- First State Capitol Building
1413 Eoff Street
Wheeling, WV 26003
The 2021 Reuther-Pollack Labor History Symposium V: “Remember Blair Mountain”
An annual symposium focused on regional labor history, this year’s event will be offered in solidarity with the Battle of Blair Mountain Centennial organized by the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum (wvminewars.org).
Get your RPLHS gear! Official Reuther-Pollack Labor History Symposium V Redneck Bandanas will be available for $25. Contact Sean Duffy to pre-order.
DID YOU MISS THE 2020 LABOR SYMPOSIUM?
➤ Click here to view videos from the 2020 Livestream Reuther-Pollack Labor History Symposium IV, “Solidarity Against Hate.”
10:30 am – Patrick Cassidy, “How Labor Laws Have Betrayed Labor”
Abstract: How Labor Laws Have Betrayed Labor OR Why so many West Virginia Workers prefer Guns and Trump over Courts and Law. Mr. Cassidy will discuss this issue in the context of the Jobs First Agenda, his idea for a new narrative based on truth and fairness that can facilitate the pursuit of a just economic life for all Americans. Primary features include guaranteeing living wage jobs for all Americans; requiring good faith and fair dealing in all employment relationships; re-introducing “empathy” in our courts of law; and making government accountable, among many other objectives.
SPEAKER BIO: Mr. Cassidy obtained his B.A. degree in philosophy from Wheeling College and a Juris Doctor degree from the Catholic University of America. He serves as President of the law firm of Cassidy, Cogan, Shapell & Voegelin, L.C., where for more than 40 years he has represented employees, unions and other individuals in civil rights matters and other issues related to their workplace. Mr. Cassidy is co-founder (with his wife Mary Ellen) and President of the Wheeling Academy of Law and Science Foundation (WALS). He has presented on many aspects of the law, and has written extensively on issues of economic justice.
11:00 am – Dr. Dana Caldemeyer, Union Renegades: Miners, Capitalism, and Organizing in the Gilded Age
Abstract: Late-19th century labor organizers faced a dual challenge. They needed to build a union strong enough to regulate entire industries while remaining flexible enough to look after the needs of the rank-and-file. This struggle is particularly visible in the Midwestern coal industry where semi-skilled laborers worked for hundreds of different corporations locked in a battle to produce the cheapest coal. As coal prices declined, companies decreased wages and disregarded safety protocols. Although miners despised this treatment, their anger was not enough to guarantee union membership, and even those who joined seldom remained faithful to the union. This pattern maddened organizers who could not understand why so many mistreated workers would reject the organization that could improve their situations. Union Renegades explores the individuals who were interested in union membership, but never quite joined or remained in the union. Their actions were neither fully pro-union nor anti-union, but a form of pragmatism dictated by the hardships and experiences rural workers faced within the capitalist system. More at www.press.uillinois.edu (Union Renegades: Miners, Capitalism, and Organizing in the Gilded Age, University of Illinois Press, 2020).
SPEAKER BIO: Dana Caldemeyer is an assistant professor of history at South Georgia State College. Her research involves rural industrialization, labor, and capitalism.
12 pm – Lunch Break:
- Box Lunch
- Reuther Birthday Celebration
- Walking Tour to the Reuther & Pollack monuments led by Dr. David Javersak
2:00 pm – Dr. Bob Hutton, “The Baldwin Felts Detectives”
Abstract: The “Mine Guard System” was a common feature of coal mining from the Civil War until the Depression-era. Mine owners hired gunmen to patrol their workplaces and company towns, keeping the work force in constant fear and submission. While many students of labor history are familiar with their brutal practices, the long history, and the full societal implications, of the Mine Guard System are seldom pondered. This presentation will examine the Baldwin Felts Detective Agency, a private security firm based in Virginia and West Virginia for nearly half a century. The agency adapted the northern-born Mine Guard operation, but did so in a distinctively southern manner that reflected the latter region’s distinctiveness in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Furthermore, the agency’s practices reflected the Appalachian middle class’s strategy of siding with invasive industrialists over their native population’s interests. The story of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency is a magnifying lens for examining the insidious relationship between capitalism and violence.
SPEAKER BIO: Bob Hutton is an associate professor of history, political science, and Appalachian studies at Glenville State College. He’s the author of Bloody Breathitt: Politics & Violence in the Appalachian South (2013) and various essays on Appalachian history.
3:00 pm – Dr. Hal Gorby, “Labor Fights among Northern West Virginia’s Coal Miners in the ‘Roaring Twenties'”
Abstract: West Virginia is well known for its labor history, particularly the Mine Wars. While normally thought of as a struggle that took place in the southernmost counties, labor conflicts occurred in the coalfields in the northern section of the state as well. This talk will look at some of these strikes, starting after World War I and focusing on Ohio County’s Panhandle Coalfield strikes. These conflicts suggest the wider efforts led by coal operators to bust the UMWA after Blair Mountain, in an anti-union campaign that moved north through the state. By the 1930s, the UMWA was devastated, and strikes breaking out at the onset of the Depression attracted supporters of the Communist Party, as miners faced a desperate situation.
SPEAKER BIO: William Hal Gorby is a Teaching Associate Professor of History, and Dir. of Undergraduate Studies at WVU. He teaches courses on West Virginia, Appalachian, and American Immigration History, and is the 2020-21 recipient of the Eberly College’s Outstanding Teacher award. His book, Wheeling’s Polonia: Reconstructing Polish Community in a West Virginia Steel Town was published by WVU Press in 2020. He has also consulted on the research and editing for the PBS documentary The Mine Wars. In 2019, he researched, wrote, and hosted a podcast by Wheeling Heritage Media, titled Henry: The Life and Times of Wheeling’s Most Notorious Brewer.
➤ Download a full 2021 Labor History Symposium brochure (.pdf file – 2.8 MB)
Please contact us for more information on the Reuther-Pollack Labor History Symposium: Email Sean Duffy
2021 HERITAGE WEEK PARTNER: Ohio County Public Library
On Tuesday, August 31st, 2021, WALS heritage partner The Ohio County Public Library will be presenting “A Conversation with Denise Giardina” at their weekly Lunch With Books program as part of the Reuther-Pollack Labor Heritage Week 2021. The legendary West Virginia writer will discuss her book, Storming Heaven (a novel of Blair Mountain) along with some of her other works. This program will be presented simultaneously at the Library and broadcast online.
As well as being a writer, Giardina has been an activist for environmental justice since the 1970s. She made a bid to be governor of West Virginia in 2000 as a third-party candidate, using her campaign to raise awareness about the devastating and toxic effects of mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR). MTR blows off the tops of ancient mountains, exposing layers of coal. It makes mining easier, yet destroys forests and plant life, and pollutes streams. Toxic runoff from the mining process leach into communities (where people have lived for generations), forcing them to leave their homes. West Virginia´s progressive, Mountain Party, affiliated with the Green Party, sprang from Giardina’s gubernatorial run.
➤ For more information about this program, visit the event page on the Library’s website.
- First State Capitol Building
1413 Eoff Street
Wheeling, WV 26003