A Reflection on the West Virginia Mine Wars

The coal mines of West Virginia and other Appalachian states were plagued with violence and controversy in the face of unionization. In the face of discrimination and blatant disregard for a person’s constitutional rights, coal miners had to fight hard against their oppressive companies. Though unions arose throughout many coal towns in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the coal companies of southern West Virginia were adamantly against unionization in any way, shape, or form.

When attempts at unionizing failed, “hundreds of families were displaced in tent camps along the hollows and mountain valleys, harassed and terrorized by Baldwin-Felts guards and scrounging to find enough food to eat.” (Biggers 158) With accidents claiming increasing numbers of innocent lives and the constant threat of dangerous company-hired security agencies, like Baldwin-Felts, miners became desperate. This desperation quickly escalated to violent wars between companies and workers.

Although I do not condone this violence, which escalated to war like the Battle on Blair Mountain, I can see how the miners felt backed into a corner. Though I had always known that coal mining was a controversial industry, I was previously unaware of the magnitude of this conflict. Now having learned about the brutality and violence surrounding both sides of this controversy, I am mostly shocked by the government’s lack of action. Corruption may be nothing new, but the fact that actual wars were allowed to happen and the government did next to nothing to resolve the conflict is shocking. They may have sent in troops to squash violent outbursts like Blair Mountain, concessions were never made by the companies and no one ever dove further into the issue. It saddens me to know that government and the outside world could see the injustices of the coal mines, and still continue to let everyday people be treated so horribly.

Although I am relieved that eventually help came for these people in the form of the New Deal, which allowed them to join unions legally, watching “Mine Wars” reminds me of just how greedy and unjust this world can sometimes be. Even though “Appalachian coal had fed the nation’s great furnaces for industrial progress,” no one was grateful for a very long time. (Biggers 156) Tragically, not long after coal miners were given rights, the industry began to change and technology began to take the place of men in the mines.

Biggers, Jeff. The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006. Print.

“The Mine Wars.” PBS. Ed. Mark Dugas. PBS, 26 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 July 2016.

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