Workers' Memorial Day 2008
Some of my people were coal miners. I think about all of my great-grandfathers were. It ended there for the most part. My aunt married a coal miner though to continue the tradition. He was a union coal miner for over thirty years. He was a blue collar worker married into a family that had become white collar and I admired him for it. I remember when I was a kid I'd hear whispers of him being arrested for picket line violence. He'd come home with black eyes and busted lips in the late 70s and early 80s.
My hometown had been built on coal mining, but most of the Indiana mines closed in the 80s. My uncle had to drive a long way south to work and technically worked in Illinois as he mined underneath the Wabash River. By the 90s, the mining companies had succeeded in closing all of the union mines in Indiana. My uncle's union went on strike last spring at their mine just across the border in Illinois. On the first day of the strike, the company closed its operation citing old equipment. Hundreds of union coal miners lost their good paying jobs.
Indiana does not have a single union coal miner working within the state, but the mines are open again and doing better than ever. All of the coal is in southwestern Indiana, which just happens to be the poorest part of the state. There are young men who jump at the chance to risk their lives for 15 dollars an hour. My youngest cousin is one of them. He dropped out of college a couple of years ago because he has a tendency to collect baby mamas and needed a paycheck. He worked at a factory for a while, but actually paid money to attend "mining school". He's now a probationary miner and works at this dangerous job for around 15 dollars an hour. He is not in a union and probably doesn't even understand what one is. I have to wonder if he'll be any better off than my coal mining great-grandfathers were around one hundred years ago.