Few subjects in Southern history have been less explored than the labor movement between 1865 and 1900. This book focuses on the Alabama coal miner strike (and to a lesser degree on the strike by railroad workers) of 1894. Because of its mineral deposits in the Birmingham area, Alabama became industrialized before the turn of the century. The strike of 1894 was complex in that it pitted a union movement with its urban and industrial ideas against an agrarian society largely rural and unacquainted with the aspirations of labor. Attempts at unionization came at a highly unfortunate time; the economic depression that hit the nation in 1893 was felt with full force in 1894. The distress in the South was particularly acute. Alabama was still recovering from the difficulties of Reconstruction when the panic struck.
In addition to the one clear-cut conflict between management and labor, the issue of wages, the Alabama strike involved the employment of Negroes as strikebreakers, the question of convict labor, and the calling out of the state militia. To compound the situation, the state was engaged in a bitter political battle between the Bourbon Democrats and the Populists. Alabama's organized labor movement was strongly Populist, so that the often cited lack of co-operation between union men and Populists did not hold true in Alabama.