Unions have been around for a long time. Before they were legally recognized, the activities on anyone brave or dumb enough to stand up against an employer were branded as a troublemaker. They were too often fired for insubordination, and were even “black-balled” among employers so that they couldn’t even work in their field.
Workers standing up against unjust employers is one of the scariest things to the ones in power. History is replete with tales of the the infamous Pinkertons, Balwdwin-Felts, as well as a host of others that served as ‘guns for hire’ for employers to suppress workers who rebeled against management.
As unions gained legal status and the government took note on how businesses were corrupting the political system, laws began to be passed that limited private security firms and their unofficial militias. Strike breakers, like Pearl Bergoff, found themselves out of work, their detective licenses they hid behind revoked, and the politicians they once owned started running for cover.
West Virginia has had it’s share of labor strife. There was once a riot in Grafton that was blamed on striking machinists who worked for the railroad. Workers in Martinsburg once held a strike against the B&O Railroad and the Mine Wars and the founding of the United Mine Workers is legendary throughout labor history.
The West Virginia State Archives has many exhibits, some of them available online, that chronicle our state’s labor issues. Another great resource for West Virginia history of all types is the West Virginia University Regional History Collection.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the tactics of union-busting and strike breaking. Management will seek out what they consider the ‘weak links’ within the membership; the disaffected, frustrated, the loners, the greedy, and short-sighted,and use them to penetrate and inform to them about the union. The company will try to discredit, blame, and incite the membership against their union. A name was bestowed on those who worked against their fellow workers and that word is, “scab.”
There are no upcoming events.