Friday, July 23, 2010

Past is prologue

Vacationing here in West Virgina, it's hard not to think about the state's rich history of struggle for social-justice. Signs are everywhere, especially in these difficult times. I got a good history lesson reading this editorial in yesterday's Charleston Gazette, showing once again that past is prologue.
In 1920, a strike at Matewan turned into a shoot-out that killed seven Baldwin-Felts guards who had been hired as strikebreakers. Town Police Chief Sid Hatfield, a champion of the strikers, was charged in a different fracas. As he and a companion walked up the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse, they were gunned down by other Baldwin-Felts agents. The murder inflamed miners, who gathered for a second march. In August 1921, 10,000 to 15,000 armed workers entered Logan County. Their advance was halted at Blair Mountain, where Sheriff Chafin's forces had installed machine guns behind breastworks. Full-scale warfare ensued for several days, and perhaps 20 were killed on both sides. President Warren Harding sent Army units and even a squadron of fighter planes to suppress the uprising. Afterward, UMW leaders were tried for treason, but juries found them innocent.
The locus of struggle now seems to be the hotel workers, among the lowest paid in the nation. Hyatt has now become the main target because of their refusal to negotiate a union contract in good faith. Yesterday in San Francisco, about 150 union marchers were jailed.  Hyatt becomes especially significant as it is owned by one of President Obama's richest and most powerful backers, Penny Pritzker and the Pritzker family. They became notorious for firing 98 hospitality workers at a Boston hotel and replacing them with non-union workers who they were forced to train before being put out on the street.

Connections to education reform and current administration policies couldn't be clearer as the fate of teachers and their right to bargain collectively also hangs in the balance. Hopefully Obama, who has backed union rights in the past, won't turn into Warren Harding on this one.


  1. Hopefully. Thank you for this stirring post.

  2. Just a technical correction: The San Francisco strikers arrested were cited and released, not jailed.

    I keep fearing that Obama has just gone too far down that road to correct his course. I hope I'm wrong!

  3. Thanks Caroline. Technically, you're right, they weren't actually held behind bars. It was more like a catch-and-release into the big trout pond of our democracy.


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