By: Lindsay Bailey
The tale of Robin Hood, the nobleman turned thief who infamously stole from the rich and gave to the poor, is legendary. A lesser known yet similar tale of resistance to the law is that of the Pittson Coal Strike of 1989 taking place here in Appalachia. In WVU political science professor Dr. Richard Brisbin’s book, A Strike Like No Other Strike: Law and Resistance during the Pittson Coal Strike of 1989-1990, Brisbin compares these two stories of resistance to established authority. Examining the Pittson Coal Strike as a case study, Brisbin says the book “demonstrates how working men deal with the law”. Twenty years after the strike and ten years after its original release A Strike Like No Other Strike has been re-released in paperback by West Virginia University Press. As a political science scholar, Brisbin says he has long been interested in the concept of resistance to authority and the hypothesis that the law favors the “haves” over the “have nots.” Brisbin draws the title of his book from a statement made by one striker who later went onto become a politician.
“What makes the Pittson strike unique is the organization of the resistance by the united mine workers, large number of arrests, a large number of incidents of anonymous violence and the enormous amount of litigation,” says Brisbin.
The strike occurred in the states of West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky due to what Brisbin calls a “less than satisfactory” contract between the UNWA and Pittson Coal Company. The contract resulted in the loss of health benefits for widows, survivors, and retirees. While extensively researching his book, Brisbin traveled to Richmond, Philadelphia and throughout West Virginia gathering legal documents and he says “dozens and dozens” of firsthand accounts from miners and widows. Brisbin cites some of his most memorable interviewees as strikers whose health had been drastically affected by mining. One striker was the victim of a mining accident that resulted in the loss of his leg, and another striker’s black lung demanded that he take several breaks during their interview so he could use his oxygen tank.
“You really don’t realize how hard some people work, the dangers in which they work and how tough it can be. I think sometimes there is a lack of understanding of how hard it is for people in ‘dirty jobs’,” says Brisbin in reference to what he learned during his experience while researching.
With four major mining disasters in the past three years, including the most recent tragedy at Upper Big Branch, our state has been reminded far too frequently of just how dangerous mining can be. Worldwide the safety of miners is threatened on a daily basis. Today, 33 miners remain trapped in a Chilean mine without hope of being rescued for an estimated three months. In the past year Guana, Colombia and China have all suffered fatalities due the dangerous nature of the mining industry and failures of mining companies to ensure their workers’ safety. The effort of the Pittson strikers to improve working conditions for not only themselves but for future miners is certainly a tale worth telling, and Brisbin is able not only to tell the compelling story of the strike but demonstrate its implications in how we as a society interact with our legal system.
To read more about the efforts of the Pittson Coal Strikers, purchase Richard Brisbin Jr.’s book A Strike Like No Other Strike at www.wvupress.com.
A Strike Like No Other Strike: Law and Resistance during the Pittston Coal Strike of 1989–1990
By Richard A. Brisbin, Jr.
350pp | PB: 978-1-933202-76-1 | $24.95