The Blair Mountain Battle was a pivotal event in our nation’s history: 10,000 abused miners were set upon by thousands of armed rent-a-cops and Brute Squad members. Lots of poor workers died, and the battlefield (seriously, it was that bloody) is on the National Register of Historic Places, as it damned well should be. From the article at Archaeology:
CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA—Today marks the 93rd anniversary of the beginning of the battle between more than 10,000 union coal miners and thousands of local law enforcement officers and coal company guards along Blair Mountain Ridge—the largest armed confrontation in American labor history. Now, two mining companies want to strip-mine coal from areas near the Blair Mountain Battlefield, and from the battlefield itself, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. According to a report in The Charleston Gazette, environmentalists, preservationists, and the United Mine Workers continue to work for stricter regulations to preserve the landscape. “Some historians recognize the Battle as a principal catalyst for passage of the National Labor Relations Act [in 1935], the federal statutory framework for worker organizing and the peaceful resolution of industrial disputes,” Laura P. Karr, a lawyer for the United Mine Workers, wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers last year. Charles B. Keeney III, chair of the Friends of Blair Mountain, adds that artifacts related to troop movements, buried weapons, shell casings, entrenchments, and possibly even human remains are likely to be at the site, and they would be lost by any potential mining activity.
Got it? Big Business and Bosses are trying to shove this shameful episode in their history down the memory hole, so they can more easily re-enslave us. They’ve done it before, of course. But this one was big – the slaughter of striking workers. Another article goes into greater detail:
…But in 1921, that sound was replaced by the rattle of machine guns and the pop-pop of squirrel rifles, when the valley was just one corner of a battlefield sprawling across 10 miles of ridgeline. In late summer of that year, a force of striking coal miners crept through this hollow, dodging fire from anti-union forces stationed above. The Battle of Blair Mountain, as it is called, involved more than 10,000 men and was the country’s largest civil conflict besides the Civil War. Though the battle is little known outside of union and historian circles, it was a key moment for the American labor movement.
…As the miners neared Chafin’s three-mile defensive line along Spruce Fork Ridge, open war broke out. Archaeologists estimate that a million rounds were fired over the battle’s five days…In early September, federal troops arrived to end the conflict. The state of West Virginia charged the leaders of the strike with treason, and though none were convicted, the trial exhausted the UWMA’s coffers and broke the union there until a dozen years later, when the National Industrial Recovery Act officially recognized the right to organize. After that, led by some of the same men from the march, the southern coalfields of West Virginia became a stronghold of union sentiment (at least until more strikebreaking in the 1980s). Union leaders from Appalachia also helped organize other industrial heartlands. “If you work for a living, if you get unemployment, if you have minimum wage or better, paid vacation, or health insurance, you owe it to those folks who stood their ground on Blair Mountain,” says Barbara Rasmussen, a historic preservationist and president of Friends of Blair Mountain.
The archaeology on the mountain, and the story it is beginning to tell, has helped bring together an unusual coalition—including the Sierra Club, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and a number of local organizations—in what some are calling “The Second Battle of Blair Mountain.” It is certainly a fight over historic preservation, but for many involved, including local archaeologists and historians, the mountain is symbolic of much more—labor struggle, the social effects of resource extraction industries, and what they see as a century-long class conflict.
This post is a day late, because a goodly part of the Cranky family took the day off yesterday and spent the long weekend camping. This was possible because of unions, people. It was ONLY possible because of unions. They may be pooh-poohed today, but labor unions were and are responsible for much of what American workers take for granted today.
And the bosses know this, and fear the resurgence of unions. So they are busily working to erase the memory of unions’ struggles against the plutocrats. Today, say “thanks” to any union workers you meet, because we owe them a lot.
And remember those who died for you, on battlefields like this one. In spite of Corporate America’s efforts to the contrary, remember.
Mr. Blunt and Cranky