Reported by: Erin Noon
RACINE, WV (WOWK) — West Virginia labor leaders reflected on the state’s union history at the annual Labor Day celebration in Boone County.
This picnic celebrates the achievements of labor unions and workers. This year, they also highlighted the Battle of Blair Mountain’s centennial and how it paved the way for workers today.
“When we think West Virginia, people often think of a place that’s behind the times. But the coal miners who marched in 1921 were a generation ahead of their time,” said Chuck Keeney, a college professor and author of the book The Road to Blair Mountain.
United Mine Workers of America and people from all over came to commemorate the Battle of Blair Mountain that took place 100 years ago. Over the weekend, people retraced the historic miners’ march.
“We just had tired legs at the top of the mountain, they were facing death but they knew the cause was worth it,” said David Hadley, a UMWA member from Indiana who participated in the retracing.
Keeney emphasizes that this part of the Mountain State’s history was often overlooked and forgotten. “For a couple of generations, it was deliberately taken out of the textbooks by West Virginia governors and West Virginia politicians that didn’t want coal viewed in an unfavorable light. So it’s great that this history is finally getting its due.”
People like Hadley say its history, like Blair Mountain, is why they continue to fight for better working conditions today. “That led to unionization and that led to the middle class. Today we need to pass legislation in Congress and signed by the President so that we can renew that middle class through the labor unions and that people have their right to democracy through the workplace.”
Some of the legislation people at the picnic were calling on Congress to pass is the Pro Act, a bill to expand various labor protections related to employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain in the workplace.