Thanks to G.F. Brandenburg, who posted this very important report about The Battle of Blair Mountain, a largely forgotten milestone in the history of unionism.

Brandenburg opens his post by reminding us that the rich and powerful usually control history and write the narrative.

He adds this dramatic story of The Battle of Blair Mountain, which is unknown to most people and barely remembered in the state where it happpened. The famous but almost-forgotten battle pitted underpaid, impoverished miners against the coal industry’s hired and well-armed detectives and union-busters. After several days of fighting, federal troops were sent in to stop the combat.

The story was written by Irina Zhorov and appeared on PBS WHYY.

The site of the conflict is marked by an inconspicuous plaque. The land is inaccessible because its owned by a coal company.

Here is the lead-up to the Battle of Blair Mountain:

In early 20th-century Appalachia, miners in the southern West Virginia coal fields lived in company towns. They were dependent on their bosses for every necessity, including their homes and food. Pay was low. Living and working conditions were deplorable.

The United Mine Workers union attempted to organize miners in the region, but the coal companies fought back, often violently. In a series of clashes now called the Mine Wars, both union and company supporters were killed.

By 1921, tensions were coming to a head. Miners in Mingo County, south of Blair, had joined the union. In retaliation, the company had evicted them from their homes. The miners had been rounded up and were being kept in pens. State police had cut off food supplies, so families were starving.

Then private detectives who worked for the coal companies brazenly murdered a union sympathizer named Sid Hatfield, a hero to the miners. It was broad daylight, and Hatfield’s wife was by his side. Tensions boiled over.

One week after the murder, Frank Keeney, the leader of West Virginia’s United Mine Workers chapter — and Chuck Keeney’s great-grandfather — gave a series of speeches to rally miners in the coal fields.

Miners—10,000-15,000 of them—marched 50 miles to Blair Mountain to protest and fight.

Clearly, there are many people in West Virginia today whose parents or grandparents took up arms against the tyrannous coal companies. They know the history because it’s personal.

Yet this legacy of labor militancy does not seem to have any role in today’s politics. West Virginia is a red state with a Republican-controlled legislature. The Governor, Jim Justice, was a Republican who became a Democrat for his election in 2016. Seven months after his election, he reverted back to being a Republican, at a political rally with Trump by his side. Governor Justice is a billionaire who controls many businesses, mostly in agriculture and coal mining.

Why do West Virginians keep electing and re-electing Republicans who are hostile to the interests of poor and working-class people?