Americas Hidden History of Battling for Workers Rights

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Blair Mountain Fighting Charleston Gazette CC americas hidden history of battling for workers rights
(Photo: company thugs – 1912 – credit: Charleston Gazette)

August 18, 2013 – Watching one of my favorite shows "Diggers" last night, I was reminded of the actual battles for worker's rights, including guns and all, that took place in this country at the turn of the century. With the Republicans lately attacking unions and eroding worker's rights, I thought I would blog about a hidden history of the United States; something you don't find in any textbooks. They never taught me this when I went to public school. 

In our Industrial Age in the 1800s coal miners were horribly exploited even to the point of "company scrip", where workers would get tokens for pay, and be forced to buy only from the company store. Misery and death ruled their lives; from poor working conditions, long hours, death and disease from "black lung", and very low pay while Robber Barons lived in the lap of luxury. Around 1910 the workers had had enough, and started to form unions demanding better pay and better working conditions. Coal companies responded by firing union-sympathizing workers, blacklisting them, evicting from their homes, and even hiring armed thugs who would beat, intimidate and even murder workers trying to organize. The coal companies would bribe government officials to arrest union-sympathizers on flimsy charges and to hire these squads of well-armed thugs.

battle of blair mountian museum americas hidden history of battling for workers rights

In West Virginia in 1912, after enduring this brutality for too long, and fired up by Mary Harris "Mother Jones", miners started fighting back. They formed unions and started strikes such as "The Paint Creek-Cabin Creek" strikes. This led to many armed confrontations such as "The Battle of Blair Mountain" where over 10,000 striking coal miners attempting to rescue three workers from a jail and armed with only "squirrel guns" (small caliber), marched to the jail and faced high-caliber rifles and machine guns manned by government agent thugs. When all was said and done, 30 were dead on the coal company thug side, and over 100 coal miners died. 985 miners were indicted for murder, but acquitted by sympathetic jurors. The coal companies won in the short term, it wasn't until the 1930s under FDR's New Deal until workers would get the right to form unions and unions expanded to steel workers and beyond. Now we have Republicans trying to erode all those rights workers have actually fought for. Of course JTMP does NOT suggest or condone violence in any way, but JTMP does urge our supporters to work peacefully through the ballot box and other ways to protect and secure those rights all those men died for back then. We urge you to make sure you constantly tell your lawmakers in the state and federal level that you want them to protect worker's rights, protect unions, and stand up to Republican thugs trying to enact this stupid, "Right to Work" insanity.  (photo credit: Blair Mountain Reenactment Society)

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