A former top official of the United Mine Workers union has accused union President Arnold Miller of paying strikebreakers to disrupt a 1977 wildcat strike by his own members in West Virginia.
In an interview published yesterday in "Coal Week," an industry newsletter, former UMW secretary-treasurer Harry Patrick said that in October 1977 he was forced by the union's ranking officers to pay expense for a group of 54 miners who traveled to Cabin Creek, Wva., "and ended up in a shooting match with their own brothers."
Patrick claimed that the payments were made at Milller's urging. Miller, who comes from Cabin Creek, was highly critical of the wildcats at the time, charging they were being perpetrated by "enemies" of his administration.
Patrick said he balked at making the payments at a union board meeting. "The board, at Miller's urging, overruled me," he said. "Harrison Combs (the union's general counsel) advised me that I had to sign (authorizing the payments) as a function of the secretary-treasurer's office."
Patrick, the newsletter said, confirmed claims made earlier by some union dissidents of the existence of a memo dated Oct. 6, 1977, in which Patrick authorized payment for the strikebreakers but said he was doing so under protest.
Most of the miners who participated in the action, Patrick said, came from two districts in Pennsylvania. "A lot who went did not claim expenses after they learned what it was all about," he said.
The newsletter quoted Patrick as saying, "It was one of the most heartbreaking things I ever saw the union do."
Patrick eventually broke completely from Miller and ran unsuccessfully against him in the UMW election. He now works for ACTION, a federal aid agnecy.
A UMW spokesman said yesterday that Miller had not yet seen the Patrick interview and would have no comment today.