I certainly didn’t expect a book on West Virginia Miners to be this interesting, but I had a difficult time putting this book down. Characters such as Mother Jones, the Hatfields and McCoys, and Bill Blizzard are radically different than what I could recall from songs and stories. Gun Thugs, Rednecks, Radicals is a unique documentation of the West Virginia mine wars, using speeches, written testimony, and newspaper articles from Union newspapers to tell the story of the conflict in the voices of those involved.
I don’t think it takes much of an imagination to think how hard it is to be a coal miner. Digging deep into the core of the earth with the ever-present danger of the mine collapsing or the scarring of the lungs from coal dust is not something I want my claustrophobic mind to dwell on. The miners, always at the mercy of the mining company—who owned the stores and the housing—valiantly fought for better conditions. To strike against the mining company was to effectively give up your home, your job, and, in many cases, your life. Baldwin-Felts detectives were brought in to crush any unionization.
In one of the more horrific stories, airplanes were used to drop gas and explosive bombs (left over from WWI) on striking workers, who were engaged in war with the detectives and the mining bosses in the battle of BlairMountain. U.S. military airplanes were also used for aerial surveillance. Eventually, U.S. troops entered the battle and the union leader, Bill Blizzard ordered the striking workers to return to their homes.
Gun Thugs, Rednecks And Radicals surpasses all my expectations of what a book about striking miners could be about. I highly recommend it to anyone: history buffs, union radicals, or otherwise. (PM Press, PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA9 4623)