Harlan County: The Age Old American Struggle

In this film we are introduced to the struggles facing the coal miners in Harlan county Kentucky. After being driven to strike by low wages and unsafe conditions in the work place the miners went on a lengthy as at times, bloody strike. We see men and women forming picket lines and standing in the way of “scabs” going to work in the mines and refusing to strike along with the other workers. Entire families come together to fight towards their goal of a safer work environment and a better standard of living and quality of life.

One scene in particular however struck me as an interesting insight into the American culture. In an interview with an older gentleman, he explains that when he was a child he would work in the mines himself. He describes the fact that even then the children had to band together and unionize because government officials, local officials and even religious leaders were apparently working behind the larger companies. So the struggle between labor and leadership is nothing new. In the 60s many revolutions took place as people in society came together to fight an ideological battle against many unpopular aspects of American life. But the children of the sixties sought to have government change things in a period of relative prosperity. As the economic situation declined we see a people who have become embittered with the system because it was not helping them; they literally had to fight for survival. This struggle goes back in the US as far as the 1800s. In over 100 years of history the strikers of Harlan country were still fighting for the same things.

One phrase that also was repeated was “we have to fight for our right” a common phrase now-a-days but I find that this speaks to the changing sentiment in the 70s. While in the 60s people felt they were fighting forĀ  just causes, which motivated them even more. The seventies was a time for survival in a period when people could not count on their leaders anymore. They had to fight for themselves because no one could hear them and their leaders were not present to help them. Today it seems as though the power is shifting away from unions and back into government since people have more direct access to it but it begs the question in laborers and labor leaders will ever fix the “age old” American struggle of playing fair.