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Fighting the battle of Blair Mountain   Leave a comment

UMW officials and members of the "miner's...

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Fighting the battle of Blair Mountain | Beth Wellington | Comment is free |

via Fighting the battle of Blair Mountain | Beth Wellington | Comment is free |

Last week, with Massey Energy under siege from federal safety officials, yet still proposing to stripmine the site of the Battle of Blair Mountain, I recalled standing on battlefields at Gettysburg and Manassas, haunted as the landscape somehow revealed what had once happened there. I was listening to David Rovics sing:

The hills of West Virginia will long remember… the Battle of Blair Mountain.

A Massey subsidiary, the Aracoma Coal Company, is seeking a permit to obliterate a 554-acre site that includes parts of the battlefield in West Virginia. This land bears traces of the second largest insurrection after the Civil War – and the largest labour uprising – in US history. Here, in 1921, the miners of West Virginia, seeking the right to unionise (that is, organise, assemble and speak freely), took on the coal operators and their mercenaries.

According to historic preservationist Barbara Rasmussen, the origins of the battle of Blair Mountain lay in anger over conditions in the southern coalfields, where the “company store” system ruled and unions had been denied the right to organise. The 2 August 1921 shooting in cold blood of Matewan police chief Sid Hatfield by mine operators’ agents provided the spark. A year earlier, Hatfield had defended the miners when the Stone Mountain Coal Co tried to evict striking workers from their homes. After several weeks of protest and unrest, battle lines were drawn on 26 August 1921; ten days later, the rebellion was over. Michael Meador describes the melee:

As many as 15,000 men were involved, an unknown number were killed or wounded, bombs were dropped, trains were stolen, stores were plundered, a county was invaded and another was under siege. The president had to send in federal troops…

The miners’ rising was suppressed, after an estimated million rounds were fired. The defeat was a setback for the unionisation campaign in the short term, but raised public awareness of the appalling conditions borne by miners and paved the way for the political victory of full recognition of union rights under the New Deal in 1933.

Posted November 22, 2010 by dmacc502 in environment, government, History

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