Background Events 1

The origins of the events that would led up to the largest class war in American history, began as early as 1902 when miners tried to organize a union for coal miners in West Virginia. It is estimated that from 1900 to 1922, that miners produced more than 86 million tons of coal a year that helped fuel the industries of America. Often times, the miners would work for more than 12 hours a day, six to seven days out of the week. Like the Anaconda Company, the coal business made it seemed like their region was the best place to work, “the treatment accorded the laboring man in this field by the operators has been uniformly courteous and employers have been very generous.”

U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 sparked a boom in the coal industry, increasing wages. However, the end of the war resulted in a national recession. Coal operators laid off miners and attempted to reduce wages to pre-war levels. Southern West Virginia was one of the last places in the United States that lacked unions for the coal workers and member of the United Mine Workers of America demanded that these men have a right to unionize. Unlike the IWW, the UMWA was a well organized and had a very credible philosophy that was not revolutionary.

The miners were looking to establish collective bargining rights in order to secure better pay (on average they were paid around 47 cents per ton of coal), safety conditions, and to end the abusive slave labor system that most coal companies maintained in this region.

In response against the UMWA, the coal mine owners sent in members of the Baldwin-Felts private police force to harass miners that were considering joining and also enforced the will of the operators. The Baldwin-Felts forces were a detective agency that was first formed in the 1890s to deal with banditry issues on the railroads that ran through both Virginia and West Virginia. However, with that decline, they willingly switched to becoming strike breakers for more income.

In Logan County, the coal operators hired Sherriff Don Chafin to do their dirty work and keep unions out of the region. Chafin was a popular figure to anti-union companies since he embodied both the legal and violent aspects of the operators’ will; he misused his deputies to assault and evict union organizers as soon as they set foot in the county.

By 1921, in both Logan and Mingo Counties, over 100 people were arrested without the due process of law for attempting to organize the region.

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Published in: on June 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm  Comments Off on Background Events 1  
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