FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Mining History Written in Blood

by

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. Emailsethsandronsky@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
Karl Grossman
Disaster Island
Thomas S. Harrington
What Nerve! In Catalonia They are Once Again Trying to Swear in the Coalition that Won the Most Votes
Pepe Escobar
Rome: A Eulogy
Robert Hunziker
Will Aliens Save Humanity?
Jonah Raskin
“Can’t Put the Pot Genie Back in the Bottle”: An Interview with CAL NORML’s Dale Gieringer
Stepan Hobza
Beckett, Ionesco, and Trump
Joseph Natoli
The ‘Worlding’ of the Party-less
Julia Stein
The Myths of Housing Policy
George Ochenski
Zinke’s Purge at Interior
Christopher Brauchli
How Trump Killed the Asterisk
Rosemary Mason - Colin Todhunter
Corporate Monopolies Will Accelerate the Globalisation of Bad Food, Poor Health and Environmental Catastrophe
Michael J. Sainato
U.S Prisons Are Ending In-Person Visits, Cutting Down On Reading Books
Michael Barker
Blame Game: Carillion or Capitalism?
Binoy Kampmark
The War on Plastic
Cindy Sheehan – Rick Sterling
Peace Should Be Integral to the Women’s March
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
No Foreign Bases!
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Across the Boer Heartland to Pretoria
Joe Emersberger
What’s Going On in Ecuador? An Interview With Wladimir Iza
Clark T. Scott
1918, 1968, 2018: From Debs to Trump
Cesar Chelala
Women Pay a Grievous Price in Congo’s Conflict
Michael Welton
Secondly
Robert Koehler
The Wisdom of Mass Salvation
Seth Sandronsky
Misreading Edu-Reform 
Ann Garrison
Full-Spectrum Arrogance: US Bases Span the Globe
Louis Proyect
Morality Tales on the American Malaise: the Films of Rick Alverson
David Yearsley
Winston and Paddington: Marianelli’s Musical Bears
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail