The Great Depression, the hard times of the 1930s, ended the coal boom, leaving thousands of miners unemployed and contributing to a major political change as Democrat Herman Guy Kump became governor in 1933. His election ended a long period of Republican dominance.
The New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt brought a new era for workers. Federal agencies provided much of the money required for relief of the depression and for priming the economy. Thousands of jobless men and women were employed in projects undertaken by the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The state government attempted to balance the budget and to find new sources of taxation, among them a consumers’ sales tax. The state succeeded in attracting new industries, and a back-to-the-farm movement added 114,000 people to farm ranks in five years.
Experiments of the Resettlement Administration in establishing self-sustaining communities, based on small-scale manufacturing, at Eleanor, Arthurdale, and Tygart Valley were special interests of the president’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, and were models for the nation. West Virginians were staunch supporters of President Roosevelt and helped elect him to an unprecedented four terms. The momentum given the Democratic Party carried it through the election of 1952, although the Republicans came close to capturing the governor’s seat in 1940. At the urging of the UMWA, U.S. Senator Matthew M. Neely gave up his seat that year to run for governor, and the Democrats retained control of the office.
The New Deal also brought improvements in working conditions.
The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933 guaranteed workers the right to bargain collectively. Union membership rapidly increased, and most unions affiliated with either the American Federation of Labor (AFL) or the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). At the same time, the legislature abolished the mine guard system, by which local sheriffs or bosses had the power to deputize—with funds provided by the coal companies—scores of people whose job it was to keep out unions by any means. The legislature also extended the benefits of the workers’ compensation law and approved a prevailing wage law. Industrial workers made significant gains in wages, labor hours, and working conditions. "West Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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