Everybody involved in the record-setting coal strike seemed to be winking at each other yesterday as the striking miners quietly defied the federal court order meant to send them back to work.
Certainly Rayburn Traley, an official of the Consolidation Coal Co., who proclaimed with a measure of pride in his voice, "Our mines are open." Then, somewhat less expansively, Traley reported that at the 11 mines the company operates in northern West Virginia, not one miner showed up for week yesterday.
Also Jim Bowman, President of the United Mine Workers local at Blacksville, who asserted as he walked into a closed meeting of his members, "I've got a responsibility to tell these men to go back to work."
Then, looking somewhat less resolute, he added, "I'll also mention that if I were sitting in their place I'd tell the federal government to go to hell."
And Burdette Crowe, president of District 31 in this northeastern corner of West Virginia, who said, "Certainly we've done our part to respond to the order, but they just aren't going back to work."
Then, not sounding at all facetious, Crowe added, "Whether that reflects a rejection of the court order or because the order hadn't been served, I couldn't possibly know. Many of these people live in pretty remote areas."
From Alabama to Pennsylvania, union coal miners yesterday almost unanimously thumbed their noses at the restraining order. Only one union mine was reported open, in McDowell County, W.Va.
The UMW has a tradition of ignoring court orders to return to work, as the miners did once in 1948 and once in a crippling strike that lasted from September 1949 to February 1950. And they usually do it with a sense of humor.
"Well boys, there's just enough time to get my bucket and report for the 4 o'clock," announced one miner as the Blacksville local members leaving a meeting in nearby Granville guffawed and playfully beat him with their baseball hats.
But others were serious, and even outwardly angry, about what they perceive as a move by the government to force them into becoming lawbreakers.
"If that damed peanut farmer wants us to go back to a 1974 contract, then he can just arrange it so we go back to paying 1974 prices," one miner said.
"When Congress wants a raise, they just vote themselves one. Why doesn't somebody do that for the miners?" he asked, adding that proposals to reduce benefits and have miners pay for up to $700 a year for medical care diminish the 37 percent wage increase offered by the coal operators.
As the defiance continued through the afternoon shifts, district-level UMW officials made an attempt to comply with the order, using radio advertisements to urge the miners to go back to work.
Meanwhile, Appalachian coal mines, inspected regularly by nonunion supervisory employes during the strike, are ready to resume production as soon as the miners return, the operators said.
At the Blacksville No. 1 mine, about two dozen supervisory employes were busy cleaning the cumbersome machinery and inspecting the conveyors in preparation for resumed production, but the vast parking lot reserved for miners was starkly empty throughout the day.
Quinn Morton, executive director of the Kanawha Valley Coal Operators Association in the southern part of the state, said, "They are all open for work and have been since Friday morning. We didn't expect them to show up on Friday [after Taft-Hartley was involked by President Carter], but we were hoping for something to happen today."