FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Mining History Written in Blood

Photo by Boston Public Library | CC BY 2.0

Domestic coal mining history above and below ground lives on the pages of Written in Blood: Courage and Corruption in the Appalachian War of Extraction edited by Wess Harris (PM Press, 2017). The anthology unpacks the industry, people and communities of a coal-rich region, amplifying relevant class and gender issues over a century.

On one hand, coalfield accidents, such as the 1968 Farmington mine disaster, bury miners. Meanwhile, underground air injuries cause black lung disease.

On the other hand, an industry-friendly establishment tries, by force and ideas, to bury the narratives of women, men and children. Most the time, society’s victors write history.

Prevailing assumptions and conclusions dominate consciousness. The ruling order’s ideas rule society, to paraphrase Marx.

There are counter-narratives to elite stories, though. Harris’ book is a splendid case in point.

Contributors, such as Tom Rhule, expose the production of mainstream ideology that glorifies capital over labor. One strand of this process is anti-communism.

The coal industry and its allies used it to smother working class voices. Mine owners and their allies in the academy and press in part appealed to American patriotism to make their case, subject matter that Alex Carey writes about in Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty (1995).

Then and now, capital, e.g., mine operators and owners, also tried to divide and separate coal workers along ethnic and linguistic lines,
according to Joy Lynn, in an interview with Michael and Carrie Kline. Sow division and strengthen social power is the name of this ruling tune.

The Klines also interview a retired federal mine inspector, who describes how the coal companies ignore safety in the pursuit of profitability. His accounts of corporate malfeasance are revealing; its purchase of political power system operates to the harm of working families.

The coal company store was a site of gender oppression. The power and control of capital over labor involved “forced sexual servitude” under the Esau scrip system that Harris and other contributors detail.

As a matter of policy, coal management males practiced sexual misconduct against miners’ daughters and wives in places such as the Whipple Company Store. This history does not make for easy reading.

The lengths that management went to oppress male miners and their female family members reflect the institutional relations of misogyny and patriarchy. They are deeply rooted in the past of Appalachian coalfields and US society generally.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was a site of a united uprising of miners, begun in 1921. Harris’ essay disentangles that epic conflict over unionization in the face of oppression, e.g., horrendous labor conditions. It was at the time “the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War.”

Nathan Fetty considers current developments in Appalachia from a legal viewpoint. He in part examines trends in the United Mine Workers of America and the struggle for health and safety as fracking for gas grows.

Carrie Kline focuses on ways for people of the region to move forward, past resource extraction and labor exploitation during coal mining. This is a monumental challenge, similar in some respects to what deindustrialized communities in the Rust Belt face.

I found the book under review compelling. The contributors deliver insight and foresight.

 

More articles by:

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

March 20, 2019
T.J. Coles
Countdown to “Full Spectrum Dominance”
W. T. Whitney
Re-Targeting Cuba: Why Title III of U.S. Helms-Burton Act will be a Horror Show
Kenneth Surin
Ukania’s Great Privatization Heist
Howard Lisnoff
“Say It Ain’t So, Joe:” the Latest Neoliberal from the War and Wall Street Party
Walter Clemens
Jailed Birds of a Feather May Sing Together
George Ochenski
Failing Students on Climate Change
Cesar Chelala
The Sweet Smell of Madeleine
Binoy Kampmark
Global Kids Strike
Nicky Reid
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: Requiem for a Fictional Party
Elliot Sperber
Empedocles and You and Me 
March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail