Harlan County U.S.A

This is something I wrote a great while ago. Not sure how much of it I agree with but I saw it unpublished and figured I'd put it out there. [I've read it and did some slight editing. I pretty much feel like it accurately sums up - in an extremely limited fashion - my feelings on the matter]

Which Side Are You on?

(Florence Reese, 1946)

Come all of you good workers,
Good news to you I'll tell,
Of how that good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

My daddy was a miner,
And I'm a miner's son,
And I'll stick with the union,
Till every battle's won.

They say in Harlan County,
There are no neutrals there.
You'll either be a union man,
Or a thug for J.H. Blair.

Oh, workers can you stand it?
Oh, tell me how you can.
Will you be a lousy scab,
Or will you be a man ?

Don't scab for the bosses,
Don't listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven't got a chance,
Unless we organize.

Dropkick Murphys
Which Side Are You On?

Growing up in the eighties and nineties has made it hard for me to fathom working conditions that can precipitate sentiments like Mrs. Reece's. Nor can I understand sending children down chimneys as sweeps or working them in factories for twelve hour shifts.

There is something inside of men - all men - that is brutal, evil and very close to surfacing at all times. Blacks are constantly accused of the possibility of "going native" in Christianized Western Civilizations (rip) with nary a remembrance of just how "native" whites in these civilizations used to behave toward one another in the complete absence of the Negro. Capitalism is extremely dangerous because men are extremely dangerous and it appears that it is unable to achieve anything except a further expansion of the power of the material and materialism over the cultural and religious and unable to soften the harshness of the "hidden hand" in troubled and trying times.

Sometimes men can be pushed so far down the hierarchy of need that the overbearing cry emanating from their collective soul is one composed only of pain and want, one that cries for temporal relief; a reprieve from hunger, thirst and wage enslavement. A just society - staying within its proper boundary, so far as is possible from there - prevents the mass of men from entering this ungodly state. A culture - an economic, spiritual and political entity that encompasses, delineates, circumscribes and dictates and informs a national man - is an organizing force that when healthy and robust enables men to focus on that which is invaluable and residing in a realm unrelated to simple household management. Neither does a righteous culture divide men upon lines of battle that are intraracial for the sole purpose of redistribution of trinkets. The real struggle started in paradise and is between the snake and our Lord and those are the two sides we must choose from. A sin stained society draws our attention away from the real war and although there is power in a union it is only a weak and earthly power incapable of burning away the dross of the soul.

A union can never correct the wicked. Usurious and injurious men are stronger than collective bargaining. The union is merely an attempt to equalize an unrighteous imbalance of power in situations where capital has grown fat and abusive in its power and seeks to oppress men from this vantage.

What is a fair wage?
I suppose if a man is toiling full time he deserves a living wage, a wage with which he can support a family. Are all men able to perform the same day's work? Perhaps not. Do all men deserve the same wage? Perhaps not. Do all men deserve to support a family through wage? Perhaps not. The union can not address these questions, but neither should we allow the boss to do so.

The main problem with unions is that they too, like corporations, are run by wicked men and the more democratic they become the more evil they seem to become - just like governments. In the case of my particular union and its local manifestation the evil expresses itself in spiritual and cultural apathy; it regards the worker as mere labor, and labor as mere means to engage in boundless consumption. The boss man puts profits over people and the union feels the same way; they just disagree about how to divvy up the exploits. Perhaps it is time to ask the union which side are you on?


  1. Every man under his vine and fig tree is the paradigm that the Bible proffers, and this is the heart of Kinism: human economic independence within the intersecting spheres of the church (or natal cult) and a vastly diminshed state. No person should be forced to choose between his homeland, friends, and kinfolk, and his own personal and his family's survival. That said, it is our duty to secure this freedom for our children, and not to nurse our future on the expectation that a bloodless corporation is the source of life, or owes to us that life only the symbol of which, even were it a human institution, would be able to provide.

  2. I do think the Bible would press upon us the educated Yeoman as an ideal but how we secure that possibility for men and their families is the question that we are grappling with.

    Have you ever heard of the "Front Porch Republic" website?

    Localism/distributism/neo-Yeomanry is sort of their theme. However, it is an eclectic thing with people from all kinds of different political persuasions involved.

    Wendell Berry, Rod Dreher, et al are the sort of names that come up frequently. You might enjoy the writing over there. Beware, the website is extremely slow for some reason.