Employee Relations Influenced by the Matewan Strike

The owners of the coal mines in Matewan would wait that miners in the region would be satisfied with the increase of their wages, meaning that no further action would be taken. The decision of the miners to proceed to the improvement of their living conditions and fight for their dependency verifies the view of Brecher (1997) who noted that ‘in periods of the mass strike, workers act outside of institutionally prescribed roles’ (Brecher 1997, p.275). The above issue is discussed in this paper. Emphasis is given on the role of the miners in Matewan in the change of the employment relationship but also in the change of their position as members of a particular society.At the beginning of the 20th century, coal mining in West Virginia resulted in significant profits for those involved in the process. In 1911, the production of coal in West Virginia has been estimated to 60,000,000 tons – from just 609,000 tons in 1870 (Lynch 1914, p.626). Initially, the performance of West Virginia has been considered as low – compared to the other, northern areas. As a result, the northern areas had a major stake in the exportation of coal internationally. However, gradually, as the production of coal in West Virginia has been increased, the superiority of the northern areas in regard to the export of coal to foreign markets has been eliminated. Despite the difficulties involved in the coal mining in West Virginia – mostly due to the geographic characteristics of the region – it was made clear that West Virginia could be a strong competitor for the international energy market, being able to compete for its rivals in the northern areas (Lynch 1914, p.627). In the context of the above competition, in the sector’s Conference held ‘every two years’ (Lynch 1914, p.627), the miners and the coal operators – strong conflicts were developed mostly because of the fear of the coal operators of West Virginia that their market share could be reduced.