Rethinking Southern Nonunionism in the Late Nineteenth Century
The United Mine Workers of America (UMW) had roughly 13,000 members when it called for a nationwide suspension in bituminous coal production in April 1894, but over 150,000 primarily non-union miners quit work in support of the UMW-orchestrated strike for better pay. Despite their longstanding hostility to UMW leaders and organizing tactics, miners in southern coalfields like Missouri and Kentucky were among the thousands to join the strike but not the union. This essay considers why laborers would follow the orders of a union they refused to join by considering the social and economic factors that shaped miners’ concepts of unionism. Ultimately, non-union participation in the 1894 coal strike demonstrated that non-unionism did not necessarily denote a rejection of union sentiment. Rather, workers could maintain a culture of faithfulness to union ideals even if they did not maintain union membership.
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