West Virginia United Mine Workers Union

January 30, 1920: UMWA Mobilizes to Unionize W.Va.

Jan 30, 2020
Mingo County
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On January 30, 1920, the United Mine Workers of America launched a concerted effort to unionize southern West Virginia. Relations between the UMWA and coal operators had regularly turned violent over the previous 30 years.

However, the two sides had reached a tenuous truce during World War I. During the 19 months the United States was involved in the war, coal production soared and miners’ wages rose.

March 19, 1931: West Virginia United Mine Workers Union Founded

Mar 19, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via West Virginia State Archives (WVSA), Coal Life Collection

The West Virginia Mine Workers Union was founded on March 19, 1931. It was a radical alternative to the United Mine Workers of America, known as the UMWA. The new union was the brainchild of Frank Keeney, who had been a key UMWA leader during the West Virginia Mine Wars.

After the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, UMWA national president John L. Lewis began exerting greater control over local union matters. The year after the battle, Keeney had agreed to a temporary wage cut for miners. Lewis used the wage cuts as an excuse to fire Keeney.