West Virginia has a long history of union strikes. Dating back to 1912, strikes are a part of our state’s heritage.
The first West Virginia workers strike was in 1912 at Cabin Creek. With help from Mary Jones (an important figure in unionizing the coal miners), the miners went on strike to achieve better pay, better work conditions and many other basic rights they feel had been taken from them.
Instead of giving the miners what they wanted, the company sent armed men to break up the strike. The miners fought back, and with guns from an outside source, they quite literally fought the company.
On May 19, 1920, a shootout between the company’s armed men and some miners sparked what became known as the Battle of Blair Mountain, which to this day is still the largest domestic uprising since the Civil War. Around 10,000 armed coal miners fought about 3,000 lawmen, around 100 deaths were suffered and many more people were taken to prison.
Eventually, to stop the fighting, the U.S. military was sent by President William Howard Taft.
Strikes, of course, have never gotten that violent again. The next large strike to happen was almost 80 years after the Battle of Blair Mountain. In 1990, the teachers of West Virginia were tired of having one of the lowest teacher salaries in the country. On March 7, 1990, the teachers held a strike lasting 11 days. Finally, the teachers and the Legislature came to an agreement and officially ended the strike.
Again 28 years later, in 2018, the teachers were fighting for better pay, and better insurance. They were out nine days, before the governor gave the teachers a pay raise and created a PEIA (Public Employees Insurance Agency) “task force” to put the funding for better insurance into the state’s budget (which hasn’t actually been done yet).
The teachers decided to strike again last month because of a proposed education reform bill, Senate Bill 451, that could disrupt public schools in West Virginia forever. The bill would add charter schools into the already low budget, forcing public schools to make multiple budget cuts.
The strike was called off the evening of Feb. 20 after SB 451 was tabled, and unlikely to be brought back up for consideration.
Unionized strikes are a foundation of West Virginia’s history, and still to this day, the residents are fighting for what they believe is right.