[Marxism] Bloody Harlan

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 24 07:24:38 MST 2010

Harpers Magazine, December 2010


 From interviews included in They Say in Harlan County: An Oral 
History, by Alessandro Portelli, published last month by Oxford 
University Press. On April 15, 1941, during a national coal 
miners’ strike, four striking miners entered the company store at 
the Crummies Creek Coal Co., in Harlan County, Kentucky, and were 
killed by a mine employee with a machine gun. Locals have long 
claimed, though it has never been confirmed, that an ensuing 
gunfight resulted in additional deaths on both sides.

Granny Hager: Crummies Creek. Now, there was killing there and I 
can’t tell you just how many were killed. You see, I used to have 
all of that down, but it got washed away so many times, and burned 
out. I don’t know all that did happen, but they really had a 
battle up there. I think there was five killed. They wanted the 
scabs to go on to work, and they wanted to run the union men away, 
you see. And that is what started the battle. Now that was the 
roughest place we had in Harlan County.

Plennie Hall: The day before the battle, I went into the office 
and I told Mr. Johnson, “Mr. Johnson,” I says, “won’t you sign the 
union? It would be good for everybody, to be satisfied with 
everything.” And he said, “Hell no”; he wouldn’t under no 
circumstances. And the next day, the union come up there to stop 
them from working.

Becky Simpson: Six years old. Me and my mother always walked from 
Cranks Creek to Crummies to the commissary with my dad’s paycheck. 
They had a bunch of pickets up at the commissary. This big 
bald-headed guy, they called him Big Jim Black Hair, he was a 
big-league ballplayer, he told my mother, “What’re you doing here 
with this child today? Get what little you’re going to and get 
this child back out, there’s gon’ be trouble today.” As we was 
leaving the commissary, they was rolling up these big machine 
guns, that they could open up the double doors and shoot out. So 
me and Mommy is walking back up the mountain, we heared the 
shooting start. And they just mowed the men down.

Ben Campagnari: Now, we were running, and we had a pegleg man. You 
wouldn’t believe it. Going down that railroad track, and he’s 
hitting about four ties at a time; and he outrun half of the 
people that had good legs, and we was all a-running because they 
was cutting down with the machine gun, or trying to. And I said: 
“If I ever go on a picket line again, I’ll go with protection.” We 
died just like ducks.

Hazel Leonard: And that night, the thugs that lived, they carried 
all their dead men out of there and hauled them to the top of 
Crummies mountain, and burned them up. There was a place there, 
that they called the Halfway House, it was just a dive, you know, 
just for men to drink and hang out at. And they sold booze and 
everything, you know what I mean. So they hauled all these people 
out there, that had got killed that night— the thugs. They hauled 
them up that mountain to that place and then they burned it. They 
burned them up.

Plennie Hall: Three weeks later I was over there getting a payday, 
and there was a drainpipe runs down there, and somebody that 
crawled in that drainpipe and died, the dogs pulled out some of 
his bones. There never was no more said about it. I wondered about 
who that could have been, or where they were from.



Harlan, Kentucky mine worker killed, three injured in separate 
By Naomi Spencer
24 November 2010

A contract mine worker in Harlan County, Kentucky was killed early 
Tuesday morning after he lost control of a coal truck on site at 
the Rex Coal Strip Mine #1. Rhett Mosley, 32, of Perry County was 
driving into the pit when the heavy truck rolled out of control on 
the steep grade of the pit mine.

According to the preliminary report from the federal Mine Safety 
and Health Administration, Mosley either attempted to jump out or 
was thrown from the vehicle, and the truck struck an embankment 
and overturned onto him. No other details have been released and 
the mine has been closed while the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety 
investigates. In investigations of similar accidents over the past 
decade, MSHA has found that poorly maintained brakes and 
over-capacity loads have been frequent contributing factors.

The relatively small mine has not seen a fatality since the Rex 
Coal Company began operations in 2006. However, since 2008 coal 
tonnage has quadrupled at the mine and citations have increased. 
Although the pit mine employs only 19 workers, the site has 
produced more than 61,000 tons of coal this year.

In the last two years, although MSHA lists only nine inspections, 
the Rex Strip Mine #1 has been cited 50 times, including 14 
serious and substantial violations. Most of the citations were 
accompanied by fines that remain unpaid—in fact, none of the fines 
for serious violations have been paid.

The death of Mosley brings to 47 the number of coal mining deaths 
this year in the US, 40 of them in Kentucky and West Virginia. In 
all, coal and other mineral mining accidents have claimed the 
lives of 66 mine workers across the country.

Accidents have been on the rise as operators strive for higher 
production rates. China has recently projected it will require a 
3.8 billion ton increase in coal annually, triggering speculative 
activity on metallurgical coke and bituminous coal—found in 
abundance in the Appalachian coalfields—as well as frenzied 
efforts at mergers and acquisitions by the large operators.

On October 27, James Jeffrey Falk, a 39-year-old underground miner 
in western Kentucky, was killed when he was struck by a shuttle 
car loaded up with coal. Falk was a continuous mining machine 
operator at the River View Coal Mine in Union County, owned by 
coal giant Alliance Resources.

The Rex mine fatality comes less than a week after an accident in 
another Harlan County mine injured three miners. According to the 
Kentucky Office of Mine Safety, a personnel carrier and a supply 
hauler collided during operations in the Abner Branch Rider mine, 
operated by Bledsoe Coal and owned by the James River Coal Company.

The vehicles may have been running on the same rail at the time of 
the accident, but neither safety officials nor the company has 
given further details. The three miners were hospitalized, with 
two requiring an airlift to Holston Valley Medical Center in 
Kingsport, Tennessee. The mine reopened shortly after the accident.

The Abner Branch mine has seen a series of accidents. On January 
22, 29-year-old continuous mining machine operator Travis Brock 
was crushed by a “rib roll,” the collapse of a mine wall. A 
subsequent MSHA investigation found that safety violations 
directly contributed to Brock’s death. However, the mine has 
continued to operate at breakneck pace while racking up violations.

Since the beginning of the year, the Abner mine has been cited 175 
times, including many for serious and substantial violations. The 
company has not paid a single fine, which in 2010 amounted to 
about $268,000.

MSHA lists numerous roof falls and rib rolls that could easily 
have resulted in more fatalities. The database offers a glimpse at 
the unsafe conditions and frenzied pace of extraction in the mine.

On October 8, for example, a roof fall measuring 30 feet wide, 25 
feet long, and 10 feet thick was recorded. Just two days before, 
another roof fall of similar size was logged. At least five others 
occurred before those in 2010, including one incident on June 15 
in which a piece of rock fell on an employee as he was being 
transported to the surface, striking him in the face.

MSHA has designated the Abner Branch mine as “meeting MSHA 
potential pattern of violations criteria” based on the number of 
citations between September 1, 2009 and August 31 of this year.

MSHA released a list November 19 of 13 coal mines to which it had 
issued 286 serious and substantial citations and closure orders 
during October. Among them, the Left Fork Mining Company’s 
Straight Creek #1 mine in Bell County, Kentucky was the worst, 
with 92 closure orders in the past year. A closure order is only 
issued in cases where potential disaster is imminent.

During one inspection of the Straight Creek mine on October 29, 
MSHA inspectors had to seize the mine telephones so that 
management could not forewarn underground foremen of their visits. 
They found multiple violations on coal dust accumulation and 
venting that posed immediate danger.

Other mines in the state found to have egregious violations were 
Vision Coal Inc.’s Mine #2 in Letcher County; White Star Mining’s 
White Star #1 in Pike County; James River Coal Co.’s Mine #68 in 
Perry County; and Dodge Hill Mining Co. LLC’s Dodge Hill Mine #1 
in Union County.

MSHA has also filed for a court-ordered shutdown of Massey 
Energy’s Freedom Mine #1 in Pike County over ventilation problems, 
inadequate roof supports, coal dust build-up, and other dangers. 
In the past two years, the mine has been cited nearly 2,000 times.

An inspector for the region filed an affidavit November 3 after 
discovering a high concentration of unvented methane gas in an 
active section of the mine in what he described as the “most 
volatile range.” Former MSHA official Tony Oppegard told the 
Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “You have a mine that is by all 
indications just as bad, or worse, than Upper Big Branch.”

Massey has also been cited for creating an “imminent danger” after 
two explosions earlier this month at the Twilight surface mine in 
Boone County, West Virginia.

MSHA has been striving to appear more aggressive toward flagrant 
violators since the April 5 explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch 
Mine in West Virginia, which took the lives of 29 miners. However, 
in its 33-year history, the agency has never once classified a 
mine as having a pattern of violations.

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