Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wanna get your liberal juices flowing? Watch this movie

by Rich Miles

Back in 1976, a lady named Barbara Kopple released a documentary she had made called "Harlan County U.S.A.". It's the story of the struggle of the coal miners against the coal mine operators in, you guessed it, Harlan County KY, and the wonder of this film is how little has changed in the nearly 35 years since the film was made. There are still coal towns today - the only difference is that the miners and their families live in crappy worn-out trailers instead of crappy worn-out shanty shacks. The pay was not much over minimum wage back then - $2 an hour or so - and the pay is not much over minimum wage today - $7.50 or $8.00 an hour to start. And of course, the union leaders are still in the pockets of the operators, no matter what they say to try to get re-elected.

The miners inhale coal dust enough to kill themselves, and smoke like chimneys as well, as they are encouraged to do by advertising and the local store. And altogether, the miners and their families live in miserable abject poverty today, just like back then. And the operators make millions on the backs of those miners, and still resist safety reforms, and pay increases, and so on. The union is somewhat stronger today, but still not what you'd call strong - the cost of a strike to the owners is still just a cost of doing business, and they know they can outwait the miners, who need their piddling salaries far worse than the operators need to sell another carload to another utility company.

And if you can listen to all the songs in this film, most especially "Which side are you on?", and "Black Lung, Black Lung", and "Death, O Death", and not both cry for the poor men digging their own graves in the mines, and get furiously angry at the operators, then I don't know what to tell you about your humanity.

The film is currently playing on IFC, Dish Network Channel 131 and others, and if you're a liberal you need to see it. Even if you've seen it before, you need to see it again. Because it will make your heart beat for freedom and the working man, and unions of all stripes and types. And we need the help today.

And while you're at it, try seeing "O Brother Where Art Thou?". It'll very likely tap the same nerves, but with somewhat less direct purpose. But it's very entertaining nonetheless.

2 comments:

Cletis L. Stump said...

Rich, I don't believe there is a union mine left in the state.

Rich Miles said...

Is that true, Cletis? I was informed otherwise, and damn me for taking someone's word for something. But is that so? No union mines left in the entire state?

Rich Miles