||3. The Era of Industrial Warfare||Page 9|
A similar story can be told of efforts to organize a national union of coal miners. We have already mentioned bloody interventions in Colorado and West Virginia before World War I. In 1920-21 there was a war in the coalfields of West Virginia between the mineworkers and a military force that included 2,100 troops and the first use of the Army Air Service for aerial bombing.
The war culminated in the spectacular battle of Blair Mountain in which the mineworkers were ultimately defeated (Savage, 1990). Other interventions in the coalfields came in the summer of 1922, when over 7,000 National Guard were deployed in seven states, and again in 1934, when over 3,000 Guard were deployed in four states. In 1950, a strike in the coalfields of the Eastern half of the country was only settled after President Truman threatened government seizure of the mines (Labor Fact Book, vol. 10,1951, p. 121).
During the 1930s, many officials were elected with the help of organized labor, which made them reluctant to use troops against strikers. In some cases this made a difference in the ability of workers to organize. In 1937, Michigan Governor Murphy was urged by the automobile companies to break the sit-down strike by workers in the factories in Flint. Although he deployed troops around the plants, Murphy refused to order them to attack. In the meantime, the workers won an historical victory in their negotiations with the company, which laid the base for unionization of the automobile industry (Keeren, 1980, p. 181).
During World War II, the government seized 34 defense plants, presumably to prevent or break strikes by the workers, according to one source (Jensen, 1991, p. 217). I have found details on only one of the seizures, the use of 3,500 troops to break the strike of workers at North American Aviation in Los Angeles in 1941 (Rich, 1941, pp. 179-183). Although Jensen says that there were 25 plant seizures from 1943 to 1945 (p. 303), she does not indicate how many troops were involved.
The rate of internal military intervention remained high throughout the period from 1877 to 1940. For the 10-year period from 1886 to 1895, shown in Table I, an average of about 8,200 troops per year was used in labor disputes. For the 10 years for which quantitative records were available in the 1920s and 1930s, shown in Table II, an average of about 6,200 troops per year was used in labor disputes. Although we do not have exact figures for other years, some no doubt had lower figures, while others, for example in 1877 and during World War I, had higher than average figures.
(End of chapter)