A variety of events celebrating the Upper Ohio Valley's labor and working class heritage are planned for Wheeling's first ever Reuther-Pollack Labor Heritage Week to be held August 27 through September 1, 2018 at The First State Capitol at 1413 Eoff Street and at the Ohio County Public Library at 52-16th Street.
The events are being organized by the Wheeling Academy of Law and Science (WALS) Foundation, through its Reuther-Wheeling Library and Labor History Archive, and the Ohio County Public Library through its adult programming department. Sponsors include the West Virginia Humanities Council (sponsor of Sept. 1 symposium), Wheeling Heritage, and Bishop Whelan Div. 1, Ancient Order of Hibernians. Heritage Partners for the events include the Battle of Homestead Foundation, West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation, West Virginia Independence Hall Museum, and WVU Press.
Labor Heritage Week begins on Monday, August 27, at 7 pm at the First State Capitol, with the Wheeling premier of the new documentary, “American Socialist: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs,” from First Run Features and filmmaker Yale Strom. The film's tagline is "Bernie Sanders inspired a generation - but who inspired him?" This film traces the history of American populism, with the man (Debs) who inspired progressive ideas - from FDR's New Deal to Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign.
On Tuesday, Aug 28 at noon, at Lunch With Books at the Ohio County Public Library, Jack Seitz, Lead Educator at the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum will present: “A Brief Sketch of West Virginia Labor History in Modern Context or: The Long History of ‘Going West Virginia on You.’” In February 2018 West Virginia teachers and public employees disrupted national narratives about “red state politics” when they went on strike for higher wages and a fix to the state health insurance plan. This successful movement inspired similar strikes across the country and reshaped national conversations and developments around austerity and neoliberalism. However, it was not the first time West Virginia laborers stood at the forefront of working-class politics and industrial democracy.
That evening at 7 pm, Lou Martin, associate professor of history at Chatham University and founding board member of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum will present a Special Edition People’s University at the Ohio County Public Library called, “Appalachian History and Politics Since the 1970s.” National politics during the 1970s saw the beginning of neoliberalism--a free market ideology that calls for cuts to taxes and social spending, deregulation, increased competition in the labor market, fewer union protections, and above all free trade between nations. Far from failing to achieve their goals in Appalachia, these policies have functioned as intended, spurring innovation in some sectors of the economy, increasing worker productivity, and lowering some consumer costs. But the costs have been high in this region: hollowed out mine and mill towns, the decline of the labor movement, and great inequalities of wealth, health, and power.
Labor Heritage Week continues on Wednesday, August 29, at 7 pm at the First State Capitol with a free Screening of the documentary: “Brothers on the Line.” Narrated by Martin Sheen, Brothers On The Line is an award-winning documentary created by Victor Reuther's grandson Sasha, that explores the extraordinary journey of the Reuther brothers (Walter, Roy, and Victor) — prolific union organizers who led an army of laborers into an epic struggle for social justice.
On Thursday, August 30 at noon at a special edition Lunch With Books at the Ohio County Public Library, Ginny Savage Ayers will discuss her new book, “Never Justice, Never Peace: Mother Jones and the Miner Rebellion at Paint and Cabin Creeks.” In 1986 Lon Savage published "Thunder in the Mountains: The West Virginia Mine War, 1920–21," a popular history now considered a classic. Among those the book influenced are Denise Giardina, author of Storming Heaven, and John Sayles, writer and director of Matewan. When Savage passed away, he left behind an incomplete book manuscript about a lesser-known Mother Jones crusade in Kanawha County, West Virginia. His daughter Ginny Savage Ayers drew on his notes and files, as well as her own original research, to complete "Never Justice, Never Peace"—the first book-length account of the Paint Creek–Cabin Creek Strike of 1912–13. Dr. Lou Martin wrote the introduction to this important new book.
On Thursday evening at 7 pm at the First State Capitol, Pittsburgh based singer/songwriters Tom Breiding, Jason Kendall and Mike Stout will present “Songs of Protest and the Working Class.” For a modest $10.00 cover charge (all proceeds go toward event expenses), attendees will enjoy an evening of original compositions, working class ballads, and familiar protest songs. Breiding, a Wheeling native, is musician in residence for the United Mine Workers of America. Kendall's introspective and melodic songs are influenced by artists like Chet Baker, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles. Stout is a songwriter of stories about working class heroes.
Heritage Week continues on Friday, Aug. 31 at 7 PM at the First State Capitol with “The Francis Pier-Pint Historic Brew-Off," featuring Travis Henline, Hal Gorby, and Ryan Stanton sharing fun facts and mostly true stories about Wheeling’s history and beer history. Members of the “Wheeling Alers” home-brewing club will create brews like Waitman Willey Rye Ale, First State Capital Cream Ale, Augustus Pollack Pale Ale, Arthur Boreman Common Ale, among others. Tee-shirts, custom coasters, and other merchandise will be available for purchase. A $30 admission ticket buys a commemorative Francis Pier-Pint pint glass and free beer samples. Attendees will vote for their favorite historic brew, and the winner will receive a custom trophy. Proceeds benefit educational programming for both the WALS Foundation and the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation, partners on this fundraising event.
Reuther-Pollack Labor Heritage Week will conclude with a labor history symposium on Saturday, September 1, from 10 am to 5 pm. The event will feature presentations from five dynamic speakers, including: Fordham history professor Steven Stoll, author of Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia (a progressive answer to J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy); Appalachian historian Benjamin Bankhurst of Shepherd University; Boston College professor of history Kevin Kenny who will speak about the Molly Maguires); Mark Bulik, a senior editor for the New York Times (also Molly Maguires); and United Auto Worker archivist Gavin Strassel from the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University in Detroit, the largest labor archive in the United States.
During the lunch break, after a birthday celebration for Walter Reuther with cake and refreshments, symposium attendees will have the opportunity to join a walking tour, led by Dr. David Javersak, to view both the Pollack and Reuther monuments at Heritage Port on the Wheeling riverfront. The event will also feature door prizes, a raffle of a framed photo and autograph of Walter Reuther, a basket of labor history books, and much more.
The Reuther-Pollack Labor History Symposium is presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities. This event is presented in partnership with Wheeling Heritage.
Registration for the all-day Saturday event is $20.00 and includes a box lunch. All proceeds go toward event expenses.
To RSVP for the concert, brew-off, or the symposium, send an email to [email protected], or call 304-9050-1690. For more information about Reuther-Pollack Labor Heritage Week, visit the WALS Foundation Facebook events page. For library events, check out the library's web site calendar of social media pages, email [email protected], or call 304-232-0244.