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Why We Celebrate Labor Day

Jim Burroway

September 5th, 2011

I know this isn’t an LGBT-related topic, but is one that has a direct bearing on how we regard each other as Americans and as human beings. Seven years ago, I had a much more personal blog where I posted stuff that a lot of people posted about before there was such a thing as Facebook and Twitter and the incredible shrinking of the American Attention Span. Since today is Labor Day, and because I’ve already alluded to my Appalachian background today, here’s a story that I’ll bet you’ve never heard before, and one that I think should be required learning in every American History class.

The West Virginia Mine Wars
Originally written September 3, 2004

The United States was at war in August, 1921. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. I learned about it some five years ago, and I think it is one of the more fascinating chapters in American history. In today’s election year, political discourse has broken down to an acrimonious level that I haven’t seen in my lifetime. But as bad as it is today, things really have been worse. This story has some very cautionary lessons for today.

The war in question was known as the West Virginia Mine War. Actually, there had been two wars. The first one took place in 1913, but the most dramatic confrontation was in 1921 at the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Today’s conflicts in the Middle East are illuminated against the backdrop of oil. But at the turn of the twentieth century before the dawn of the automobile age, coal was the principal fuel in the United States and the rest of the industrialized world. It ran the factories, steamships and railroads, and it heated the schools, churches and homes. The country’s appetite for coal was insatiable, and we were consuming it as fast as it could be brought out of the ground. Poor white workers and immigrants were brought to West Virginia on the promise of plentiful jobs. And indeed jobs were plentiful, but the conditions in the coal fields made the coal miners virtual slaves.

Miners' company houses, Chaplin, West Virginia (Library of Congress American Memory Project)

A miner who moved his family to West Virginia would have put his family in a company-owned home, paying rent to the company up front. Since the miner didn’t have any money, the company would extend credit so his family could have a roof over their heads. Then he and his family would be given credit at the company store for food and other necessities. When the miner showed up at work, he found that he had to lease his tools and equipment from the company, but again the company would extend credit. From the very first day on the job, the miner was deeply in debt to the company.

The miner would be paid not by the hour, but by the ton of coal he extracted from the mine. His coal car ostensibly held 2,000 pounds of coal, but more commonly held 2,500 pounds. While the miner was supposed to be paid by the ton, he found that he was simply paid by the car load. Furthermore, in a practice known as “cribbing,” his pay would be docked for any slate or rock that the checkweighman found in the car, which was an arbitrary judgment call, subject to the checkweighman’s whims. Cheating was rampant.

Interior of a miner's company-owned house, Scott's Run, West Virginia (Library of Congress American Memory Project)

When payday finally arrived at the end of the month (miners were typically paid monthly), the miner would discover that he was not paid in cash. Instead he was paid in company “scrip” which was accepted only in company-owned stores and other establishments at greatly inflated prices. But that didn’t matter much, because his debts were deducted from his pay, and that nearly always wiped out anything he might have had coming to him.

Unfortunately, the net effect of all of this was that the miner simply went deeper and deeper in debt to the company. And as long as he was in debt, he was legally bonded to the company. There literally was no escape for him.

The doctor was a company employee. So were the school teachers and preachers at the church – which was also company owned. This ensured that even the sermons they heard on Sunday towed the company line.

All of this was perfectly legal. The coal companies had already instituted a weakened state constitution in the 1870’s under which they were able to control the political climate of West Virginia. This allowed them to avoid paying taxes while enjoying tremendous legal advantages in acquiring and exploiting mineral rights.

Miners lifting coal car onto the tracks, miners' company houses in the background, Chaplin, West Virginia (Library of Congress American Memory Project)

The problems the miners faced weren’t just about money. Coal mines were notoriously dangerous. The coal operators refused to invest in even the simplest or cheapest safety equipment because, after all, it was cheaper to just hire another miner than to protect the lives of those who were already there. During the years of the First World War, miners were killed at a greater rate in the mines than American soldiers were on the battlefields of France.

These conditions weren’t limited to miners, but they had it the worst. Many industries paid in scrip and operated company stores and housing. Steelworkers routinely suffered horrible burns because the mills refused to provide simple protective clothing that was available at the time. The death toll was staggering. Railroad workers routinely had missing fingers and hands due to accidents in the rail yards – if they were lucky. Even autoworkers suffered long hours of repetitive motion and, in the case of Ford workers, intrusive company spying in their homes to make sure nobody drank off-hours. Industries throughout the country sought not only cheap, plentiful and compliant labor, but they often sought to exercise control over their employees’ private lives as well.

When miners tried to improve their conditions by joining a union, their families were evicted from their company homes. They were also subject to summary justice by private guards, most of whom were agents of the Baldwin-Feltz Detective Agency. These guards were hired by the coal operators to serve as the de-facto police force, but they often operated like modern-day paramilitary forces that we hear about so often in Latin America. But this wasn’t Columbia or Guatemala. This was in the United States.

The miners couldn’t turn to the local police for protection because they were often under the coal operator’s control as well. For example, the Logan Coal Operators Association paid Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin to beat, arrest, and otherwise harass anyone suspected of attending labor meetings.

□■□■□

“There is never peace in West Virginia because there is never justice. Injunctions and guns, like morphia, produce a temporary quiet. Then the pain, agonizing and more severe, comes again.”

— Mother Jones.

Mary Harris Jones was a staunch champion of miners and industrial workers. She started her campaign for workers rights by rallying against the widespread practice of child labor. Later, she became a key figure in union organizing activities, especially in the early days of the United Mine Worker’s Union. She was well into her seventies when she started working to organize the miners in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Her feisty temperament shamed the tough men of the mines into standing up for their rights and their families. This little old Irish widow with a fiery temper became known throughout the labor movement as “Mother Jones”.

She cajoled presidents and captains of industry. She was thrown into jails and vilified by the public press for advancing the cause of coal miners and other workers. And she didn’t hesitate to admonish the union leadership whenever petty squabbles threatened to throw everything into chaos. She was a powerful voice that could not be ignored or silenced. Industrialist and politicians called her “the most dangerous woman in America.”

She was a fearless firebrand who was able to rally the coarse mountain men and give voice to their cause to the outside world. It was puzzling to many that this very old woman could be such an inspiration to these tough men. Women weren’t looked to as leaders in the rough Appalachian mining culture, but they adopted her as “the miner’s angel” nevertheless. She organized relief efforts when the miner’s families were thrown out of their homes and into makeshift camps, and she challenged the miners’ very sense of manhood to go out and fight for their families.

Mother Jones was involved in union activities during the Paint Creek and Cabin Creek strikes in 1920. These strikes lead to further union organizing efforts in Mingo County, which finally reached the small town of Matewan.

On May 19th, Matewan agents of the Baldwin-Feltz agency began evicting hundreds of families of miners who had joined the union. When the mayor and police chief intervened, the company guards tried to arrest the police chief on a bogus warrant. (This goes to show how brazen the private guards were.) Mayor C.C. Testerman stepped in to prevent the illegal arrest but the company guards shot and killed him. More gunfire broke out, and when it was over ten were dead and four were injured.

Police Chief Sid Hatfield was the hero of the day, but the “Matewan Massacre” sparked a low-level guerrilla war through the remainder of 1920 and into 1921, in which over one hundred striking miners were killed. On August 1, 1921, Sid Hatfield and his best friend Ed Chambers were assassinated on the steps of the Welch courthouse by Baldwin-Feltz detectives. They were killed in front of their wives in broad daylight.

All hell broke loose. On August 7, several thousand miners gathered on the lawn of the state capital in Charleston where union leaders called for a march on Logan. They assembled at Lens Creek, just inside the Logan County line on August 20th. Mother Jones, fearing a devastating setback if the miners were defeated in their attempt to take over Logan, tried to convince the miners to turn back, but they refused to follower her advice. Instead, they moved on to Sharples on August 27th after the state police killed two miners in raid there.

The miners organized themselves along military lines – many had served in WWI just a few years earlier. They adopted the red neckerchief as their uniform. Many people today believe that the term “redneck” came from the red neckerchiefs worn by those miners. They advanced by foot, automobile and commandeered trains to the town of Blair at the foot of Blair Mountain, which overlooks the region’s principal town of Logan, home of the hated Sheriff Don Chafin.

Three counties were in open rebellion. The governor placed the state under martial law. On September 1st President Harding called out the U.S Army Air Corps with orders to bomb U.S citizens for the only time in America’s history. The Secretary of War even authorized Brigadier General Billy Mitchell (who later became the father of the U.S. Air Force) to use chemical weapons against the miners. Fortunately, the canvas and birch biplanes were too primitive to carry out the job and no chemical weapons were ever deployed.

Sheriff Don Chafin raised an army of 1200 men to man the barricades along the crest of Blair Mountain. National Guard Colonel William Eubank brought in a few planes to try to bomb the miners. A few bombs were dropped, but no major damage was done.

When federal troops finally arrived from Ft. Thomas, Kentucky on September 3rd, most of the miners decided that it was foolhardy to fight against the much-better equipped army. Confronted with such overwhelming force, they hid their guns in the mountains, removed their neckerchiefs, and went home. By the next day, the Battle of Blair Mountain was over, with at least twelve miners and four of Sheriff Don Chafin’s men dead.

Several hundred miners were tried for treason, murder and other crimes. The miners’ crushing defeat set union activities back in southern West Virginia for the next twelve years, although it did succeed in prompting numerous federal inquiries and nationwide awareness of the conditions in the coal fields. But little changed for the miners until the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when New Deal legislation in 1933 finally outlawed many of the practices of the coal operators and guaranteed the rights of workers to organize.

□■□■□

These miners fought hard for the simplest of things: the right to shop wherever they wanted, the right to be paid in cash instead of worthless scrip, the abolition of cribbing, the right to attend a church that was not run by the company, and the right to be furnished – free of charge – their tools and safety equipment. These miners fought for a respectable wage, decent and safe working conditions, freedom from arbitrary and capricious workplace rules, and a measure of dignity in their work and freedom in their lives.

It is easy to believe that unions are no longer necessary, but we must remember the conditions that led to their rise. They fought hard for the freedoms we enjoy, and which we often assume can never be taken away. But no one should ever assume our freedoms are assured. It has been my observation that the industries with the “worst” unions are the industries which have richly earned them the most.

I think it is very appropriate that our summer season is bracketed by two holidays which commemorate those who fought for our freedoms. The summer season begins with Memorial Day, in which we honor the soldiers, sailors and airmen and -women who defended our freedom against foreign enemies. The summer season ends with Labor Day, in which we honor the workers who fought and paid their price for freedom as well. These men and women are heroes, every bit as much as those who served in uniform. The symmetry of the two holidays is very fitting.

For more information on the West Virginia Mine Wars, check out this web site by the Friends of Blair Mountain, dedicated to preserving the historically-significant battlefield.

Comments

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Mary in Austin
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

Thank you.
The unions built the middle class in this country.

BlackDog
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

Ya know, in light of all that it aggravates me how little appreciation so many Americans have for the unions that are WHY most Americans have decent wages and working conditions today.

A lot of people in my family are (or were) auto workers (UAW) city employees in Detroit, Marquette and a few other places (AFSCME) and I’ve been a unionized grocery store worker (UFCW) plus, lots of veterans among my family and friends (including myself) so we know how important things like benefits, etc. are and that unions are why we have those. Even my job (as crappy as it can be) has excellent benefits.

Periodically my own workplace (an Indian casino) gets in a rut of treating their workers like shit, and inevitably an attempt at unionizing follows, and the situation improves again.

Because I know the history, and was taught about this sort of stuff from when I was old enough to listen…the Tea Party and the current anti-union, anti-worker, Pro-greedy-super-rich political climate disgusts me.

We as a country are on the edge of losing everything that both the soldiers AND the workers have fought for, and the sick thing is it’s the “America, Fuck Yeah!” Tea Party crowd that wants to push us closer to the edge.

Tony P
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

Interesting post! I know that in the 1920’s companies like GM hired armed thugs to beat down union men.

And I know the history of the textile industry here in my city. If you go to the north end all the houses were company houses back in the day.

John
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

We don’t celebrate Labor Day, anymore. We simply have a day off that is still called Labor Day.

Shannon
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

Repubs told people to hate Unions and instead of thinking for themselves so many people decided to accept the scapegoat.

eojindc
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

This was an awesome post, but I find myself feeling strangely ambivalent about it. First, Labor Day has EVERYTHING to do with LGBT issues. We can still be fired in 28 states for who we are, and that it the quintessence of a labor issue. I would venture to say that there were probably even gay men in the battle at Blair Mountain.

Second, the conditions you described in the coal industry in the early 1900s weren’t virtual slavery. They were identical to sharecropping in the South. I appreciate you posting this story today because it does, in fact, show our common bonds. I’m a Black gay man who is always looking for ways to demonstrate that we are more alike than many in our community want to believe. This column is a way to do that. By drawing parallels between the plight faced by coal miners and the identical morass that tied Black’s in the South to post-Reconstruction cotton fields, it’s possible to show that poor-whites faced very similar injustices. I also know there were places that didn’t allow the Irish, Italians, Polish, or other ethnicities.

Our common foe isn’t each other. It’s big corporations and “political” Christians who’ve been infiltrating Black churches and sewing their seeds of hate for more than a decade. Because their work went unopposed for so long, the damage has taken root, and they’ve moved on nation African nations.

Again, the points being that LGBT people work, and as long as we can be denied employment and fired from our jobs for being who we are, every Labor Day should see us campaigning to pass ENDA. In order to move our agenda, we are going to need allies. There are Black people who over whelmingly support LGBT issues, and a story like this one can reach across communities to build alliances based on what we call “genetic memory” (The hardships faced by our peoples were so great, we know them without have to be explicitly told.) Were more of these stories known, there’s no way we could continue to fight each other for scraps when those sitting at the table have more wealth and opportunity than they could ever possibly use.

Who wants to start a revolution?

Jerry Sloan
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

A brilliant article. I learned where the magazine “Mother Jones” got its name.

More important what happened to the coal mines and other early laborers is a discription of the work force the Christian Dominionist would force on us.

R.J. Rushdoony’s society would encourage “voluntary slavery” In other words people dependent on the company store.

pax58
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

Thanks for the post Jim, Northfork HS class of 76

Mark F.
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

While noting that violence was sometimes used against unions, your union “history” strangly leaves out the numerous instances of violence perpetuated by unions and union members which continues to this day.

http://npri.org/publications/incidental-union-violence

Mark F.
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

Also, the notion that most servicemen died to preserve our “freedom” is mainly bogus, a cliche that is used by the government ruling classes and parroted by the population at large. How did killing people in the European battlefields of World War 1, or in Viet Nam, or most recently Iraq and Afghanistan preserve our “freedom?” Even during World War 2, the Germans and the Japanese had no real ability to invade the United Staes and take away our freedom.

BlackDog
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

Well (not that *I* think this way, but this is the argument I’ve heard) aside from the World Wars, where our involvement really WAS necessary, and possibly Korea where we were the backbone of an international (UN) Coalition force…Vietnam and a lot of the other ‘small wars’ of the 20th Century were “necessary” to preserve American power in the face of Communist aggression. (Thus preserving our “freedom” to dominate the world’s Capitalist system at the time, nevermind that success merely enabled the Chinese in the long run…)

The first Gulf War was necessary too, IMO, and really was aimed at liberating Kuwait (although I still say if they’d finished the job it’d have made THIS century a lot simpler!) From a Conservative perspective, that crushing victory also legitimized American Cold War efforts because we stomped an enemy who used the “Other Side’s” doctrine, equipment and tactics. So from that way of thinking, it ALSO asserted our dominance.

Now the reality of it is, aside from the World Wars (and again, debateably Korea and Gulf War I, where it really was an international effort) where we didn’t really have much of a choice, and especially in the case of the Iraq situation in this century…we’d of been better off to stay the hell OUT.

Vietnam especially was a mistake, and based on wrongheaded thinking, and in the end all those countries fell to the Communists anyway, because just like in Iraq, we collectively had our head up our ass. Hopefully we can fix the damage our neglect (from focusing efforts on Iraq) did to progress in Afghanistan, but who can say at this point.

In effect, you’re wrong…but you’re ALSO right. Violence is often a necessary thing…but that still doesn’t make it RIGHT or legitimize it as a preferred course of action. Sure, the trade unionists engaged in violence at times, and sure, some times America has abused it’s power…but I do not think I’d want to live in a world where some of the enemies that American power destroyed had been allowed to run rampant indefinitely.

Erin
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

Vietnam and Iraq were not mistakes. They were lies. Those who started them knew what was going on. Why do Americans let these people off the hook so easily? Anyway, I support people pushing for fair labor. If unions are corrupt, then there are ways to fix them.

Jim Burroway
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

Mark F… Your link to NPRI as a source for news about union “violence” has all the credibility as a link to Family “Research” Council as proof of gay “violence” against Prop 8 supporters. While some union members have engaged in individual acts of violence, it is not an indictment of an entire movement any more than bad behavior by unruly queers reflects on the entire gay community. You’re lame attempt at false equivalence however is duly noted.

Andrew
September 5th, 2011 | LINK

This is fascinating, and, yes, it’s true how important labor has been in this country — work standards, 40 hour weeks, overtime laws, fair pay, etc. But I’m not sure it belongs here.

I’m frequently concerned with the cross-pollination of causes by those with liberal viewpoints — I frequently see race showing up as an LGBT issue, or labor, or abortion rights. However one thinks about these things, they belong in a partisan forum, not an LGBT forum. This was one of my key complaints about the HRC — that they turned into little more than the “gay-fundraising wing of the Democratic party”. And when I donate to gay causes, or tune in to “gay channels”, I don’t like seeing “gay = Dem” — when I want that viewpoint, I’ll tune into channels that are more broadly liberal (I do love Ms. Maddow, even when she’s strident she makes me giggle, and smart girls are hot).

To do otherwise both alienates LGBT members who don’t share that ideology, and risk branding all gays as liberals.

I have to fight the “gay = liberal” stereotype at work every day. The condescension is all right there on the part of conservative masculine straight “powers-that-be”. In the eyes of a carefully trained public, gay dudes are effeminate, soft, liberal, and “not quite men”. It’s quite entertaining when they find out that I’m often politically conservative, a former NRA member, and an Eagle Scout. It’s kind of fun to watch their brain run the computations and keep coming up with “does not compute”.

I applaud this history lesson, and I respect folks who fought that fight – those conditions were intolerable, and the progress made in the first half of the century by organized labor is both overlooked and undervalued. I would love to read this article on your personal or partisan blog.

In the meantime, I’m going to go into my living room and cry over the takeover of the conservative agenda in this country by bigoted uneducated religious zealots and the demise of Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive conservatism.

:)

Jim Burroway
September 6th, 2011 | LINK

I’m sorry you find an important chapter in American history too “partisan,” and a holiday too “liberal.” Hope your Labor Day was relaxing.

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I do believe that there is a very solid line that runs from how we treat one “segment” of humanity to how we treat other “segments” of humanity. I neither apologize nor back down from that. Truths can be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but that doesn’t mean we should close our eyes and whistle in the dark.

Andrew
September 6th, 2011 | LINK

Jim, please don’t twist my words. You know perfectly well I didn’t say that.

Let’s be logical. In the heated political environment of the day, labor is a major issue. Folks on the left go to great pains to discuss the history of the labor movement — which I believe all should agree was critical in this country — and which I certainly was at pains to point out (guess you skipped that part?)

So, given that labor is a heated issue, one must ask why blog about it here, especially when unrelated articles are fairly far and few between? It’s not a far stretch to argue that, as has been done in other fora, it’s a reminder that the labor movement today remains important, etc., and that’s where things stretch into liberal/conservative case-making. Not the period, or the topic, but the placement of it where it would not otherwise appear. The non-sequitor is what reveals.

I’m not sure what you mean about “truths being uncomfortable or inconvenient” — You make it sound like I am a labor-history-denier — which I can’t possibly imagine you derived from reading my posting. I think this information should be taught in schools. During the period in question, however, not, for example during a study of the holocaust or slavery or the Nixon era.

The piece was excellent, but the inclusion in this site was… tenuous and odd — and the implication is that there’s a vested interest. By the standard you’ve set, I assume we’ll be seeing a lovely piece (and make no mistake, it was an excellent piece) about the contributions of Italian Americans in a month during Columbus Day, including with the breaking of the Patron System (which is linked to Columbus Day as well as immigration, the labor movement, and indentured servitude allowed to persist well into the 19th century), and the importance that had in shaping modern America as well as the 20th century labor movement. Seriously. I have some excellent references if you’re interested (disclaimer: I have a vested interest in Columbus Day).

The argument about how we treat various segments of society is an interesting point, it’s just tangential and over-broad relative to what we see posted here regularly. It doesn’t pass the smell test. It doesn’t have to — or at least didn’t until you got all indignant. If you’re a Conservative with a hard-on for history, or a liberal Dem in love with labor, or whatever, what have you, that’s great — own that. But the argument that it’s “about how we treat each other” sounds like excuse making, and that’s not at all what I’m used to from you.

I’m not asking you to either apologize or back down, although I’m not sure I can say the same of you given the forcefulness of your over-reaction. I’m offering my two cents, and I’m offering another perspective (is that now unwelcome here? would you prefer monolithism? did I sin by not clapping and agreeing with the placement of your piece?).

I don’t think I’m out of bounds when I say that get miffed by the conflation of liberal agenda pieces on gay sites — **generally speaking**. And I noticed you never approached that question, despite the many pointed comments from many offered about the HRC recently. Arbiters of content like yourself have to know that our entire community is shoeboxed based on the content that appears in influential blogs like this one. And in that context, I don’t think it’s too much to merely offer a comment — a p.s. on the bottom — that offers both support and an alternative perspective.

Lastly, YOU began the article by mentioning that it’s not a gay-related article — so I’m perplexed that you’d be so angry that someone should comment on precisely the placement of a labor history article in a gay site. Why begin your article with a quasi-apology if you weren’t yourself aware of the odd placement?

Sorry, I’m just reacting to the harshness of your response, and I really resent having someone use scare quotes to misrepresent what I wrote — especially at a site that is so adept at detecting that kind of rhetorical manipulation when employed by others. I kind of expect better of you.

All of that said – thanks for continuing to post important content, for stirring the pot, for keeping an eye out for our community. Your work is important, and I’m sure don’t get the thanks you deserve (nor the kudos for your writing) often enough.

CJ Barker
September 6th, 2011 | LINK

That was just an excellent retelling, Jim. Thank you for it.

If people find it astounding that an lgbt person can be conservative, I think that’s likely got alot more to do with the political hay that conservatives have made with the gay issue over the last 40 years than it does with what lgbt orgs routinely put out there. Maybe if so many conservative groups didn’t seem so systematically unwilling to address lgbt concerns, and acknowledge the lgbt folk in their midst, people would see it differently.

But the biggest reason for the relevance of this to lgbt concerns, beyond what you’ve already stated, is -I’d say- the persistence of those deplorable conditions that were fought against so long ago. They’re still alive and well, unfortunately, in many of the places where what were once US Union jobs have been outsourced. And the political “hay” that’s been made at the expense of the lgbt community these forty years has had alot to do with creating the climate where those kinds of changes aren’t seen as a valid moral issues. So it really is all connected.

Andrew
September 6th, 2011 | LINK

Lastly, to folks who argue that ENDA makes Labor Day a gay issue — I have a different understanding of the position of labor today (which is severely limited and fighting for its ongoing existence), and the shift of the fight for gay rights away from labor issues and into citizenship equality issues. To argue that gays deserve additional labor protections misses the point that, in fact, we just want the same rights that everyone else already enjoys. And we’re getting there even in those states where we can’t win in the statehouse — when we argue that our right to marry in CA is predicated on our membership in a suspect class, new standards are created that recognize gays as a group of people legally subject to discrimination and thereby protected under the equal protection clause in the Constitution.

Sadly, even in states like CA where orientation is protected, anyone can tell you there are dozens of ways for an employer to treat gay workers differently — from offering enhanced benefits or flexibility to married workers, to finding other excuses to fire gay employees — as long as you don’t have a record of someone making anti-gay comments with a disinterested witness, no lawyer will touch the discrimination case. The discrimination is driven underground instead. Things will change when hearts and minds change — and that’s longer and harder than winning victory on paper, but more lasting.

Andrew
September 6th, 2011 | LINK

CJ – I have to disagree with you. Go back and review HRC’s candidate selections in races where both candidates had equal pro-gay qualifications (they always chose the Dem). Or EQCA, or any number of other groups. The problem is that political operatives are a small cliquey group, and there’s entirely too much coziness.

The same is true on the right as well — everyone assumes Christians are Republicans, and I know many who get very cranky about those assumptions. Folks who play “salad bar” with their parties or their issues have a lot of extra work cut out for them. It would be awesome if more folks refused to be categorized :)

As for arguing that overseas working conditions are LGBT issues are linked because both are moral issues. Well I guess we’re talking about people, so it’s all related that way too. Social conservatism based on the imposition of religious mores on the general public and a failure to reign in capitalistism in fact stem from two opposing philosophies – government-led prohibitionism versus anti-government libertarianism. These two wings have often found getting into bed together VERY uncomfortable. It was only when they most recently underwent a collective lobotomy (and renamed themselves the Tea Party) that they seem to have cast themselves into one movement.

Timothy (TRiG)
September 6th, 2011 | LINK

Andrew: I frequently see race showing up as an LGBT issue.

Race is definitely an LGBT issue. Greta Christina frequently points out the serious mistakes made on race in the early days of the gay rights struggle (paralleling similar mistakes made on race and class in the early days of the feminist movement) as a warning to atheists not to commit the same errors in our movement.

The mistakes on race in the days before and after Stonewall fed the perception that the gay rights struggle was a struggle for the rights of middle class, white, urban gay men. And the fractures from those early mistakes are still showing. Every writer on these issues will tell you that race is still an LGBT issue.

TRiG.

BlackDog
September 6th, 2011 | LINK

“Race is definitely an LGBT issue. Greta Christina frequently points out the serious mistakes made on race in the early days of the gay rights struggle (paralleling similar mistakes made on race and class in the early days of the feminist movement) as a warning to atheists not to commit the same errors in our movement.”

My feeling is that ALL of these issues are intertwined, and that’s why people need to fight for equality for everybody…not just fall into “special interest group” thinking where everyone is fighting for scraps in some kind of zero-sum game where if one group has rights, somehow another doesn’t.

That seems to be how the Anti-gays, the Fundamentalists, and movement “Big C” Conservatives think…i.e. the typical arguments against marriage equality…that if gays have the right to marry it will adversely affect everyone else’s marriage somehow.

Of course Race is an LGBT issue and LGBT issues tie into religious issues and religious issues tie into freedom of speech and until people realize that it’s all connected, we’re all human, and if we all worked together then the divide and conquer games that corporations and politicians and preachers play would stop working so well.

Idealistic, I know…

justme
September 6th, 2011 | LINK

How heartless — or is it clueless? — do you have to be in order to think that all issues of human rights aren’t connected? That the exploitation and oppression of labor by a privileged few with insanely disproportionate inherited wealth somehow has nothing to do with the single lesbian mother or the transwoman who can’t find a job or the gay teen who’s been kicked out of his home? And how can anyone believe the obvious lie that the rule of law is useless in fighting for human rights?

Yes, all human rights are connected. Yes, all human rights must be protected. No, none of us are free until all of us are free.

This isn’t a weakness in the face of out-of-control billionaire-based corporate/religious persecution, it’s our greatest strength.

We, the vast majority, are, indeed, all in this together.

There is only right and wrong. Only freedom and oppression. Labels like “liberal” and “conservative” are utterly meaningless except to the extent that their use shows the extent to which their user has been successfully indoctrinated by our enemies.

andrew
September 6th, 2011 | LINK

The comments here are notably absolutist and are really illustrating exactly what I’m complaining about.

I really appreciate that Blackdog uses the phrase “my feeling is” — because s/he correctly identifies that it’s a personal perspective, and one to which we are all entitled. Or should be.

Without the name calling and finger pointing or vituperative anger which apparently this has stirred up. Which is to say, justme — screw you and get your head out of your butt you whackadoodle marxist. there, is that namecalling enough for you, or am i just too indoctrinated?

Let me say this. Human Rights is arguably inclusive. LGBT rights and race rights and other rights are NOT nearly so. You can’t tell me that reparations for african americans is an LGBT issue unless you are willing to depart from the specifics and bend it into overarching themes of… human rights. You can’t tell me that abortion access is an LGBT right… unless you get into over-arching issues like freedom to choose about ones body, etc. — in which case you have departed from the LGBT category and returned to the “big box” of “human rights”. Which is fine. But for the sake of LOGIC please learn to separate them out and be willing to accept that such a thing may be possible, even if you don’t agree with doing so. And, for the record, not everyone who is gay is either going to care, or believe about issues in the same way.

But when folks get on board and and lump all of them together and call names and get radically angry as a few of you have, with anyone who disagrees with them, well, it can’t hardly be surprising that such stereotypes exist. Can’t hardly figure out where the streotype of the angry intolerant radical liberal gay person comes from.

So I guess my question is: is this an LGBT site, or is this a “human rights” site. Because if it’s the latter, the focus is awfully narrow. And if it’s the former, then it is what it is.

Jim Burroway
September 6th, 2011 | LINK

This is a gay web site that sees gay rights as human rights, and I see human rights as a seamless garment. Your disappointment in the fact that I’m not wearing blinders reminds me of the criticism Coretta Scott King endured because she stepped outside of her designated “box” to declare her support for gay rights:

“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people. … But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

I guess she was being “partisan” for daring to go where her followers didn’t want her to go. I don’t see human rights as liberal or conservative. Liberal and Conservative arguments can be made for the same thing. And bringing up strawman arguments that haven’t been raised here will not garner you any points.

If you’re dissatisfied with the fact that I have no intention of putting blinders on when it comes to human rights, then you are perfectly free to start your own web site, and that will give you the prerogative of deciding what belongs and what doesn’t.

Frankly, a post about the horrible abuses endured by West Virginia Miners who were living under conditions of virtual slavery — a term I almost never use — is the last thing I ever thought would be controversial. But maybe different people have different perspectives on controversial. As you say, not all gays think alike.

andrew
September 7th, 2011 | LINK

Well, I started out making a point, but then I got pissed off by the overreaction and intolerance that I was, frankly, shocked to see on a site that espouses at least tolerance.

I’m sorry, I thought this was a website devoted to “News, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric”. What you’re saying is that in fact it’s a human rights site, since gay rights are indistinguishable from human rights, and that’s all inclusive. In fact, you’re saying it’s a “whatever I feel like site”; you really should change your banner to “Jim’s personal blog”.

Read what I’ve said again. I’m not saying what you say I said. And I’m not downplaying the plight of the miners.

I resent your abuse of Mrs. King here to elevate yourself. If CSK had posted a history of the Stonewall Riots in the NAACP newsletter without any context, I think you might have a parallel. But that’s NOT what she did.

When CSK spoke out on gay rights as human rights, she did so in venues that discussed human rights in a larger context. Or when asked specific questions as the doyenne of the Civil Rights Movement, a leading thinker, widow, and helpmate of MLKJr.

She didn’t tuck handy little gay histories into the Black History Month newsletter because all blacks OBVIOUSLY think gay rights are inseparable from the battle for racial equality, and these stories would be received without question.

When CSK spoke to the issue of gay rights, she did so in a way that explained how she got to that line of thinking. She spoke to the larger humanity and wrote about the issue as one of human rights.

You tucked in a very well written history project because you felt like it.

Basically, you just assumed that everyone here is a supporter of the modern labor movement because we happen to be gay.

And while folks INCLUDING MYSELF stand in awe of those generations who went before, who suffered under intolerable conditions, fought and died for improved labor conditions, that’s NOT the same as assuming that all of us are on the same side in the fights over labor TODAY.

My point was to draw a sensitivity to the stereotyping gays experience as liberals.

I’d point out that this stereotyping is something you highlighted in a parallel article YESTERDAY in which we see someone demeaning keynesian theory because Keynes was gay, and we know what THAT means. We know what that means. Because we know how all gays think. Because they all think the same way.

The response I got was:

Of course all gays ARE liberals! Anyone who thinks otherwise is “clueless” and “heartless”, wants to cripple free speech, and wants put a muzzle on Coretta Scott King !!! (emphasis added)

In short, what I got was “other thinking is unwelcome”. Also known as “we’re tolerant, but only when you agree with us”. Oh, and “if you don’t like it, why don’t you go somewhere else”, which I thought was a nice touch.

Look, if you’re supersensitive, then by all means require membership, or block the comments. But I resent like hell having to tow your philosophical line in order to be able to speak out as a gay man. Muzzles indeed.

andrew
September 7th, 2011 | LINK

err.. that should be “toe” not “tow”, although lord it does feel like heavy lifting on this one.

Jim Burroway
September 7th, 2011 | LINK

I have three points to make.

1) I really am still very surprised that you find the post so controversial. I simply fail to see exactly what it is you object to except for the fact that it’s “not gay.” On that, we’re in agreement. But if you think everything should fit insuch tight, neat little boxes, then that’s a pretty tiny world we’d be living in. LGBT people don’t work in a vacuum. Life doesn’t work in a vacuum. And where there are parallel experiences, lessons to be learned, and sacrifices to be honored, I see no reason to put blinders on suddenly because it’s “not gay.”

2) Other thinking is welcome. However, that is not to say that other thinking goes unchalleneged. You challenged me, I challenged back. As for sensitivity, I would question who’s being sensitive here — the guy who wrote the post, or the guy who spent days writing 2,200 words worth of rebutalls which are about to overtake the original post in volume. “Muzzles indeed.”

3) And finally, this:

Basically, you just assumed that everyone here is a supporter of the modern labor movement because we happen to be gay.

Well, no. I assumed that we were all celebrating Labor Day because we are all Americans. And that we are all grateful that labor practices which were perfectly legal 80 years ago are now banned. And that is somehow connected with this national holiday. Fer christsakes, it’s not like I was talking about the right to coffee breaks. It’s about one segment of a populaton engaging in the wholesale denial of the basic human rights and dignitiy of a dimsissed minority, a story which many of us find familiar. Which brings me back to #1. I’m flabberghasted that this is so controversial, and that it obviously bothers you so deeply.

Jim Burroway
September 7th, 2011 | LINK

I just had one more thought. If anyone came here expecting to find a comfortable echo chamber where they will not run the risk of having their orthodoxies challenged, BTB is probably not for them.

I’m an agnostic/atheist liberal Democrat. The other major contributor, Timothy Kincaid, is conservative and a practicing Christian. Between the two of us, we’ve managed to piss off everyone, including people even from our own sides of the aisle as well as, on occasion, each other. But it’s what I think is so valuable here. I can’t think of any other web site with such divergent opinions sharing the front page. So yeah, talk about diversity…

andrew
September 8th, 2011 | LINK

Now that’s more like the conversation I was expecting. Your initial response sounded, well, angry and defensive. Some of the other respondents were over the top.

My comment goes back to context. There are a zillion issues to bring to the front, and a gabilion holidays or other opportunities to discuss issues that are utterly unrelated to the gay community. Most if not all of those are overlooked, unless in a gay context. That makes the one totally non-sequitor article stand out.

Labor is a hot-button issue right now. Serious, fire-branding, protest-leading, crazy protest hot-button issue. It’s one of the principle fracture points of debate over the past 12 months.

So it’s into that heated vortex where a subject pops up out of the blue, pretty much uniquely. It came across to me like a “and while we’re discussing liberal… err… I mean gay issues” not in conTENT, but in much larger conTEXT. Not a huge deal, but enough that you noted it in your opener (which was what actually caught my attention). And it reminded me of the kerbillion instances in which I’ve had to listen to people make assumptions about my value systems and beliefs solely because of my sexuality. Worse, I see that a lot in our community — anyone not in lockstep with Democratic dogma must be a self-hater, evil and cruel, stupid, or a total asshole.

But what set me alight was the responses to my comment. Where I was making a point before, I got very upset at the responses I got, many of which not only reinforced my original objection, but some of which got rather nasty (again, not from you — you were cranky and exasperated, but never nasty), and several of which seemed trapped in mindless dogma and weak “but we’re all people so everything is connected by the force, Luke” pie in the sky thinking. (Did I mention I hate clowns and parades?)

There are few things I object to more than hypocrisy – so when people constantly demand tolerance while calling anyone who doesn’t see things their way “heartless” and “clueless”, I object. When someone calls me clueless but can’t actually employ logic or read what I wrote clearly, I object. And I’m a little bored in the afternoon, so I have the time to, well… you get the idea.

Like you and Tim, I’m also a patchwork of hard-earned belief systems, and most of all, I’m a critic. I completely mistrust authority, but loathe the rule of the masses. I believe in multiculturalism, but have a big problem with illegal immigration. I believe in limited government, but think my taxes are far too low. I supported an incursion into Iraq but was incensed by the timing, its pathetic execution, and being lied to about the reasons for going there. I’m inspired by 19th and early 20th century labor, but fervently angry about the behavior of public sector unions over the past 40 years. And I’m driven nuts by anyone who can’t navigate nuances between these concepts — or worse, faults me for doing so.

We need to make room for complexity in our discourse in an era of bumpersticker politics, but we need to be mindful of how we present ourselves not only within our community, but also – perhaps especially – outside our community to folks who don’t know us (or don’t want to). It’s hard – it means anticipating that people don’t know what you mean, where you’re coming from, or will draw their own contextual conclusions that could be hostile to your interests or intentions.

And as one of the chief contributors, you have a metaphorical bullseye on you. So buck up :) You are appreciated and respected. You’re also going to catch flak — both for good reasons and bad. Just take it as it’s intended — 2 cents tossed into a bucket of pennies.

Debra Whitlow B.
September 1st, 2013 | LINK

thank you so much for posting this little known fact of history. my father, Clarence Glen Whitlow, worked his whole life as a UMWA member on Cabin Creek, hauling coal from the tipple at Eskdale to the dump at the Kanawha River at Coalburg. people just don’t have an idea of what our life would have been like without the UMWA and our Dad made sure our family knew all about it. This is priceless and i thank you from the bottom of my heart… Debra Whitlow Blackwell

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