Class Warfare Blog

April 16, 2018

Why Labor History Is Not in Our Schools

Filed under: The Unions — Steve Ruis @ 2:01 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I remember a years long battle to get labor history included in high school curricula. It failed miserably. It continues to fail miserably, not because that history isn’t relevant to today’s world, but because it is.

Allow me to share some quotes from an article in Appalachian Magazine:

In 1921, black, white and immigrant mineworkers took up arms to battle the coal companies that controlled and exploited every aspect of their lives. United, they wore red bandannas to identify each other in battle. They called themselves the “Redneck Army”.

The West Virginia mine wars were the bloodiest labor conflict in American history. Culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, more than 10,000 miners marched from the Kanawha valley toward Mingo to join other striking miners in protest. In their way stood the Logan county sheriff, Don Chafin, who was in the pocket of big coal – a $32,000 payoff each year, roughly $400,000 in today’s dollars.

Chafin commanded a private army of more than 2,000 mercenaries and multiple airplanes equipped to drop bombs on workers. Siding with Chafin and the coal bosses, President Warren G Harding sent federal troops too, armed with gas and more planes (the fourth time that troops had been called in to squash organized miners in the mountain state).

The miners proved what we know today: there is nothing more frightening to a coal boss or corrupt politician than a courageous, united, multi-ethnic coalition of working men and women.

In the coal camps, black people found segregated housing and schools, and lower pay. Operators preferred to break strikes by importing black workers, to sow discord among the races. But by the 1910s, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) was fighting for pay equality, and requiring an oath from every member not to discriminate against any fellow member by “creed, or color, or nationality”.

Its first paid organizer in West Virginia was a black man. Miners swore an oath to each other, across “class or creed”. An early planning committee consisted of three officers: one white person born in West Virginia, one Italian immigrant and one black person.

One miner remarked: “I call it a darn solid mass of different colors and tribes, blended together, woven together, bound, interlocked, tongued and grooved together in one body.”

Do you see why “certain people” will not allow our youths to learn about the labor history of the last century? And as was not said at the end of LooneyTunes cartoons “And That’s Not All, Folks!”

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