FIGHT LIKE HELL

  • by

“As I write this,” writes journalist and labor activist Kelly, “eleven hundred coal miners in rural Alabama are still out on a strike that began on April 1, 2021.” Even as knowledge workers flee corporate life, spurred by the pandemic revelation that they can work anywhere, these coal miners are bound to geography and largely overlooked because coal is unpopular in a time of climate change. So it is with the larger history of labor unionism, Kelly suggests, at least in part because so many women and minority members were instrumental in it but are often written out of history. By way of one example, the author considers the case of a woman named Lucy Parsons, who grew up enslaved in the South and, with a husband who had fought for the Confederacy but later converted to anarchism, helped organize workers around the Haymarket riots of 1886. Sadly, Parsons refused to acknowledge her ethnicity and “focused her energies solely on behalf of white factory workers.” Nonetheless, Black activists were essential to working people’s efforts to secure better conditions, as Parsons was to gaining the eight-hour workday. Here Kelly examines the militancy of Mohawk ironworkers who helped build the skyscrapers of 1920s New York, “walking across two-inch-thick beams hundreds of feet in the air without so much as a tremble,” and of the multiethnic Coalition for Immokalee Workers, which exposed what amounted to slave labor on Southern farms in our own time. Injustices continue, from coal miners to immigrant workers bound to company stores and housing in Midwestern meatpacking plants. “Collective working class power was behind every stride forward this country has made,” Kelly writes in an urgent closing section, “grudgingly or otherwise, and will continue to be the animating force behind any true progress.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.