Why the coalfields of Central Appalachia need Bernie Sanders!

Mine helmets and painted crosses sat at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine on April 5, as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there one year earlier.

Mine helmets and painted crosses sat at the entrance to Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine on April 5, as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there one year earlier.

by Matt Skeens

For nearly a century the coalfields of Appalachia was a hotbed for union strikes and labor activity. We were at the center of more than a few violent and bloody fights between coal-miners pining for better pay and work conditions and the coal industry that was, and still is, one of the most corrupt and destructive industries in U.S. history. Mining conditions were horrid for those who went miles below into the earth for work to support their family. Tens of thousands of miners were killed and many more mangled in mining accidents or explosions weekly, and sometimes daily, that resembled the Upper Branch mining disaster that killed 29 miners in 2010. Company stores weren’t just lines in a song but real places where families were forced to give back over their pay, or scrip which wasn’t as valuable as cash and could only be used at the stores, to feed their family and survive.

The coal companies owned everything: the land, the stores, the courts, and local governments. The only thing they didn’t own were the people, not completely at least, and their desire for better and for what they deserved. It was because of this burning fire that wars were waged. Real ones. From the largest labor uprising at the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia which also served at the largest armed uprising since the Civil War to the multiple union strikes in Harlan County, Kentucky. The last one I remember was the Pittson Strikes in this part of Virginia right around the time I was born. Since then, however, the battles have been few and far between. The war against the impoverished Appalachian waged by the coal industry has continued without interruption ever since. Continue reading