Martin cites the failure of the Employee Free Choice Act to pass in Congress (which was aimed at removing barriers to unionization), the closure of the last union coal mine in Kentucky in 2015, the loss of retirement benefits for former miners, and the surge in black lung disease as evidence of unions’ fading power. This Kentucky coal town is fighting for survival long after the war on coal is over Published Sat, Mar 31 2018 2:29 PM EDT Updated Wed, Apr 4 2018 3:12 PM EDT Bob Woods Soup kitchens were attacked, miners were beaten up in their homes, and surveillance of NMU sympathizers was intense. 25 Photos of Kentucky Coal Camps During the 1930s and 1940s. The Search for Aboriginal History Off the Coast of Australia, The Truth Behind Tampa's Buccaneer History, Meet Joseph Rainey, the First Black Congressman, The State of American Craft Has Never Been Stronger. According to one version of the story, the Baldwin-Felts agents tried to arrest Hatfield when he attempted to prevent the evictions from taking place. “Alison Grimes has two new middle names: Harry Reid — and everyone in Kentucky is going to know it.”Â, Kentucky Coal Leader Doubts Alison Lundergan Grimes Could Be Stronger Advocate Than Mitch McConnell (WFPL), “That is appreciated,” says Bissett. Whether the men also came in anticipation of taking action against the Baldwin-Felts agents is a matter of debate. President Tyler White wrote an opinion article in August of 2019 supporting McConnell, saying he has defended coal communities in Kentucky. Many of these former coal towns have long since disappeared, while a few have simply changed over time. “I might just say we have a genuine emergency in Kentucky, a depression in Eastern Kentucky, as a result of what this administration has done and is about to further do this very week directed at the jobs and livelihood of my constituents,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. For Bailey, it’s easy to see this story in terms of good and evil—and that ignores the nuance of the story. HARLAN COUNTy, KY - When Dan Mosley became head of Kentucky's Harlan County government this year, he promised - like those elected before him - to defend the state's beleaguered coal industry. Kentucky’s coal miners have endured much hardship throughout the history of mining life in the Bluegrass State. It seems like we’re starting to turn the clock back.”, Lorraine Boissoneault is a contributing writer to SmithsonianMag.com covering history and archaeology. As Kentucky’s WFPL reported earlier this year, coal production in Kentucky is already at the lowest levels in the past half century even before these new regulations. As the rich mine owners got richer, union-organized strikes became a way for miners to protect their salaries. She has previously written for The Atlantic, Salon, Nautilus and others. Terms of Use all but one were acquitted of treason charges, The True History Behind Netflix's 'The Dig' and Sutton Hoo, Amateur Treasure Hunter Unearths Missing Centerpiece of Henry VIII's Crown, Archaeologists Unearth 600-Year-Old Golden Eagle Sculpture at Aztec Temple, Forgotten 20th-Century Photography Studio Found in New York Attic, Newly Unearthed I.D. The War on Coal Puts Democrats on Defense (U.S. News). When the mayor defended Hatfield from the arrest, he was shot, and more bullets began to fly. Frank Wolak. A coal industry leader had already raised doubts about Grimes being a more effective voice for Kentucky coal operators and miners than McConnell. The battle only stopped when federal troops arrived on the order of President Warren Harding. Brian Yu. Smithsonian Institution, Skiing Through the Snow Ghosts on Revelstoke Mountain. “But when you consider we’re hearing a lot of rumors about upcoming fundraisers with Sen. Harry Reid, there is a real question of what that relationship is going to be with someone who has carried out all of the president’s marching order against coal in the Senate. “That was the beginning of a decline in union power in this country”—one that’s still ongoing. 2001: Natural gas prices increase over 50% in one year. The Obama administration and Harry Reid have declared a ‘war on coal’ in Kentucky, putting national Democrats on defense and Alison Lundergan Grimes in a tough, ‘awkward’ spot. Below are this morning’s top headlines on the issue. For miners, the system resembled something like feudalism. 1942: Republic Steel Company's first production - Road Creek, Kentucky. The coal miners, lean and tough from Kentucky mountain life, knew how to fight back. April 22nd, 2015. When the state militia swooped in several days later, they seized 1,872 high-powered rifles, 556 pistols, 225,000 rounds of ammunition, and large numbers of daggers, bayonets and brass knuckles from both groups. Although World War I briefly distracted union organizers and coal companies from their feud, the fighting soon picked back up again. Then, as now, West Virginia was coal country. Republicans in Kentucky are committed to putting Kentucky back on the right track by advocating common sense, conservative principles and working to elect Republicans at every level of government. Kentucky coal mining evolved following the discovery of coal in Virginia in 1701 by Thomas Walker, a physician. It also did the brunt of the work suppressing unionization in coal mining towns—and today, the Baldwin-Felts men were there to kick out men who had joined the UMWA. No one knows who fired the first shot but when it was over four were dead—three deputies and one miner– with several more wounded. Coal isn't going down without a fight, as Martin clearly demonstrates in his travels around coal-producing states and nations, but the writing may be on the wall. And even today, that battle rages on—perhaps not with bullets, but with eroding regulations and workers’ rights. Coal has been one of McConnell’s strengths during his time in the Senate. Here a group of miners face soldiers in Harlan County in 1939. There have not been union mines in Eastern Kentucky for decades, but the speeches allude to the old labor wars in Harlan County. Bald Eagle trying to catch a Duck on Cumberland Lake (Pulaski County Kentucky) Grimes’ effort to speak out this week actually achieved the exact opposite goal – Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett quickly and publicly credited her opponent, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, for being the industry’s chief supporter on Capitol Hill. His nomination is yet another threat to American energy and jobs and I will work to defeat it.” McConnell’s statement is the latest blow to President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the commission. The coal industry was essentially the state’s sole source of work, and massive corporations built homes, general stores, schools, churches and recreational facilities in the remote towns near the mines. Russian coal is not an option for coking coal, so this only leaves Canada and the US - neither are currently on better terms with China than Australia. McConnell Fires Up Case Against EPA Coal Rules (Wall Street Journal). David Bullock $ 24.95. The entire event was covered rabidly by the national press, says Chatham University historian Louis Martin, who is also a founding member of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. Senior Director, Beyond Coal Campaign, Sierra Club. 4 likes. Author, Coal Wars: The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet. Conflicting labor alliances turn coal miners and their families against each other—a heated, violent battle that unleashes enduring bitterness. “The Baldwin-Felts agents were professional men. Tags Tell the Stories of Four Young Holocaust Victims, Large New Whale Species Identified in the Gulf of Mexico, Archaeologists in Egypt Discover Mummy With Gold Tongue, In the 1980s, a Far-Left, Female-Led Domestic Terrorism Group Bombed the U.S. Capitol, A New Explanation for the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Coal operators, merchants, the editor of the Pineville Sun, Herndon Evans, and local police forces worked in different ways to disrupt the flow of aid to the miners and their families and depicted the strikers as anti-American. kentucky.com - Bill Estep. “The things our forefathers stood for are now being taken away from us. Support the Republican Party of Kentucky as we lay the foundation for victory! Coal operators paid private detectives as well as public law enforcement agents to ensure that union organizers were kept out of the region. Advertising Notice Their opponents were fighting for a fair and living wage, an appropriate share of the benefits of their labor.”. As labor historian Hoyt N. Wheeler writes, “Firing men for union activities, beating and arresting union organizers, increasing wages to stall the union’s organizational drive, and a systematic campaign of terror produced an atmosphere in which violence was inevitable.” The mine guards of Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency repeatedly shut down miners’ attempts at unionization with everything from drive-by assaults of striking miners to forcing men, women and children out of their homes. Bruce Nilles. The union era's death knell sounded in Kentucky on Dec. 31, 2014, when Patriot Coal announced the closing of its Highland Mine. For Bailey, the latter seems the more likely scenario because the agents would have known they were outnumbered—and if union miners and Hatfield did initiate the violence, the story of Matewan is darker than a simple underdog tale. Most of th… “Binz has a proven track record of hostility toward coal and other traditional fossil fuels,” McConnell, from the coal-producing state of Kentucky, said in a statement. Kentucky is home to Pike County, which is the largest supplier of coal in the U.S. “The first part of the bill would prevent the EPA from regulating carbon on new and existing coal plants. HARLAN, Ky. — Kentucky coal miners bled and died to unionize. Richard Martin. In general, bituminous coal, which is the most plentiful type mined in Kentucky and in the U.S., fetches around $50 per ton, according to Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman John Mura. That same day, the town of Matewan was teeming with a number of unemployed miners who came to receive a few dollars, sacks of flour and other foodstuffs from the union to prevent their families from starving. A coal industry leader had already raised doubts about Grimes being a more effective voice for Kentucky coal operators and miners than McConnell. But Reid’s maneuvering raises further questions about whether Grimes can stand up to the Democratic leader while relying on him politically to unseat McConnell. She is also the author of The Last Voyageurs: Retracing La Salle's Journey Across America. Coal mines were operating in Southern Appalachia run by small operators before the Civil War, but following the war coal barons from outside the region moved in and independent operations consolidated. Auger surface mining introduced. “Your Clean Water Act, your Clean Air Act … People have been led to believe that coal is bad.” And utilities are responding to the impending regulations. The Loyal Land Company formed around 1750 and Dr. Walker went to Kentucky in search of coal, which he found and used it to heat his camp fire. In one successful protest, 400,000 UMWA went on strike nationwide in 1919, securing higher wages and better working conditions. For a deeper look into Kentucky coal data, take a look at Kentucky Coal Facts. Kentucky Coal Miners Striking To Demand Missing Wages End Their Protest In Pike County, Ky., coal miners blocked a railroad track, demanding to be paid wages they said they were owed. “It set the stereotype that they were used to feuding and they were people who don’t care about anything but a gun and a bottle of liquor,” says Steele. Locals had a reputation for being violent and unreasonable. They lived in conditions that even a slum lord would frown at, and did the best they could. . California Do Not Sell My Info However, we were also home to many other coal companies all across the state. Director, Program on Energy and Sustainable Development, Stanford . In response to the assassination, an army of miners 10,000 strong began a full-on assault against the coal company and the mine guards. Steve Demoss, who was …. Though at first the federal government acted as a third-party broker, protecting union rights with bargaining regulations initiated by Franklin Roosevelt, workers’ rights were eventually curtailed by more powerful actors. The Coal Creek War took place on the eastern fringe of the Cumberland Mountains, where the range gives way to the Tennessee Valley. For capitalists, it was a battle for profit—and against what they saw as Bolshevik communism. The gunfight in downtown Matewan on May 19, 1920, had all the elements of a high-noon showdown: on one side, the heroes, a pro-union sheriff and mayor; on the other, the dastardly henchmen of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. Although all but one were acquitted of treason charges, others were found guilty of murder and spent years in prison. . Did Richard III Kill the Princes in the Tower? This fight between collectivism and individualism, the rights of the worker and the rights of the owner, have been part of America since the country’s founding, Bailey says. For a more interactive experience, please visit the Kentucky Quarterly Coal Dashboard. The second would force the EPA to stop stalling on mining permits.” Reid objected to McConnell’s motion and the Senate moved to other business. “When President Obama declared war on coal, Sen. McConnell stood strong defending our communities,” White wrote. Three months later, the conflict in the West Virginia coal town had escalated to the point where martial law was declared and federal troops had to intervene. They believed they were fighting the onslaught of Communism. 02/23/2010 11:28 AM EST. 1940: World War II - coal production in Kentucky rises to 72.4 million tons for the war effort. World War I brought a coal boom to Kentucky, bringing European immigrants and African-Americans to join the Appalachian farmers turned miners. Workers in this area, as with many coal towns, have fought for rights over decades. The Harlan County War, or Bloody Harlan, was a series of coal mining-related skirmishes, executions, bombings, and strikes (both attempted and realized) that took place in Harlan County, Kentucky, during the 1930s. Website: http://www.lboissoneault.com/, Continue Beginning in 1870–1880, coal operators had established the company town system. Foreman was supposed to keep Kentucky coal miners safe. Federal synthetic fuel tax credit for use of coal fines begins. Appalachian Coal Wars. He broke rules instead. Cookie Policy He is pushing the Saving Coal Jobs Act, which would rescind the EPA’s ability to regulate power-plant emissions and streamline coal-mine permitting. “And the announcement by the EPA is another back door attempt by President Obama to fulfill his long-term commitment to shut down our nation’s coal mines.”, DYCHE OPINION | Mitch McConnell & Grimes: Contrast On Coal (WDRB), “It is amusing to watch Grimes try to portray herself as a friend of coal while cozying up to its worst enemies.  This issue will have big impact on the Senate race because the Kentucky coal industry is facing some of its toughest times ever from the combined effect of Obama’s war on coal and the natural gas boom.”, Senate hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes bashed in Kentucky over links to Sen. Harry Reid (Washington Times), “Grimes is trying to fool Kentuckians — serving up platitudes on Obamacare and coal while getting ready to raise cash in Las Vegas with Harry Reid, the chief defender of Obamacare and the War on Coal,” said Riggs Lewis, board member of Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. Coal Creek, a tributary of the Clinch River, flows north for several miles from its source in the mountains, slicing a narrow valley between the backbone-like Walden Ridge on the east and Vowell Mountain to the west before exiting the mountains eastward through a water gap in Walden Ridge. Each one had their own store, settlement and set up for miners. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, another coal-rich state, on Wednesday said he would not vote for Binz. This obviously didn’t lead to widespread public support for the miners in their struggles.”. Employment in the U.S. coal industry is the lowest in decades. The showdown may sound almost cinematic, but the reality of the coal miners’ armed standoffs throughout the early 20th century was much darker and more complicated. But for Terry Steele, a former coal miner in West Virginia and member of the local UMWA, revolting was the only way to respond to abuse. Reid kills vote to stop ‘war on coal’ (Daily Caller), “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has killed an effort by his Republican counterpart Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass a bill that would prevent the Obama administration from issuing regulations that burden the coal industry. McConnell asked for unanimous consent to pass the “Saving Coal Jobs Act,” but was blocked by Reid who objected.”, Grimes, McConnell spar on coal issues (CNHI), The association with Reid doesn’t escape notice in the coal fields, said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association. David Goldman, Associated Press For workers, it was a fight for their rights as humans. “It’s just the latest administration salvo in its never ending war on coal–a war against the very people who provide power and energy for our country,” Sen. McConnell said. On the stairway of the courthouse in August 1921, Hatfield and his deputy, Ed Chambers, were gunned down by Baldwin-Felts agents. When the conflict concluded, hundreds of miners were indicted for murder, and more than a dozen were charged with treason. Although police chief Hatfield was celebrated as a hero by the mining community after the shootout, and even starred in a movie for the UMWA, he was a villain to T. L. Felts, a Baldwin-Felts partner who lost two brothers to the massacre. Either way, the visiting miners had the rare support of pro-union Matewan police chief, Sid Hatfield, and the town’s mayor, Cabell Testerman. “Unions were anathema to them simply because human labor was one of the few cost items that could be manipulated and lowered.”. The question at hand: the rights of Harlan County coal miners to organize their workplaces and better their wages and working conditions. The coal miners of Harlan County Kentucky want to unionise and their employers are not happy about it. But Reid’s maneuvering raises further questions about whether Grimes can stand up to the Democratic leader while relying on him politically to … “I call it elevation through denigration,” she says, noting that the union benefited from the moral high ground as victims regardless of whether they instigated the violence. NOT AUTHORIZED BY ANY CANDIDATE OR CANDIDATE COMMITTEE. The incidents involved coal miners and union organizers on one side, and coal firms and law enforcement officials on the other. The Coal Mining Massacre America Forgot The mountains of southern West Virginia are riddled with coal—and bullets Child coal miners with mules in Gary, West Virginia … Keep up-to-date on: © 2021 Smithsonian Magazine. Coal Wars tells the fateful story. If you got a man killed, he could be replaced.”, What made the situation worse, according to Wilma Steele, a founding member of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, was the contempt outsiders had for miners in the region. On May 19, Baldwin-Felts agents arrived in Matewan to evict miners and their families from Stone Mountain Coal Company housing. But while wages generally increased for miners throughout the period, they tended to rise more slowly in non-union areas, and the union itself struggled throughout the 1920s. Coal wars in Kentucky, cont'd. 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