West Virginia, the Mountain State

By Charles H. Ambler; Festus P. Summers | Go to book overview

Chapter XXXI
Labor Moves Forward

THE INDUSTRIALIZATION of West Virginia brought in its wake the organized labor movement, which steadily gained ground after the Civil War. There, as elsewhere, workers sought to obtain through unity rights, privileges, and advantages which were beyond their power to obtain individually. Despite the inevitableness of the result, their objective was not attained without a struggle. In West Virginia it was featured by bitterness, violence, and tragedy. The rapid industrialization of a predominantly rural area, the nature of its major industries, the uneven growth and distribution of its population, and the individualistic traditions of its inhabitants made it difficult to reconcile differences and objectives. The struggle was climaxed, however, by general agreement to the effect that employees had a right to organize, to bargain collectively, and to participate in making the laws and rules governing capital and labor relations.

Following minor clashes between capital and labor in the Wheeling area,1The Wheeling resident employees of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in Martinsburg, on July 17, 1877, precipitated a strike that soon assumed national scope and importance. Out of resentment of a reduction in wages, members of the Trainmen's Union of that city left their posts and were joined at once by other trainmen and workers over a wide area. Since the strike was featured by rioting, burning, and plundering, Governor Mathews called out the state militia only to find it unable to cope with the situation. He thereupon requested President Hayes to send federal troops. These were promptly sent and the strikers dispersed; but their action did not retard the labor movement in the state, which was then being sparked by the Knights of Labor.2

____________________
1
The Wheeling Intelligencer for January 4, 1873, said, "All the coal miners are out on a strike for 3¾ cents per bushel--a half cent advance on the price they have been receiving."
2
Wheeling Intelligencer, July 18, 24, 26, 1877; Calendar of the Henry Mason Mathews Letters and Papers in the State Department of Archives and History ( Charleston, W. Va., 1941).

-444-

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