The Mine Wars: The Bloody Fight for Workers’ Rights in the West Virginia Coalfields

Bloomsbury. May 2024. 272p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781547612185.
Gr 5 Up–Watkins tackles narrative nonfiction with a sobering account of the mine wars in Mingo County, WV, in the early 1920s. While mine workers in other parts of the country had successfully unionized with the United Mine Workers of America, those in western West Virginia had been unsuccessful. Watkins begins the book with the story of the Matewan Massacre, as unemployed miners revolted against mine owners and their hired men whose job it was to keep order. “Order” meant firing, attacking, or killing workers who even appeared to sow the seeds of union organization. Subsequent chapters highlight the harsh living and working conditions of the miners and their families, including details of fatal accidents and the practice of child labor. The rest of the book describes the increasingly volatile clashes between the United Mine Workers and mine owners, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain in the fall of 1921. Rich in primary source content, this volume has the photographs, maps, and firsthand accounts to give readers a thorough description of the actual coal mining process and the skirmishes between the two parties. Watkins likewise explores the current state of mining. The book is written in language appropriate for young readers and offers definitions of less-familiar terms, but the language is also passionate, demonstrating clear sympathy for the mine workers and union organizers. A complete bibliography and original source citations are appended. Violence is a major part of this work with some descriptions of beatings and killings; librarians and teachers should preview before giving it to younger readers.
VERDICT A well-researched account of an essential historical account of the U.S. labor movement. Highly recommended for middle school readers and beyond.

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