both after the war, including guiding his union through the 1952 strike. He died of a heart attack soon after. Walter Reuther replaced him as head of the CIO and David McDonald followed him as USWA president.

Philip Murray is buried in Saint Anne Cemetery, Castle Shannon, Pennsylvania.

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