The labor struggle is a subject near and dear to my heart. Not because I’m a labor union member, but because it’s real life for most of us, obscured by the ways that life and capital pit us against one another. As a matter of fact, that’s a near quote from one of James’s lyrics: “Pit against each other, in the arena of capital, bringing you down with a system so vast, even the minions can erase you…”
But back to my writing.
The battles to unionize at the beginning of the 20th Century bring out a fierceness in me that is usually a step behind my more thoughtful aspects. When a call for submissions came around asking for erotica in times of war, I felt that the most important war I could depict was the one for unionizing coal miners.
The Battle of Blair Mountain
by Dena Hankins
Thunder of War, Lightning of Desire
Edited by Sacchi Green
SueLynn shifted her rifle off her collarbone and climbed the hill with the agility of long practice. This wasn’t her mountain, but it was her mountain range. She knew how to move over ground covered with leaves, springy and rotting and full of life. She headed for a rock outcropping to see the next holler.
SueLynn wore boots and britches like the men, shot game and cussed and drank like the men too. When they had limped home after the Great War, they hadn’t been too terribly surprised to hear told she’d gone down in the mines while they were gone.
She leaned against the rock, scanning the holler and the hill beyond for Chafin’s gun-thug deputies.
Only days before, the miners had been heading on home like Bill Blizzard said, though he was no coward and wanted to fight. With the President himself sending federals against them, well, it looked like Logan and Mingo Counties weren’t getting unionized just then.
Sheriff Chafin couldn’t let well enough alone. He’d put together his private army, 2000 men strong, and couldn’t bear losing the chance to kill him some unionizers. Those demon-spawn started shooting union sympathizers up in Sharples, catching families in the crossfire. SueLynn and 10,000 fellow miners had turned back to fight.
Thinking on it, SueLynn’s purpose flipped from hiding to hunting. Her sharp vision had been a boon to the family when rationing had near to starved them during the war and her kills had fed the lot.
She kept behind the rock, but her finger itched to shoot the sold-out bastards who beat and killed folks for wanting to be safer at their dangerous work, for wanting legal tender and not the trap of company script in a company house in a company town.
Dozens of men straggled over the side of the hill, arraying themselves along the ridge so they could provide a fusillade in case of enemy action. Sunlight bounced from hill to hill, skipping the holler below. A gleam from the river battled the early dark, peeking from between tree branches.
Some of the men come back from Europe did their fair share of bragging, telling stories on themselves, making themselves out to be heroes. Mostly the men SueLynn wanted at her back were the ones who shut that talk down. The ones who picked up their guns, knowing they may be shooting at folks, with sober and careful thought. Not the braggarts and not the odd ones, ‘cause the Lord knew plenty came back half out of the world, barely making due for themselves.
Word came along they were to bed down behind the ridge. They’d be up and through the holler before dawn so they could attack from above, sun behind their backs, while the gun thugs were wiping the sleep from their decadent eyes.
SueLynn didn’t give a hoot for military tactics. There were folks better qualified than her to figure on when and where they’d throw down with the company men. She quivered in a surge of excitement, like a horse at a starting line. She’d learned plenty about herself since the miners had started unionizing West Virginia, but she never imagined such a rush from the prospect of pitched battle.
She didn’t feel the need to bed down in secret, nor did she buttress herself with men known to her to be safe. She went about her business like any other miner. She’d learnt who she really was while the men were away at war, and she wouldn’t compromise her freedom by hemming it in for safety’s sake.
Barring one personal duty too intimate to carry out among the men.