Mandatory Overtime

Coal companies are notorious for getting every bit of production out of a mine at the lowest cost. Few seem to realize this when it comes to labor, or at least it doesn’t manifest itself outside of the fear of being fired if you appear to be falling behind. Somewhere in the middle of it all, between working constantly to keep a job, and fighting Obama against the War on Coal, people seem to lose understanding of how companies manipulate their workforce.

For instance, and I will go ahead and warn you that I am repeating myself, coal companies can get by with cheaper labor if people work mandatory overtime. It seems like a win win situation. The coal company is getting the extra work from all those extra hours that eventually  add up to another 40 hour position they don’t have to hire. By not hiring the extra person, they don’t have to pay out any extra health benefits, workman’s compensation, dental, retirement, etc. The miners working overtime are also reaping a few benefits, higher paychecks in exchange for time at home with their family.

The truth is, however, when you work mandatory overtime, you are starving another family in Appalachia. When you rake in those bigger paychecks, someone is having to draw unemployment, or food stamps, and/or state healthcare because they cannot find a job that will pay  much better than minimum wage and has benefits. I should also remind you that chances are, the coal companies are not paying a lot of taxes, so who is having to pay for it all in the end?

Just a few things to think about….

Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis

Warning: This post contains graphic imagery.


When I worked in the mines, I’m ashamed to say that I overheard some very negative and racist conversations from time to time.

One evening as many of us gathered in the motor barn waiting for 3rd shift to start, I heard a fellow maintenance man say, “I think we ought to kill all of the Muslims. They’re all terrorists.” I became more disheartened when several around him where nodding in agreement. I broke from my normal quiet self.

“They are not all terrorists. If we go by that thinking, than we need to kill all Christians because what they’ve done to millions of people over 2000 years in the name of Christ.”

He, being undeterred from his thinking,  countered by telling us all about a holiday he “witnessed” in which Muslim men raped young boys, that he had seen them, been around them, and that he knew.

Ignorance, prejudice, bigotry, narrow-minded hatred.

Unless people have lived in many of these “terrorist” countries, all of their knowledge comes from what they’ve heard or seen on television. Some may have a friend who is a veteran which would cause them to think, “What they are telling me is accurate,” but then you have to ask yourself, under what circumstances did these veterans witness these people, in a time of peace or a time of war? Even then, what kind of people did our soldiers most often face? Is it such a far stretch to believe our soldiers have developed a similar perception of people as do police offers who are subjected to seeing only the worst people?

iraq_dead_family2The fact remains that hundreds of thousands of innocent lives were lost. Wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters. There was a tremendous amount of collateral damage to the Afghan and Iraqi people, people who were decent and peaceful. Many were just trying to get by in areas of despotic regimes. But make no mistake, we did not invade to help the people there liberate themselves from such treatment. If that were the case, we’d have done so decades before. No, we saw many of them as terrorists, we saw ourselves as defending ourselves and liberating a people. But that is far from the truth.

As Americans living in perhaps the wealthiest nation in the world, it is hard to place ourselves in the shoes of people living in places like the Middle East.

So let me try to help…

Life is tough under a dictatorship, but you survive and do what you can to eventually overthrow it, but are limited due to the fear for your family’s safety. Then a country who is telling you they are seeking to free you and your people invades. While you are at the market trying to get enough food to survive the shortages to come, a bomb is miscalculated and you hear a tremendous explosion near your home. You run back, arriving to find that your home is destroyed and your entire family was inside. Your wife, your small children, their smiles and laughter–gone forever. At first you are devastated, no, you are more than devastated.

Now close your eyes and imagine losing your entire family in a car accident, your wife and children, or your husband and children. Seriously, stop reading and think about it. Feel that pain of loss.

For countless Iraqi people, it wasn’t just a car wreck. It was a bomb dropped by another country, a shell, or a random spray of machine gun fire at a “terrorist” that  went to wide by accident.

A few weeks later you are a shell of a human being. The images you recall of your family and the heart wrenching pain you feel is tearing you apart inside. You have lost weight and you often break down into uncontrollable sobs. You begin hearing about others who have lost as you have.

Months go by; news trickles in. You see and hear of US black ops personnel coming in and shooting at people to protect the rich and affluent business officials rallying to make tremendous financial gains from the invasion. You see Haliburton trucks and thousands of US civilian contractors working in the oilfields or rebuilding for the wealthy proprietors. They build bases and tend to the thousands of US troops. Many of the soldiers are scared young men and women, and many are proud to serve their country and protect their families.

Some, but not all soldiers look down upon you calling you a “Haji.” You even hear the words, “Sand n*****”. Some of them are just barely 20 years old. They are fed by a hatred and the belief that somehow you and your people caused the planes to crash into a building thousands upon thousands of miles away.

You hear about a father who is confused as he drives his car to get help for his family. He is rushing up to a road block to get help as quickly as possible. A scared young solider pulls the trigger on the car speeding towards him. Rapid pops of gunfire. Bullet holes enter the windshield and red stains the back glass. A father is gone, the loving man who was only trying to help his children.

You have nothing left. You had no one to bury, the only pictures of your family remain as images in your mind. You are relying on others for bits of food and you are harassed by ignorant soldiers as you wander around to get them. You hear of people you know who have lost as much as you. You hear they have started picking up guns to take revenge in the name of their loved ones. Friends are detained for questioning, some taken to different places in the world. Your hatred escalates.

You find that the country who invaded was using the removal of your dictator and a search for WMDs as an excuse to get to the country’s oil, a resource that runs their economy and makes them wealthier.

How would you feel?

What if they tables were turned and we were the ones being invaded by a larger, richer country? It’s hard to think about because it will never happen. But just think if it did. If you saw so much death and destruction, how would you feel? A lot of people would probably start cherry picking the scriptures to allow for vengeance. “Eye for an eye” would be underlined in the King James Bible. In fact, some people did underline it  after 9/11 as a way of justifying their support to the war.

It’s hard to fathom living such a life, facing such circumstances because the US doesn’t have an invasion threat. We have nuclear weapons, the strongest, most well funded and technologically advanced military in the world. We would never face such a situation, and for that reason, millions of people in this country have never put themselves into the shoes of other people living in different, less fortunate countries, including those living in the Middle East.

The truth is, we didn’t have to go to war. That has been proven and even George W’s brother Jeb said he would not have invaded Iraq. But, they did. And we are not blameless as citizens. It was that war and our compliance and/or support of it,  that has caused all of this pain and suffering on both sides.

Terrorists were never a serious threat to our country, and still aren’t. Our infrastructure is weak. It would not take much to cause rolling blackouts or interruptions of water to millions of people in our country and affect our economy in much more negative ways than 9/11 ever did. Why didn’t it happen that way? Why hasn’t it happened still?

But it doesn’t matter. Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering and fleeing the continued violence that we, as a Americans, set into motion.  They are people like us with families like our ours,  with children they are desperately trying to get away from the dangers of horrible violence-they are just trying to get their loved ones to safety.  Unfortunately, this is something that is hard to fathom for many of us because we live in relative safety.

The most heart wrenching part is how we, and people in other wealthy countries are turning refugees away. People are calling them all terrorists, saying that they are threats to our own families. Some even complain and worry about straining our resources  when we have stores stocked to the ceiling with food–and and we waste a lot of it.

Iraq_for_sale_posterSo before you support the war on terror rhetoric and turn your backs on Syrian refugees, many of whom were Iraqis who fled OUR INVASION OF THEIR COUNTRY TO GET THEIR FAMILIES TO SAFETY, remember who wanted this war,  and who profited from this war: military subcontractors, defense contractors, Haliburton, the Bush Family, the Cheney Family, Blackwater. Remember that your want of cheap, easy transportation and cheap goods brought from thousands of miles away on diesel powered freighters, played a part in their suffering.

Remember where you received your information on the war, and where you still receive all you information from:  NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX news. Remember that all of them are rich corporations who only want to build their fortunes and their power, and they all work together to protect one another and serve their own interests.

And let us not forget about our own veterans who fought in these wars, who were forced into this mess. They had orders–orders that if not followed soldier-and-babywould mean prison time or death under the Universal Code of Military Justice. Many are just as much victims who now live with PTSD and mutilated bodies. Some live with guilt for their actions when put into unavoidable situations by their superiors. And the thousands upon thousands of grieving mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, and children who lost their loved ones overseas. The bravery of our soldiers was used and abused. They were made slaves to the puppets; soldiers were told they were defending their country and that they were helping others while being ordered by the politicians who were coerced by defense contractors, large, oil dependent corporations, all seeking to fulfill their own selfish personal interests.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Three wrongs damn sure don’t. Open your hearts and minds and stop believing everything you hear from the people whose lucrative bottom line depends upon you to hearing it.


Everything They’ve Taken—Everything They’ve Left

WVNS 59 – Coal Mining: Then and Now

I recently made the following comment on a story posted by WVNS Channel 59 entitled “Coal Mining: Then and Now,” regarding a proud career coal miner.

“I was the fourth generation to go underground. I went into the portal you saw at the opening of this clip every day thinking I was doing for my family the best thing I could do. In the 1950s, my great grandfather and grandfather had mined the Clintwood seam for Clinchfield Coal, several hundred feet above the one I was in. I felt so honored to be living up to their sense of pride, hard work, and sacrifice. But they were also union, and my family always knew that the coal companies we were working for didn’t care about us as much as they did getting the coal out of our mountains and making a profit off of it.

What bothers me about this news piece, about coal company media, Friends of Coal, and company organizations in general, is how they take the pride, heritage, and sacrifice of coal miners, and use it to their advantage. They want us to be proud miners who stand up for coal when regulations threaten their profits and when we go to the voting booths, but they don’t want us to remember that our ancestors didn’t want to be coal miners in the first place. They don’t want us remembering that land agents came to the mountains and swindled land from good hearted, generous people, including my own ancestors who traded billions of dollars’ worth in coal for 13 hogs and 12 rifles to give to family members who needed them. They want us to forget that when the mines opened up, they were terrible places to work. They want us to forget that when miners went on strike to demand better safety, living wages, and to break free from being paid in company scrip, the companies hired mercenaries that harassed and killed miners and their families to stop them from getting what they needed.

This clip doesn’t talk about how the safety regulations that are in place only came about after disasters killed miners. From the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 that followed the explosion at Consol #9, to the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 following the Scotia Disaster, all mine safety laws have been written in the blood of fallen miners–the crushed and maimed body’s of family men who were only working hard to support their loved ones.

Friends of Coal and coal friendly media doesn’t want us to know that 104,846 miners have been killed in US Coal mines since 1900, or that since 1960 an estimated 75,000 miners have slowly suffocated until their last breath from black lung, including my great grandfather. When we do realize these things, we are expected to honor the fallen, to pay our respects by supporting coal because, “Without coal, we ain’t nothing!”

All the while, companies still protect their profits their interests. Johns Hopkins University recently closed their black lung program after the head doctor was caught taking money from coal companies to deny black lung benefits. Search “ABC News Black Lung” in Google if you want to find out more.

Money. Money is the name of the game. Up until 2006, only a handful of mines had more than one hour of breathable oxygen for each miner. It wasn’t until we were forced to watch 12 miners slowly suffocate to death in toxic air on national news that regulations were put in place requiring coal companies to buy the extra self-rescuers–something that was common place in many union mines for decades. How could something so basic be overlooked by our legislators and mine safety regulation for so long? How could companies be so cheap for so many years and not pay for such a life saving devices?

Upper Big Branch proved that current safety legislation can only go so far. Everything that occurred leading to the explosion was from laws being broken by a company who forced their miners to work in unsafe conditions. Legislators have no easy fix for this one however, no quick bill to pass requiring a new piece of safety equipment–no new training to implement that would satisfy the voters and still keep their coal company campaign contributions coming in. No, UBB was proof there is only one law left to pass. It’s the law that guarantees a miner’s job is protected if they refuse to work in unsafe conditions, a law that gives miners the right to say, “We are not going to work without proper ventilation. We are not going to work until the equipment is fixed. We are not going to work until every entry is properly rock dusted” all without the fear of being demoted or fired and replaced within an hour. But who has suggested such a law? Who has sponsored such a bill? Why is miner’s safety taking a back seat in our state and federal legislatures?

When I go to a place like the Hurricane Creek Miner’s memorial, and I see a bronze sign that says, “in memory of those who gave their lives for Black Gold” I’m reminded the companies want us to believe something different about our heritage. They want us to focus on what it is to be family men, hard working coal miners who are proud enough to protect our livelihood. They want us to be Friends of Coal and to compare ourselves to the sacrifices of our forefathers without remembering that our fathers NEVER WANTED US TO WORK IN THE MINES FOR A REASON. The companies instead want us to support them in what they’ve always done, get the coal out of the ground and sell it. They don’t care about us, and they never will. If you want proof, find a disabled miner and ask them how the company helps them with their daily pain.

Billions and billions of tons mined and sold, and we are still some of the poorest counties in the nation. My dad used to say, “If we had a dollar for every ton they’ve hauled outta here, we could have paved our streets with gold.” I’d have been satisfied to see our kids have the best schools, to see our people to have the best retirement and healthcare money could buy, the best safety when working…the best everything. The companies could have afforded it. The rest of the nation could have afforded it. Look at how much this nation was built upon our labors. How much steel was made to build to build bridges, to build railroads and ships to haul goods, to provide the cheap energy to make it all happen in towns and cities all across the nation? How much was used to build and power the skyscrapers for rich businessmen who wanted million dollar views from their offices? Back in the mountains, we are left with what? WITH WHAT?

They call Appalachia the Saudi Arabia of Coal. Why are we not as rich as Saudi Arabia, or The United Arab Emirates, or Kuwait? The Kuwaitis made so much from their oil before the Gulf War, no one in the country paid a single utility bill or had to pay for healthcare. That could have happened in Appalachia. That should have happened in Appalachia given our sacrifices, but the money was exported, taken to Wall Street, put into bank accounts and trust funds for kids who’d never know what it was to work a hard day in their life. It was money put into businesses to make even more money by taking advantage of other people’s labor. No, all they’ve left us with is broken backs, pain medication abuse, choked lungs, acid mine drainage, flooding, sedimented creeks, cancer epidemics, and weeping families staring at the plumes of black smoke billowing from shafts and portals.

This has been the true cost of coal to our people. Be proud of our sacrifices, and be angry at those who have taken advantage of us. Honor our heritage by giving our children a chance at a better life, one without the booms and busts of coal, without the raspy breaths of black lung, or the daily pain of a permanent injury. Give them one with an economic alternative to risking life and limb in mines, working for companies that no longer provide pensions and retirement healthcare. It’s time to move on, remember the past, and fight like hell for our children’s future.”

If you have a Friends of Coal license plate, take it off and give it back. Stop contributing to the coal company associations who are using and abusing us for their own profits. We need to stop believing the coal industry when they tell us Appalachia is coal. We need to be Friends of Appalachia, because Appalachia is good hearted, honest to God, hard working people who care about one another. Appalachia is people who were forced into an economic bind by rich outsiders seeking profit. It’s time we all realized the truth and tell the coal industry and their bought and paid for politicians that we don’t want them anymore. We want them to fix their damn messes and to get the hell out so we can build a stronger, better economy.

Amid Controversy, Johns Hopkins Quietly Drops Black Lung Program – ABC News

See the original article HERE.

By Matthew Mosk Randy Kreider Sep 30, 2015, 6:17 PM ET
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine revealed today that it has quietly but permanently shut down its controversial black lung unit and is no longer employing the unit’s head doctor, two years after an ABC News investigation into allegations the hospital’s readings for black lung favored coal companies over ailing miners.

Johns Hopkins first suspended its black lung unit and announced an internal review in 2013, two days after the broadcast of a joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity that found that the doctors at the renowned hospital who had for years read X-rays on behalf of coal companies virtually never found miners to have serious black lung disease — assessments that helped prevent miners from obtaining much-needed financial support.

At the center of the report was the work performed by Dr. Paul Wheeler, who headed the black lung unit. Wheeler found not a single case of severe black lung in the more than 1,500 cases decided since 2000 in which he offered an opinion, a review by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity found. In court testimony, Wheeler said the last time he recalled finding a case of severe black lung, a finding that would automatically qualify a miner for benefits under a special federal program, was in “the 1970’s or the early 80’s.”


FULL COVERAGE: Black Lung Investigation

For Some Miners, Black Lung Proof Comes Only in Death

Johns Hopkins shuttered the black lung unit without releasing the results of their internal review — results that Sen. Casey, D-P.A., has demanded be made public.

“There are still many unanswered questions about the black lung reading program under Dr. Wheeler,” Casey said in a statement to ABC News today. “Many of my constituents and their families have suffered due to wrongful denials of black lung benefits. I would like to repeat my call for Johns Hopkins to release the findings of its internal review into its black lung reading program.”

In his interview with ABC News for the original report, Wheeler stood by his record. “I’ve always staked out the high ground,” he said.

Wheeler said that he could not conclude the coal miners had black lung without first seeing a biopsy — a step not required by the government program that provides financial support to coal miners who have fallen ill with the deadly disease. He said other maladies were as likely, or more likely, to cause lung damage that could be mistaken as black lung.

“That’s my opinion, and I have a perfect right to my opinion,” he said.

For his work, coal companies paid Hopkins $750 for each X-ray he reads for black lung, about 10 times the amount miners typically pay their doctors.

One leading expert in black lung, Dr. Jack Parker of West Virginia University, called Wheeler’s X-ray readings “intellectually dishonest.”

Johns Hopkins told the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News today that Wheeler had retired and that the unit he oversaw would not be restarted.

The acknowledgement of the end of the program comes as Casey and other Democrat lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Virginia renewed their push for legislation to reform the federal black lung benefits program.

PHOTO: This occupational health image shows the lungs of a coal worker with Pneumoconiosis, or Black Lung Disease.CDC
This occupational health image shows the lungs of a coal worker with Pneumoconiosis, or Black Lung Disease.

The reform legislation, known as the Black Lung Benefits Act of 2015, will “strengthen” the black lung program by allowing miners or their survivors to reopen cases “if they had been denied because of medical interpretations that have subsequently been discredited” and “helping miners review and rebut potentially biased or inaccurate medical evidence developed by coal companies,” among other things, according to the lawmakers.

“We can’t stop working at this issue until we achieve a basic measure of justice or those miners who suffer from black lung disease,” Rep. Bobby Scott, D-V.A., said in a press release. “We know the black lung claims process is badly broken and in need of reform to target unethical legal and medical practices and to give miners a fair shot at justice.”

See the original article here

The Truth About Coal

Copyright Associated Press

When I was a kid, they told us about acid rain in school. I even remember seeing a news broadcast in which the reporter, standing in the middle of a cemetery with an umbrella, explained the damage it was causing to the tombstones. The solution was to put scrubbers on all the coal fired power plants, or “pollution controls” as they called them, to make everything okay. That was the end of my concern, as I’m sure it was for millions of people living in North America.

These days, I realize that there is a big difference between pollution “controls” and pollution “elimination.” When the scrubbers were put onto coal fired power plants, they were not making the toxins disappear, they were just removing the toxins so they could be put elsewhere. Since the Kingston coal ash spill, we now know that those toxins still exist. We are connecting the dots between communities who live near coal ash dumps and their ever increasing health issues.

The $18,000,000 lawsuit for a coal ash worker’s death is a major step in helping us to understand that coal is not a simple rock that burns. I believe that anyone who has taken a small chunk of coal and lit it on fire, then watched the black smoke pouring off it, must know that something bad is happening. Once coal is rapidly oxidized (set on fire), its chemical makeup is forever changed and the toxins it once held in a benign state are released for future generations to have to deal with. People must know that anytime we “clean” coal, we are only finding new places to the put the waste from it, be it coal slurry impoundments in Appalachia, or coal ash  impoundments near power plants.

These are things I did not consider when I watched as thousands upon thousands of tons of coal was hauled from my Appalachian mountain home. These are not ideas that crossed my mind when I ran a shuttle car in the mines hauling it to the feeder 10 tons at a time. I wanted to think it was just a black rock. Today, I realize the full extent of coal’s legacy on our children.


Thirteen men sat in the best barricade they could build, enduring…hoping. They had used their single hour of oxygen from the only Self Contained Self Rescuer issued to them by the company. Their families waited outside living through one of the most difficult times of their lives, praying to see their loved ones once again.

As time wore on, we would learn the ultimate fate of those men, those husbands, those fathers, those grandfathers, brothers, uncles, nephews. One was alive, barely holding on…the others had perished in the thick poisoned air of the mine.

The miners of Sago were like so many of us. They took one of the few jobs available to them, jobs that would allow them to live in the places they had long called home, jobs that would pay enough to support their families.

If only the company had given them more than one SCSR—if only there had been a law—but we know how much power money holds over the hearts of men.

It would be the suffering and tragic loss of life of those 12 brave souls—the pain of constant loss felt by their families—that would finally see to it that every coal miner in the United States would never face the same crisis. Millions of Americans became outraged at the events that played out on their televisions, and the ensuing public outcry would accomplish a feat that has seldom been accomplished in the history of US coal mining—the power of coal industry lobbyists was outweighed by the voice of the public in the halls of government. Laws were passed and now additional SCSRs must be purchased by coal companies, underground safe havens must be built and supply miners with three day of oxygen, food, and water.

Each time my crew passed a safe haven and SCSR stash on our way to the section, I would think of those men, I would think of their final hours. I would pay my respects to them in my own way and wish that the corruption of the coalfields had not taken their lives. I hope that other miners do the same and remember the day the miners of Sago perished and the hearts of their families were forever broken.

Caterpilliar vs. Mining Jobs

Coal Age Magazine – Alpha Coal West Works with Cat to Develop a Better Dipper

The cut line for the above article from Coal Age should read…

“Alpha Coal West Works with Cat to Eliminate More Coal Mining Jobs Through Increased Mechanization”

Tell me again why everyone still believes coal companies are job creators?

At various times through my blogging, I have pointed out that coal companies are legally bound to make a profit for their shareholders. Even staunch conservatives argue “What’s the point of a business that isn’t out to make money?” So why do people’s understanding of the coal business fall short of overhead reduction in the form of job elimination?

Coal miner’s must realize that there is a difference between a “War on Coal” and a “War on Coal Miners.” The companies, who miners believe to be their closest ally, are continuously trying to gain more productivity from their workers while cutting as much overhead as possible. Perhaps it’s time coal miners and their families realized the truth behind coal’s motivations and began fighting for themselves and the future of their children.

I for one would love to see what Appalachians can do on their own without the coal industry telling everyone what they should be doing.

Alpha Natural Resources: Running Right….off of a cliff.

Wall Street Journal

Alpha Natural Resources in Talks to Obtain Bankruptcy Financing

Alpha Natural Resources. Running Right… of a cliff and taking thousands of mining families with them.

The coal industry has not changed and once again, the upper echelons of the coal companies will take their money and run while they leave everyone else to suffer.

What has the coal industry done in the past 5 years to help alleviate the economic devastation their industry has left Appalachia with?

What are their politicians saying, those who received large contributions to their campaign financing like Mitch McConnell and Hal Rogers, Morgan Griffith, and countless local politicians? Are they still busy playing the blame game rather than taking up the reigns of serious economic development (and I for one, do not consider the SOAR conference to be anything more than a publicity stunt)?

Everyone has been a Friend of Coal for over a decade now. How much of a friend will coal be in return.

Slaves to “Freedom”

“My friend Tony Oppegard recently shared  an article with me highlighting one miner’s termination of employment for “insubordination.” The act of “insubordination” came when Harrison an employee for Murray Energy, sent back a voided “safety bonus” check with “KISS MY ASS, BOB” written on the back to signify his protest of a bonus system better designed to silence claims of unsafe work practices and instead increase production. You can read more about it here.

Such muzzling gives me reason to elaborate on a long held belief of mine. We exist within two very different versions of “freedom” in this country.

In order to understand these two “freedoms,” we must first look at freedom, and what better way to establish the first form than to start with a little Appalachian history.

In “Night Comes to the Cumberlands,”Harry M. Caudill gives explanation to the way in which our ancestors came to the mountains. While history classes often teach of the tobacco and cotton that was grown and traded by the colonies, they never seem to detail the unfortunate souls who labored in the fields. We are often told they were African slaves, but the slave trade wasn’t as well established during the early years and laborers were still needed. Thus the British Crown found a way to deal with the problem of poverty the Scots and Irish, and a lack of labor in their newest colonies.

…dumped on a strange shore in the keeping of a few hundred merciless planters [plantation owners]… Many of them died on the plantations under the whips of taskmasters. Some ran away and became pirates whose Jolly Rogers terrorized the oceans. A few, perhaps, rose over the heads and shoulders of their suffering fellows to become planters themselves. Others— and it is these with whom we are concerned— ran away to the interior, to the rolling Piedmont, and thence to the dark foothills on the fringes of the Blue Ridge. These latter were joined by more who came when their bonds [indentured servitude] had expired. And here we have the people— few in number, but steadily gaining recruits, living under cliffs or in rude cabins— who were the first to earn for themselves the title of “Southern mountaineers.” Slowly, in the last quarter of the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth, these backwoodsmen increased in number. Steadily, newcomers pushed in from the coastal regions and the birth rate must have been, as it still is, prodigious. Thus by 1750 or 1775 there was thoroughly established in the fringes of the Southern Appalachian chain the seed stock of the “generations” [*] whose descendants have since spread throughout the entire mountain range, along every winding creek bed and up every hidden valley. The family names found in eastern Kentucky today are heard over the entire region of the Southern mountains. They bespeak a peasant and yeoman ancestry who, for the most part, came from England itself and from Scotland and Ireland…

By the time of the Harrodstown (now Harrodsburg) settlement, much of the pioneer society in this mountainous region had resided in the wilderness for three or four generations. They had already become thoroughly adapted to their environment. They had acquired much of the stoicism of the Indians and inurement to primitive outdoor living had made them almost as wild as the red man and physically nearly as tough. The white backwoodsman had learned, perhaps from the Cherokees, how to build cabins,[*] and had improved the structure by the addition of a crude chimney. His “old woman” could endure hardships and privation as well as the Indian squaw, and was far more fruitful. Having never been exposed to the delights of civilization, she was willing to follow her husband wherever wanderlust and a passion for untrammeled freedom might take him. And the mountaineer needed few implements and skills to live by kingly standards (to him) anywhere in the Appalachians, or in the rolling meadowlands beyond. He had learned to clear the narrow bottoms for the cultivation of Indian corn, squash, potatoes, beans and tobacco, and from the sale of skins and other forest products he had acquired an ax and the Pennsylvania “Dutch” rifle and lead and powder. Salt could be obtained at natural licks, and all other things essential to his well-being could be acquired in the forest.”

Aside from Caudill’s somewhat racial remarks regarding Native Americans and dim depiction of the intelligence of the Appalachian pioneer women, his telling of the way in which Appalachian mountaineers came to be is perhaps one of the most accurate.

The key point here, and what brings us back to the purpose of this article, is the idea of “freedom.”

Our early mountain ancestors were freedom seekers. They came to the mountains in search of freedom, found it, and held fast to it. They adopted a simple way of life free from the wants of materialism. They became a loose knit culture of free land-based people, very similar to the First Nations with whom they co-existed with for a short span of time–at least until more settlers invaded the mountains and began taking land for themselves thus damaging those relations.

For nearly 200 years, mountaineers lived in relative freedom until industrialists sent in land speculators and railroads, laying the way for the timber and coal industries to take the resources and enslave the once free people of the mountains as their generational workforce.

Naturally, to make someone a slave, you must make them dependent upon you for life. Unlike the African slaves brought to North America and placed into the bondage of fear and necessity, Appalachians were white and did not have to fear an oppression from the color of their skin, nor did they have any fear of being starved after having lived for generations in the mountains and knowing  the land. Like the First Nations, they could not be easily turned into slaves–they had to much spirit, to much honor, and a deep love for the freedom they had established for themselves.

Industry would find it’s way to subdue us however.

Outside investors began by destroying the forests (think killing the bison) and then acculturating our people to a life of economic want and need (think company stores vs. farms and forests). We did not go quietly. Unions were formed and we fought against the machine guns of company mercenaries and corrupt law enforcement. For decades we kept a voice, kept some of our freedom and pride, but when you are up against such intense oppression from people who have enormous fortunes, plenty of time, and are willing to pull every trick in the book, it’s only a matter of time before our spirit was broken and the unions were busted.

Today we think we have freedom. In an effort to justify our loss of true freedom, we prop up our new version of freedom against despotic regimes, telling ourselves we have more freedom than people in China or those who lived in the former Soviet Union. We tell ourselves that we should  be appreciative of what freedoms we have. Of course, this is a bullshit comparison when thinking of the true freedom our people once enjoyed. Our current “freedom” isn’t freedom at all.

Getting back to the article involving Mr. Harrison’s note to Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray, plainly put, Harrison doesn’t have freedom of speech. None of us do while working for companies whom we are dependent upon for wages to feed ourselves and our families. We do as the company says, act as the company tells us to, and keep our mouths shut to keep our jobs.

We are not allowed to be “insubordinate” even in the face of unsafe working conditions.

I’m sure many people will say, “Well, you have the freedom to quit, the freedom to find another job, the freedom to build your own company, and all the freedoms given to you by the free market”  etc etc etc.

To this I must then point out, “What happens when corporations ask for our resumes and call our references? What happens when you don’t have the money to start your own business and the banks won’t loan to you? What happens when you’re black or hispanic? What happens when big business keeps getting bigger and bigger, forcing out the small people who can’t compete against cheap goods produced halfway around the world by people who are forced into wage slavery that’s even worse than our own? ” I’m sure we would spend hours going back and forth. I would cite the amount of land that has been purchased or outright stolen unscrupulously (in terms of the Native Americans and even the land companies in Appalachia), and I’m sure I would speak to the institutionalized racism, classism, and the tremendous amount of money corrupting our political system. The opposition to my comments would come in the form of telling me that people are just not driven enough, that anyone can do anything they put their minds to and work hard for, people are only as free as they believe they are (of which I think the latter comes closest to finding common ground).
I’m sure many folks have been in the same situation I have been, working the best job they could find and not wanting to jeopardize it for fear of being unable to find another decent job to sustain their families. While we are certainly free to quit our job, to move to a different place to find a different job, or go deeply into debt to start a business, we don’t. Fear keeps us bound to the grind, to being the quiet, tempered employees we need to be to maintain what little comfort we have.

So, do we have true freedom or have we been acculturated into a system of mental and economic slavery played off as freedom? We stand and give the pledge of allegiance in school, we take off our hats and put our hands over our hearts for the star spangled banner, and we honor the many who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, all while we allow ourselves to be silenced in the workplace.

Can we go back to the way it was, living off the forests and what we grew? Can we know what the simple life holds while we are constantly bombarded with advertising and a culture that tells us we are worthless unless we have bigger, nicer, better things?

When looking at our past, I think the answer becomes very clear.

Southern Pride

Note: This is a little off subject for the blog, but I still feel it necessary to speak to.

SCVSticker.240144456_stdWhen I was a teenager, I became caught up in ideals of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. I went to a meeting and hoped desperately that I could find a confederate soldier within my lineage so I could join. I followed the thinking of the SCV, believing that the war wasn’t entirely based on slavery, often repeating that although Abraham Lincoln was an abolitionist, he was still a racist and that the emancipation proclamation was more so a political move than an ethical/moral one.

Always one to support the underdogs and fight for justice, I thought I was doing just that within my wishes to be a part of the SCV and thus aligning myself with the tens of thousands of poor southern farmers who became confederate soldiers and died fighting against the “rich” northerners.

Today, I’m not so ignorant. Though I was hinting at many truths to the war, I was blinded by a false sense of pride in being a “southerner.”

The truth, as I see it, is that it was a war of ideals between the wealthy who then used the poor to fight it. While the confederacy did see many soldiers volunteering to defend their way of life, those poor and unfortunate multitudes did so under a false presumption of politics. They were manipulated by a class of people who understood the values of the lower classes just enough to tap into their sense of pride and heritage. They played upon the lack of education given to those masses and their inability to think critically and question the status quo. As a result, columns upon columns of men were formed, all willing to die in battle to defend their “way of life.” In truth, however, those confederate leaders were working to protect their lucrative profit margins being achieved through slave labor.

While I do paint a rather sinister picture of the confederate leadership, the US government of the time was not much better. The primary source of recruits for the US Military were the poor and desperate who often faced starvation due to an economy dominated by the wealthy. One third of the union army consisted of the foreign born immigrants, many of whom neared starvation as they fled the oppression of wealthier ruling classes in their home countries. Volunteerism for the Union Army came in large part due to the risk of starvation faced by many migrant families coupled with the propaganda of fighting a moral and ethical battle to rid the country of slavery. We must also realize that a portion of the Union Army was made up of draftees in which conscious decisions were made by the US Government to draft the poorest people in the poorest communities, a decision that ultimately lead to several uprisings including the New York Draft Riots.

The Civil War was about slavery, but not in the sense of good vs. evil, moral and immoral. Though it is true that the root cause for the war came from the abolitionist movement, which,in many cases was drawn along the lines of morality, I do not believe political support for abolition was the result of congressmen whose hearts led them to fight for social, ethical, and racial justice. I must believe that abolition was cause adopted by northern politicians to protect their economic interests against competition from areas in the nation with access to a fully exploitable workforce. Northern companies simply could not out-compete free labor even with their own wage slaves laboring away in factories and mills.

Abolition as regarded in moral and ethical terms, was more so a propaganda machine meant to provide a “moral high ground” to both dehumanize southerners and fund a war that would leave hundreds of thousands dead on the battlefields. The proof of this theory comes in the way African Americans soldiers were treated by the US Army during the Civil War, and the way they would continue to be detested and deterred from social mobility through institutionalized racism following the war. One could also include the lack of federal intervention during the Jim Crow era when tens of thousands of African Americans were lynched and mutilated, sometimes as public events.

Many tactics used in the Civil War by economic and political forces are still being used to manipulate the minds of the people in the United States today, especially in the south where there still exists a stronger sense of pride in rural living than other places. Education systems in the south are still underfunded and very few teach critical thinking in ways that break through the cultural norms of the region.

A divide is created between those who are “book smart” (northerners) and those having “common sense” (southerners) and it is not uncommon for southerners to create enemies out of people who have gone on to achieve a higher education. In many cases this helps them fill the voids of failure felt when they were unable to attend college in a culture that still judges achievement and success by academic standards–a culture that still portrays southerners in the media as  being “stupid” or “backwards.” A defense mechanism is then set up that creates distrust for those with a higher education.

Having “common sense” becomes a means of self-worth which then leads many to believe they are right without the need to research facts. This is often taken further to ignore and refute the scientific facts provided by others who are seen as being “to smart for their own good.” When coupled with the  constant streams of misinformation from corporate media and their renditions of popular southern culture, many people become misguided and led into false political battles that continue to harm themselves and their families.

It is a system of deceit played out through political speeches, the defense of symbolic relics,  through corporate public relations campaigns, and even through channels of popular culture such as country music.

When reflecting on the Civil War, we should mourn the hundreds of thousands of lives lost upon battlefields and within the homesteads throughout our nation during this dark time in our history. We should see both flags, Union and Confederate, as banners that were used to mislead people into fighting for hollow versions of justice and freedom. We need only look underneath the surface to see this truth, and the deeper we look the more injustice we will find. Lest I remind people of both sides of this debate that our “great” nation committed mass genocide against the Native Americans who inhabited this land well before the Civil War, and who we continued to murder in cold blood for decades following the Civil War. Even today we continue efforts to destroy their culture and exploit their lands.

When it comes to the pride in the confederate flag, we are seeing once again a people who are standing behind a symbol as a means of resistance to a perceived threat against their pride, heritage, and identity without taking time to understand those who created it as a symbol of the CSA. The states rights that were being fought for, were the right to maintain slavery by southern aristocrats, by the 25% of slave holders who had the wealth and education to start a war. The other 75% living in the southern states were often merely surviving through subsistence farming and had no time nor educational means to take sides.

Make no mistake about it, the people who adopted and raised the confederate flag were the same wealthy southern plantation owners and businessmen who oppressed the humble and generous southern farmers, competed with them using slave labor, and kept them in their low economic and educational standing. The people who created a country independent of the US beneath their symbol of the stars and bars, would start a war to protect the status quo they’d created, and would mislead our southern ancestors into believing there was a threat against their families, and upon horses, behind the masses of poorly outfited farmers, they’d wave their brilliant swords and command in their proud uniforms, to march them into certain death. Southerners should feel just as much hatred towards the confederate flag and the rich aristocrats who continue its tradition.