The Ohio Valley Trades and Labor Assembly is West Virginia’s and the nation’s oldest central labor organization. It was founded in Aetnaville, Ohio, in 1882, and since 1885 its offices have been in Wheeling. At the peak of its influence, 1890–1920, the assembly consisted of more than 40 locals and almost 40 percent of the state’s union members.
Throughout much of its history, the assembly sanctioned strikes and conducted boycotts and arbitrations. It fathered the state’s first workers compensation bill (1913) and influenced Wheeling city leaders to construct the municipality’s first water filtration plant. The assembly promoted equal pay for men and women, women’s suffrage, the eight-hour workday, immigration restrictions, and social insurance.
Members supported cultural and educational improvements such as improved schools, transportation enhancements, and public libraries. In 1904, however, the assembly spearheaded a drive that defeated a proposal to erect a Carnegie Library in the city. Their opposition was in protest of Andrew Carnegie’s ruthless suppression of Pennsylvania steel strikers a decade before.
For most of the 20th century, the assembly provided political support to candidates sympathetic to labor. One highlight was its support for Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist candidate for president in 1912. The West Virginia Socialist platform was written by a former assembly president, Valentine Reuther, the father of United Auto Workers founder Walter Reuther.
The assembly published its own paper, Wheeling Majority (1907–20) and the Labor Journal Quarterly (1944–56). It sponsored Wheeling’s largest parade, the Labor Day parade, as well as providing a hospital fund and an educational fund for working-class boys to attend Linsly Military Institute in Wheeling. Since the 1950s, the influence of the assembly has waned considerably. Today, much of its efforts are directed to promotion of community services such as the United Way.
This Article was written by David T. Javersak
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Javersak, David T. Response of the O.V.T.&L.A. to Industrialism. The Journal of the West Virginia Historical Association, (Spring 1980).
Javersak, David T. "The Ohio Valley Trades and Labor Assembly." Ph.D. diss, West Virginia University, 1977.
Cite This Article
Javersak, David T. "Ohio Valley Trades and Labor Assembly." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 October 2010. Web. 27 February 2017.