How unions saved West Virginia miners from industrial oppression

Inside West Virginia Politics

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — On Inside West Virginia Politics, Myya Helm is a research associate for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy who helped write their annual report called “Labor, Race, and Solidarity.” Her study showed the division between Black, White and European miners — the immigrants who came in to fill the huge demand for the mining jobs. 

Helms says that many miners worked in poor conditions because the mine operators wanted to make as much profit as possible. And so in the early 20th century, all workers, black, white, European immigrants, were paid extremely low wages — safety conditions were practically nonexistent, and the conditions worsened when the United Mine Workers of America tried to organize in southern West Virginia…those tactics just further pushed miners to rally against their employers, consistent abuses of authority.” said Helms. 

According to the report, “Unions promised to abolish the system that held them all as workers in forced labor.” The miners actively challenged the social, economic, and political power held by coal companies. Soon, the state’s miner’s union grew as workers sought a better life for themselves and their families.

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