“Harlan County” Reflections

This “silent” documentary did an excellent job portraying an age-old conflict between the worker and the boss. For a man of 2013, what stands out the most is how little the workers were prepared to settle for. The working conditions of Harlan county miners are incomprehensible. Perhaps even less comprehensible is their eventual success in securing an employment contract from Duke Power Company. This success was celebrated by the miners all over the country and sparked future protests. The United Mine Workers of America showed us how little power did the labor unions have in 1970s, yet all members of the union and even their wives believed in power of unity. They persevered through disregard, threats, violence and murder. As I predicted while watching the documentary, Duke Power officials resisted contract demands primarily to avoid opening a Pandora’s Box. The victory over bosses gave miners confidence to challenge them further and demand more than they would ever before.

Personally, I think that the actions of Harlan county miners were heroic and necessary. The documentary exposed us to awful working conditions of coal miners, and lack of power to defend themselves against oppressive company heads. The fact that we cannot imagine anything similar happening in our day and age is indicative of the significance that the actions of Harlan county miners had on the history of labor in America.

Which side are you on?