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Labor History Revisited

Sixth Annual Reuther-Pollack Labor History Symposium Is Sept. 3

WHEELING — The annual Reuther-Pollack Labor History Symposium is set to take place on Saturday, Sept. 3, at First State Capitol, to mark the Labor Day Weekend.

The Wheeling Academy of Law & Science (WALS) Foundation, in partnership with the Ohio County Public Library and the United Auto Workers International (UAW), will present the sixth annual Reuther-Pollack Labor History Symposium at the First State Capitol at 1413 Eoff St. in Wheeling.

The event will feature labor historians Dr. Joe Trotter, Dr. Anne Lawrence, Dr. John Hennen and Teen Vogue’s Kim Kelly.

A presenter at the first symposium and a labor historian at Chatham University, Dr. Lou Martin, said, “This symposium is maybe the best yet … I think there will be a great range of talks but also a lot of great overlap. Just really top notch.”

Tickets, which cover lunch and other expenses, can be purchased at Eventbrite, using https://bit.ly/3btobFp, or just visit Eventbrite online and search “Reuther-Pollack.” Tickets can also be found by visiting www.walswheeling.org.

Doors open at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday for registration and for a continental breakfast.

The schedule of speakers and symposium topics will be:

∫ At 10 a.m., a presentation by Trotter, the Giant Eagle University Professor of History and Social Justice at Carnegie Mellon University, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and author of “Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America.”

This collection brings together nearly three decades of research on the African American experience, class and race relations in the Appalachian coal industry. It shows how, with deep roots in the antebellum era of chattel slavery, West Virginia’s Black working class gradually picked up steam during the emancipation years following the Civil War and dramatically expanded during the late 19th and early t20th centuries.

From there, African American Workers and the Appalachian Coal Industry highlights the decline of the region’s Black industrial proletariat under the impact of rapid technological, social and political changes following World War II. It underscores how all miners suffered unemployment and outmigration from the region as global transformations took their toll on the coal industry, but emphasizes the disproportionately painful impact of declining bituminous coal production on African American workers, their families, and their communities.

∫ At 11 a.m., Lawrence will present. She is professor of management emerita at San Jose State University. She currently serves as chair of the Case Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides fellowships to early-career scholars for training in case research and teaching.

In 1972, Lawrence came to West Virginia at the invitation of the Miners for Democracy movement to conduct interviews with participants in, and observers of, the Battle of Blair Mountain and other Appalachian mine wars of the 1920s and ’30s. The set of oral histories she collected — the only document of its kind — circulated for many years as an informal typescript volume, acquiring an almost legendary status among those intrigued by the subject.

Key selections from it appear here for the first time as a published book, supplemented with introductory material, maps, and photographs. The volume’s vivid, conversational mode invites readers into miners’ lived experiences and helps us understand why they took up arms to fight anti-union forces in some of the nation’s largest labor uprisings.

∫ At noon, lunch will be provided, a Reuther birthday celebration will take place, and a walking tour to the Reuther and Pollack monuments will be led by Dr. Hal Gorby.

∫ At 2 p.m. Hennen will take the podium. Hennen taught history for more than 30 years, including two decades at Morehead State University, where he is emeritus professor of history. He is the author of “The Americanization of West Virginia: Creating a Modern Industrial State, 1916-1925.”

The union of hospital workers usually referred to as 1199 sits at the intersection of three of the most important topics in U.S. history: organized labor, health care and civil rights. Hennen’s book explores the union’s history in Appalachia, a region that is generally associated with extractive industries but has seen health care grow as a share of the overall economy. With a multiracial, largely female and notably militant membership, 1199 was at labor’s vanguard in the 1970s, and Hennen traces its efforts in hospitals, nursing homes and healthcare centers in West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and Appalachian Ohio. He places these stories of mainly low-wage women workers within the framework of shake-ups in the late industrial and early post industrial United States, relying in part on the words of Local 1199 workers and organizers themselves.

∫ At 3 p.m. Kelly will be featured. She is an independent journalist, author and organizer. She has been a regular labor columnist for Teen Vogue since 2018, and her writing on labor, class, politics and culture has appeared in The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times and Esquire, among many others. A third-generation union member, she is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World’s Freelance Journalists Union.

Freed Black women organizing for protection in the Reconstruction-era South, Jewish immigrant garment workers braving deadly conditions for a sliver of independence, Asian American fieldworkers rejecting government-sanctioned indentured servitude across the Pacific, The queer Black labor leader who helped orchestrate America’s civil rights movement — these are only some of the working-class heroes who propelled American labor’s relentless push for fairness and equal protection under the law.

In this assiduously researched work of journalism, the Teen Vogue columnist and independent labor reporter excavates that history and shows how the rights the American worker has today — the 40-hour workweek, workplace-safety standards, restrictions on child labor, protection from harassment and discrimination on the job — were earned with literal blood, sweat and tears.

Also this week at noon on Tuesday, Aug. 30, “Augustus Pollack,”a pre-symposium program will take place at Lunch With Books at the Ohio County Public Library, presented by Gorby and Sean Duffy for Labor Heritage Week, 2022. A man of empathy, Pollack may be the only business owner to have a monument erected in his memory by organized labor.

For more on the sixth annual visit walswheeling.org or www.ohiocountylibrary.org. To become a sponsor of the symposium, visit: https://bit.ly/3zsVmCN.


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