Coal Miners: Metaphor for Power Division in America
The most recent coal mining tragedy in West Virginia is a metaphor for the real power divisions in America. The underclass, and the distracted middle class in America, spend so much time and energy being angry and fighting over different issues and power divisions. Unfortunately, very few of these distinctions represent the true division of power in the United States. Issues of race, political party, religion, economic philosophy are phantasms and fabrications which obscure the only real power distinction in America. That distinction is the difference between those who own stuff, and those who don’t. But even that distinction, as simple as it sounds, can be ephemeral if one doesn’t come to terms with the difference between owning stuff and membership in the ruling class.
The John Sayles movie “Matewan”, set in early 1900s Matewan, West Virginia coal mining town, illustrates how different underclass groups are pitted against each other in the United States, while the real oppressors press down on them all. When these groups come together, the Coal Field Wars breakout, which ultimately results in extreme loss of life, but considerably improved working conditions for miners. The rub, historically outside of the timeframe of the movie, is that the coal mines remain a dangerous place to work, that only those without other viable options opt for. The annual loss of life from accidents is down, however the chronic health issues resulting from a career of going down in the pits remains a killer.
The saying goes that men go down in the hole white, black, or brown, but they all come out black.
Early in the history of coal mining in the United States, the first miners were the white Appalachian mountain folk, who lived in the coal rich hollers of the Eastern Appalachian Mountain range. As social change occurred, and new immigrants found moved around the country, Blacks, Italian, Germans, a host of new ethnic groups found their way to the mines. The mining companies used racial divides to pit these ethnic groups against one another. This served to distract from the extreme abusive practices used by the mining companies against their workers, and the workers families. As long as the ethnic groups were pitted against each other, identified each other as the source and cause of their woes, they would not realize, or be able to organize against the true oppressor, the mining companies.
For those who may question the validity of calling the mining companies abusive or oppressors, I’d be glad to write a post dedicated to that issue. Just let me know. Suffice it to say, the “market” did not, was not, and would not take care of these problems.
At any rate, the movie “Matewan” chronicles the beginning of the Coal Field Wars, and how union organizers got the various ethnic groups to focus, not on the phantasmic differences of race and ethnicity, but on the oppression of the mining companies. When the mining companies met resistance from the miners, The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in, at that point in time, basically a mercenary unit, armed with guns. The Pinkertons brought their guns and the miners and mountain folk met them. The Coal Field Wars began.
The end result was that President Roosevelt called in the National Guard to suppress the miners and put an end to the armed conflict. However, after much loss of life, attention was brought to the issue. Miners were unionized in many mines, and working conditions improved greatly. However, as we can see from recent mining accidents, and the persistant high mortality rate among miners, conditions are still very bad for that Class of Americans.
What are the take aways? First, conflicts and divisions between race and ethnicity in America are illusions and lies used by the ruling class to keep the people from disrupting power. Second, the only true division in America is between the ruling class and the people. Third, the only chance The United States has going forward, is for the people to rise above the current, and worsening state of racial, religious, ethnic, divide and directly address the abuses of the ruling class.
The question then becomes, who comprise the ruling class? This is a topic for another post, but suffice it to say being white and/or wealthy are not defining conditions. Plenty of white people are in the underclass, whom the ruling class would, and has, gladly sacrifice. Additionally, wealthy is neither a defining term, as plenty of wealthy individuals are utterly dependent on the good will of the Federal government and the corporations for whom they slave.