Workers across the United States are finding themselves at a premium in the eyes of ever more desperate employers who need to meet staffing levels to return to business as usual. Workers have at their disposal the leverage to demand higher wages and better conditions in the workplace if we can only come together in solidarity. The opportunity for collective bargaining is all the greater in Appalachia. Rural Appalachian workers share a heritage of organizing across cultural lines for the benefit of all workers.
The week leading into Labor Day this year marks the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain, a key conflict in what came to be known as the Coal Wars. The Coal Wars spanned more than two decades of organizing and armed conflict at the turn of the 20th Century that fundamentally changed working conditions for miners and the broader workforce as its lasting influence helped shape the labor policies of the New Deal.
Solidarity still wields leverage in the present, in spite of corporate propaganda and state sanctioned muzzling of bargaining power with “Right-to-Work” laws. Tense negotiations recently came to an end between United Auto Workers’ (UAW) union backed employees and Volvo’s largest plant in Dublin, Virginia. Just under 3,000 workers are UAW members, and they utilized those numbers to strike and bring production to a halt to pressure Volvo for a better contract for all the plant’s workers. After three no votes from union members, the parties reached a deal on July 14 to ensure wage increases and comprehensive benefits for every plant worker.
This is the power of solidarity in Southwest Virginia today. Workers in Appalachia need only to come together across industry and cultural divides to apply pressure on employers for the wages and benefits they deserve. Businesses and corporate media are already spinning the refusal of some workers to return to pre-pandemic conditions and wages as a disease of laziness and a “worker shortage”. Beware this double-speak, however, as it is designed to vilify the workers who would fight for the good of the whole working class in order to protect their precious profits by continuing to exploit our excess labor value. To overcome the hurdles of living and working in a Right-to-Work state and the corporate propaganda machine, we need to build the broadest coalition possible in our communities.
Our best tool for the task, it turns out, is you and me. We hold the keys to a modern workers’ movement, and our audience is captive. Each of us knows someone affected by the sweeping changes of the last eighteen months, those whose jobs were lost, reduced, and made unsafe by the greed of their employers. The same employers who now want their workforce to return to the same hostile workplaces for the same pitiful wages. Workers who were called “essential” only to receive the bare minimum for their sacrifices.
If we want to build solidarity, our best first step is to reach out to the people we know and share the successes of the worker solidarity that is our shared heritage. To remind our friends and neighbors of the power we wield and to show them that – when we work together – we all win.
Share the success of the workers at Volvo Trucks in Dublin; share the story of our forebears at the Battle of Blair Mountain and throughout the Coal Wars; and share your passion to change the tide in today’s workplace to lift all boats. By building solidarity and extending the “worker shortage” – when we are able – and making our demands of higher wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces known, we pave the road to improving the lot of all workers in Appalachia as we continue to work toward a society that provides for us all.