Rolling Stone: Inside the Harlan County Coal Miner Protest

Labor News

Unemployed Blackjewel coal miners man a blockade along the railroad tracks that lead to their old mine on August 23, 2019 in Cumberland, Kentucky. More than 300 miners in Harlan County unexpectedly found themselves unemployed when Blackjewel declared bankruptcy and shut down their mining operations. Just as unexpected for the miners was the discovery that their final paychecks had bounced. When a few of the miners learned the company was shipping out a final load of coal by rail they decided to blockade the tracks to prevent the shipment from leaving the mine until they were paid their wages. The blockade, which is in its 26th day, has received a local and national outpouring of support. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Reprinted from Rolling Stone by  on September 3, 2019.

It’s quiet in the morning. The remains of a campfire smoulder beside the railroad; fog hangs low in narrow valleys people here call hollers; a bedsheet strung between the poles of an overturned tent flutters in the breeze. The bedsheet reads, “NO PAY WE STAY.”

It’s day 38 of a nonviolent blockade of a Harlan County, Kentucky railroad track. During the occupation, union miners have stood with non-union miners, transgender anarchists have built solidarity with Trump-voting Republicans, and a 100-year-old labor movement has found a new generation of working-class leaders fighting to keep the region’s wealth where it came from: in workers’ hands and in the foggy hollers of central Appalachia.

On July 1st, the nation’s sixth-largest coal company, Blackjewel LLC, declared bankruptcy without warning, leaving 1,700 employees out of work. Coal miners’ June 28th paychecks bounced, leaving many workers thousands of dollars in debt. Their final paychecks, which ought to have come on July 12th, never came.

Blackjewel miner Shane Smith, 29, learned he was out of work the day after the birth of his sixth child. “This is what fed our kids,” he says. “This has ruined us.” …

Rolling Stone 9/3

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About Jeffrey Burman 5149 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at

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