Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blood on Blair Mountain and The Battle for Union Rights in America

Above--(1) Miners preparing for battle against armed company riflemen and law enforcement.  (2) Anti--union strike guards set up a machine gun nest near Blair Mountain in August 1921.  This was the biggest battle on US soil since the Civil War and one that is largely forgotten outside of West Virginia. 

The Battle of Blair Mountain was in 1921 in southern West Virginia. It was a climax to a brutal struggle for over a year around Matewan West Virginia, between unionizing miners and the coal companies, the latter working to depress wages and increase hours for the miners without pay, resorting to strike-breaking tactics and hiring scab miners.
Before the battle that involved six-seven thousand  miners was over,fifty union men and  twenty five others were dead, dozens wounded and nearly a thousand men arrested on charges ranging from murder, conspiracy to treason. Most were acquitted by local courts but some were many were jailed until a general pardon was granted in 1925.

The initial victors in this battle were the coal companies, but Blair Mountain evolved into an important turning point in union history in the United States. Led by charismatic and tough union leaders like John L. Lewis, the mine workers eventually won recognition in 1933 with the mining bosses. This was coupled with a rise of greater union power during the first years of the New Deal. The violent "miniwar" help culminate the creation of the National Labor Relations Board in 1935 under the Wagner Act, the most important piece of pro-union legislation to ever pass Congress.

Today the site of the biggest battle since the Civil War on US soil is ironically under threat from mountain-top strip mining practices. But there are also people in these communities who remember and preserve this history.


  1. Thanks for posting this very interesting peice of US labour history and the struggle for democracy and fairness in West Virginia. It is interesting that Blair Mountain was the first place where bombs were dropped on US citizens by the US government, now commonplace.
    How fitting that it was BLAIR Mountain where that WMD was first deployed in 1921, the year the British started bombing Iraq in support of the puppet regime they had set up there and also the year Hitler took over the leadership of the National Socialist Party in Germany.... as the leader of the puppet regime Wall Street also set up there.
    Thesiting of machine gun nests emphasises the degree and extent of class warfare that broke out after the Great War all across the globe.
    Thanks for posting this seemingly marginalised milestone in the evolution of the United States Doug. It is obviously a major event in the organisation of American workers which now and in the future will be part of the wider mobilisation of whole communities, pitched into the never ceasing struggle for democracy in the US and everywhere else all around around the world.

    The coal owners were murdering mafiosi in league with the government back then and they still are just that today, as are their fellow corporate travellers, profiteers, antisocial crooked speculators and the gangsters who are routinely featured in 'Hello' magazine' and similar publications. The miners facing the hail of bullets and bombs today are mostly in the developing world and whose history is similarly airbrushed out of corporate accounts.

    The WV miners struggle is not over of course it has spread to Africa. South America and the Middle East and we internationalists (i.e globalists) salute them and embrace them as our own people and heroes in a struggle against the monstous greed of the Robber Barons and the global web of organised crime.

    Thanks for the hidden history Doug its what blogging is all about I think.

    1. You're most welcome AA. To be honest I didn't know any of the magnitude of the Blair Mountain battle (there is no other word for it) until it was used as an example of a moment of social transformation in a sermon by my pastor last Sunday. It is one more chapter in a sad litany of labor violence that could and should have been resolved if the government had protected the miners' rights.

      Mining skirmishes, similar to places like Hardin County, Kentucky, in the 1970's and Logan County, West Virginia here are not over, as you point out.

      They have now spread to new places where fascism has come in the name of "development" by multinational companies. The cheap products sold in big box stores are cheap due to the hired thugs and gangsters who to oversee making clothing and shoes, digging coal, cutting trees, in what was once the third world. Meanwhile in our own country even public employee unions are losing ground.

      There is always the same warning conditions for workers in peril, past and present-- a lack of safety, low wages, lack of organized workers, slave hours and rampant intimidation. But you know this alredy I'm sure.

      Suffice to say ,and I honestly am sorry to say this, but the profit motive contains the roots of evil, as any other toxic ideology ever dreamed about by some lunatic. Thanks for your comments and linking this under-remembered event to our modern world.