There is no mystery about how Ronald Joiner is going to vote on the proposed contract between the United Mine Workers and the coal operators. It shows on his face.
Squinting through a nearly closed left eye and speaking thickly through swollen lips, Joiner said, "I've seen the agreement, and I don't need to see any more. I'm against it."
In so many words, Dave Hilton, a coal miner from Marion, Ill., said the same thing. His left eyebrow is stitched and caked with blood, and the eye is covered by a patch.
Four union members, including two salaried officials of UMW District 12 the nation's third-largest district --were arrested early yesterday and held in $1,000 bail on charges they beat and hospitalized Joiner, Hilton and two other coal miners who have outspokenly opposed the contract.
Hilton was hit with a beer bottle in front of a bar, and Joiner says he was bushwacked while going into his motel room on the eve of a statewide UMW conference held here yesterday to explain details of the proposed contract, reached last week in Washington by the UMW and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, and to persuade miners to accept it.
The Illinois clash between pro contract and anti contract forces was vivid evidence of deep divisions among the 160,000 strikers as the weekend vote on contract ratification nears with the result very much in doubt.
In District 17 in southern West Virginia the Madison, W. Va., Civic Center was jammed with about 1,000 UMW members.
"The health and retirement section caused the biggest fuss," Mandy Cabell Jr., a miner from Camp Creek, W. Va., told the Associated Press. "Jack Perry (the district president) started jumping around from section to section after the feelings started running high."
In 16,000-member District 6, when 300 representatives gathered near Bellaire, Ohio, to be briefed for local meetings today, Local 1601 President Tom Van Horn said: "I'm gonna tell them (local members) they're crazier than hell if they vote for it."
But in Alabama, District 20 President Charles L. Fuller wouldn't predict how members would vote. "They might like it." he said. "The silent majority of our union has not spoken, but they will do that Sunday, and I have no idea what they'll say."
Meanwhile, in Illinois, beginning today, the 53 locals will hold meetings to present the agreement to the rank-and-file of this big district and voting is expected to begin Saturday and continue through the weekend.
Judging from the reaction of the leaders following the closed Springfield meeting yesterday, three isolated rural counties in the south of the state whose militancy in the coal fields traditionally rivals that of Harlan County, in adjoining Kentucky, will be the source of a lot of the opposition.
Sixty percent of Illinois' coal is mined in the southern region, and 70 percent of the UMW District 12 membership works there.
It is a significant region because the area was the scene of violent organization wars in the 1930s, and many of the votes against the 1974 UMW contract came from there. District 12 narrowly rejected the 1974 contract that was approved by the membership of the international union.
Kenneth Dawes, the modishly dressed and articulate president of the District 12 said in an interview that he felt that Tuesday's fights were an aberration.
"The coal miners are used to living in a very dangerous atmosphere, but the local officers' obligation is to present the agreement objectively and dispassionately, and that's what we are doing," Dawes said.
Two brothers who were injured in the melee at the local Ramada Inn, Richard and Gary Barlotti, of Christopher, Ill., said two district-level UMW officials watched "as those guys beat the hell out of us." Richard Barlotti, whose arm was crushed in a conveyor belt accident last year, said, "The message was clear. We are not supposed to oppose the agreement."
Dawes, a rival of UMW international President Arnold Miller, was a member of the Illinois delegation to the union's 39-member bargaining council when the tentative agreement was reached last week. He said he supports the contract, not only because he is bound to the union's constitution, which requires him to, but, because "If it is rejected, it would force the president to seize the mines and invoke federal rules. Everyone would be a loser."
Dawes and two district leaders from Kentucky, John Dixon and Thomas Gaspon, were instrumental in covert efforts to negotiate a separate UMW agreement with the Pittsburg and Midway Coal Mining Co., which employs about 700 miners in Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas. That proposal --designed to stimulate a BCOA agreement -- failed when the P & M union rejected the contract.
One top-ranking union official, Eugene Mitchell, Dawes' Illinois co-delegate to the Washington negotiations, predicted a close vote in the ratification election.
"I think it will be tight one way or the other. I don't think there is much there (in the contract). It's my obligation to more or less be impartial, but it's pretty hard to talk for something you don't believe in." Mitchell said. Mitchell said he would vote against the contract.
Most of the opposition here centers on the deductible health care plan and on provisions allowing for the dismissal of instigators of wildcat strikes.
Traditionally, union miners have opted for wildcat walkouts to make their point on grievances over such issues as work rules, mine safety and job security.
"If I wildcat and go home, and the company proves that I was an instigator, I can be fired, even if the company instigated the condition that led to the grievance. What kind of contract is that" Asked Joiner, a deep mine laborer.
"If you are going to survive down there, you have to have the right to strike," he said.