Leadership / Unions / Starbucks / Power

Leadership and Unions

Workplace Imbalance of Power

Mark McMillion
7 min readJun 25


Charles Edward Miller from Chicago, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Why are labor unions on the upswing in America? The answer is pretty simple: lousy leadership.

I am NOT anti-union, not at all. I grew up in West Virginia and when I was a kid, the coal miners and coal owners were still shooting at one another. Literally. West Virginia has always been a hotbed of union activity. Why?

Company stores. As the second industrial revolution blossomed in the late 1800s and over the turn of the century, the Nation’s appetite for steel was nearly endless. Metallurgical coal is used to make coke (no, not the kind you drink!) which is the fuel used to fire a blast furnace. This was the predominant means of steel production early on.

The primary sources for met coal from the late 1800s on was western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Coal companies of the time were ruthless in their exploitation of miners. They were required to live in company-owned houses and paid in company script. This script was only accepted where? Yep, the company store. Which set the prices and there were no employee discounts.

Out of that misery and exploitation rose labor strife which blossomed into bloodshed and even the Battle of Blair Mountain. That battle is one of the ugliest little vignettes of post-Civil War American history. The Devil is Here in These Hills is an excellent read about the coalfield wars in West Virginia.

The coalescing factor in the mine wars, at least for the miners, was the labor union. I’m not going to cover the entire history of labor unions, collective bargaining, or organized labor, but those things have resulted due to an imbalance of power and poor leadership.

Clearly in the coal mines (as well as steel mills, auto plants, and even professional sports), the owners and corporations had enormous power. They hired, they fired, they gave pay raises, promotions, demotions, set hours, set pay scales, vacation time, production quotas — the list goes on and on. Essentially, they determined every single facet of work imaginable. Workers lined up and were expected to be happy they had a job.



Mark McMillion

Retired Army officer with two tours in Baghdad, married with four kids. Proud West Virginian and West Point grad. Works available on Amazon.