Philip Murray was born in High Blantyre, Scotland, in 1886 in a small row of miner’s cottages. A quiet, shy boy, he showed more interest in school books than in games. His father, William Murray, was a Catholic coal miner and union leader who emigrated from Ireland to Scotland prior to his son’s birth. His mother, the former Rose Layden, was a cotton mill weaver at Blantyre Works. Rose sadly died when Philip was only two years old. He wasn’t motherless though. William Murray remarried and had eight more children, so plenty of brothers and sisters to keep Philip amused. Philip was the oldest boy, and after only a few years of public education he went to work in the coal mines at age 10 to help support the family.
In 1902, seeking a better life, Philip and his father emigrated to the United States. They settled in the Pittsburgh region and obtained jobs as coal miners. Philip was still only 16. Young Philip Murray was paid for each ton of coal he mined. By the following year they had saved enough money to bring the rest of the family to America, where they were all to eventually settle.
Philip was working in a coal mine in 1904 when he became involved in the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Feeling that a manager had purposefully altered and lowered the weight of the coal he had mined, Philip punched the man and was fired. The other coal miners went on strike to demand his reinstatement. In response, the company threw Philip’s family out of their company-owned home. He was shocked and angered by the company’s actions. Convinced that unions were the only means workers had of protecting their interests, Murray became an avid and lifelong unionist.
In 1905, Philip was elected president of the UMWA local in the Pittsburgh area town of Horning, Pennsylvania. Determined to become the best local president he could, he enrolled in an 18-month correspondence course in mathematics and science. Although he had little formal education, he completed the course in just six months. His rise was rapid.
He married Elizabeth Lavery (the daughter of a miner killed in a mine accident) on September 7, 1910. They adopted a son.
In 1911, Philip became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
In 1926, while with an official delegation to Europe, Mr Murray visited Blantyre, and was feted by his former friends for a week. Many Blantyre people can recall the Murray family.
In 1941, whilst war raged in Europe, he helped to quell a labour dispute which threatened to involve hundreds of thousands of steel workers and paralyse America’s aid for Britain plans. Speaking in 1941, ” Lanarkshire should be proud of Philip Murray,” said Mr Andrew M’Anulty, former president of the Lanarkshire Mineworkers’ Union, and himself a Blantyre native. ” When I visited America in 1922, I met Philip Murray in Pittsburg, and although he had not seen me for many years he recognised me at once. “The shy boy of early Blantyre days had grown into a quiet, capable man. I was tremendously impressed by the respect paid to him by all classes of the community everywhere.”
Philip died on 9th November 1952.