History 430: Theory and Practice

Document Type

Undergraduate Research

Publication Date

Fall 11-29-2011


Higher wages, fewer hours, better working conditions--that would be the general mantra of most unions in the United States during the first part of the twentieth century. After the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, which gave employees the right to bargain collectively, unions were empowered and began sending out organizers all over the country. Unfortunately, such a cookie-cutter platform would not be so easily applied in the Tri-State lead and zinc mining district of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. As union organizers mobilized in the Tri-State district, they stuck to the familiar procedure of agitating and ranting against employers, eventually initiating a strike in 1935. Although it is a common belief that the mine operators were oppressive toward unions and their workers, those claims are not entirely true. The relationship between operator and miner was much more nuanced, and much fairer, than the unions tried to insinuate. It could be argued that the inability of the unions to understand local dynamics rendered their attempts at national control of the labor force futile.