Friday, June 4, 2010

Kentucky Movie - Harlan County U.S.A.

I suppose it is a universal wish of parents that their children have a better life than they did. The coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky in 1973 had this desire as well. What struck me about the miners, though, was that they were under no false impressions that their children would have any other options beyond coal mining. The subjects in this documentary never mentioned hoping that their children might someday go to college and get out of the difficult and dangerous work. They struck in order to improve the working conditions of coal mine that their grandfathers, and fathers worked in and where their sons and grandsons would someday get jobs. The simple truth was that men in Harlan County worked in the mine, and women married coal miners. This movie not only documented the lives of the striking miners, and the dangers associated with thier jobs (black-lung disease, and working with explosives, among others), it also told the story of their wives, and how the women came together to support the strike, and indeed, thier active role in it.

The 13-month long strike ended when one of the "gun thugs" (those hired by the coal miner to let the scabs through) shot and killed a young striker leaving his 16-year old widow and, five-month old daughter to mourn him.

This was a tough movie to watch. Not so much for the violence, which was actually pretty minimal, but just knowing that this took place in the 20th century, and being reminded of the serious dangers that coal miners still face today, especially in light of the recent tragedy in West Virginia in which 25 miners died at a mine owned by  Massey Energy.  Massey Energy had been cited frequently for safety violations in recent years.

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