I can tell you how West Virginia feels. We feel like returning Vietnam veterans. We’ve done every dirty job you’ve asked us to do. We never questioned. We did it and performed well. And now all of a sudden we’re not good enough, we’re not clean enough, we’re not green enough and we’re not smart enough. You want to know why they quit voting for Democrats, that’s the reason.
The United Mine Workers of America has a long history in this country. Since its founding in 1890, it has survived violent suppressions like the Morewood massacre, the Ludlow Massacre, and the Battle of Blair Mountain to fight for basic workers’ rights like the eight-hour work day. We cannot forget the sacrifices these workers made to guarantee rights for all of us, and the direct role they took in fighting against tyranny and oppression.
As I elaborated in a past article, the successors of these brave workers overwhelmingly supported Trump in the 2016 election. They felt like they were being left behind, and Trump acted as someone who would stand up for them. He failed, because not even the federal government could prop up the dying coal industry.
In my article, I expressed a hope that the Democrats would find a way to move our country into a sustainable green future while protecting people and bringing our workers with us. The United Mine Workers of America has given them that opportunity. President Cecil Roberts has offered to support Biden’s infrastructure plan in exchange for a program that would fund training and access to good paying jobs for the thousands of mine workers who are losing and have already lost their own livelihoods.
Programs that guarantee a future for workers should really be part and parcel of moving to a new green economy. Coal workers may experience a smoother transition than other fields due to strong unions negotiating on their behalf. For as often as I see editorialists argue that a transition to green energy will be disastrous for workers, I rarely see them advocating for unions as a solution.
Unions are not perfect, but they give workers a competing voice against corporate interests in congress as well as at the workplace. Through collective bargaining, the UMWA has negotiated for over one billion dollars in health and retirement funds annually. They sponsor critical pieces of legislation and work with politicians to support their members’ interests. Because decisions are made democratically, workers have been able to reject bad deals and continue striking even when the union leadership would rather go along to get along.
I spend a lot of time talking about dual power structures and how important they are to building a more democratic future. Unions are perhaps the most vital living example of this. Although their power in the United States has waned immensely since the days they literally fought battles against private armies bent on crushing individual liberty, they still regularly win victories for their members. In the political sphere, they coalesce the powers of their industries and serve as a bulwark against the parallel institution of corporate power. At a time when the power of everyday people feels minute compared to the desires of the elites, unions give us a voice and a platform to guarantee we still have a seat at the table.
In the waning days of coal, the United Mine Workers of America may be in a sense phasing itself out with this recent move. Hopefully they will be able to adapt and continue to support their members through and after the transition to clean energy. Either way, there is great nobility in an organization that takes care of its constituents before its own stability and power. No matter what happens to this union, we must never forget what it did for our country. It serves forever as a reminder that the people can and will come together to make a better world for everyone. Power still comes from the people, and it always will.