Life in the mines: why we are grateful for unions

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Why do we celebrate Labor Day?
Because of the major changes and protections (such as 8-hour work days) developed by labor unions in the United States.

The early days of union organization were tough. Listen to Cleatus and Louise Burns discuss working conditions in the Alabama coal mines in the 30’s, and what it was like to live in a company camp.

Can you imagine always wondering if your husband was going to make it home from work? Here’s a quote from Louise:

“I would be worried about him when he’s down in the mines… every morning when I’d go down to feed the hogs, and listen, I’d hear a shot go off out at that mines. And he — that would be where he was. And I’d tell him [later] what time it went off, and he’s say that was a shooting down in there. Shooting that coal down, you know. That was a shot went off when they’re shooting down coal.”

They tell the story of when Cleatus lost his best friend, who was only 19, in the mines:

Louise: ‘… he had come by to where Cleatus was working and Cleatus told him, said he’s going up to get … some timbers, from a place. This boss had sent him up, was sending him up there. And Cleatus…say he told him, said “Gweldon, don’t you go up there… that place has got gas in it.” He said, “And your lamp’ll set it off.”

He said, “I’m not going to take my lamp in there, I’m going to leave it on the outside.” And uh, and in a few minutes they heard, heard that gas explode.”‘

Mining was a dirty, dangerous job, loaded with explosions, often working in 18 inches of space or knee-deep water. Read more about Cleatus and Louise’s life in the early 30’s; it will help you appreciate all that labor unions do to protect us.

Happy Labor Day!

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