I had a problem arise this morning as I lay in my bed quietly waking from a night full of dreams. One of the people who commented on Part 2 validated my concern. It is hard writing this narrative and for a couple of reasons. I was never told stories in a chronological way, so I wondered how to relate it here? Then, in my sleepy eyes and head, I knew that if I just relayed to you what I do know and have learned by way of living my own life by their code that will be sufficient unto the day. Thank you for that. If folk decide to pick it apart, its OK. It is always going to be my truth as I know it. I will not tell a lie.
Yes dear reader it is about race...... and money. Isn't Politics about who gets what, when, where and why? I remember my Grandfather and I riding in a car in downtown west Charleston in the 1977 or so, and he, upon seeing a mixed couple holding hands and walking down the street, asked me "what do you think of that"? Now, Earl, as I liked to call him never asked a question without having a motive. I always wanted to pass the test by having his approval by my penetration of deeper truths. So I thought long and hard and came up with a reply that I thought wise for my 18 years.
"Well I think life is hard, and when couples are mixed, it's harder on them, and it's harder on their children"
I never said a word more because I had been raised in the deep South away from him and I didn't know how he felt about those things. I wanted so badly to be everything he wanted me to be. It seemed at that moment to be enough of a right answer, he kind of gruffly said "uh'huh" with a slight nod and then told me a story.
He said that he used to sit in Roanoke Hotel negotiating wage increases for workers in the union. He said he fought for a flat raise for everyone at the plant. (He was now the Business Manager for Appalachia Power and Coal) later known as the IBEW. They wanted to give a 5% increase to management, 3 and1/2 to the boiler makers, 4% for so and so, and 1% for the janitors. And he went on to say you know Jeana that in those days all the janitors were black. I told them all at the table: the price of Goodyear Tires is up so high and everyone of our employees must buy tires on their cars. I insisted that every family needed a raise in order to keep up with the cost of living. They called me a Communist. I still fought for the little guy and it took me down. I may have gotten 2% for them but I also got ulcers and headaches and they eventually ran me out. I was always the last hold out on negotiating pay increases. I wanted the most I could get for the men who elected me to negotiate for them.
He said by those times (1950's) everyone in a union was suspected of being a communist. Grandfather said they didn't like him because he came out of the coal fields, was a veteran, and knew he would never back down from a good fight.
"I fought for the first Health-Care as a benefit in the state of West Virginia for our employees at Appalachia Power and Coal. It took me 4 and 1/2 years on committee to get it accomplished, and the company said it could never be done".
We had to find Doctors and Hospitals willing to treat our Union members if they participated. The Company wanted to cover the full cost of that healthcare, we demanded that we paid in 1$ for our care through payroll deduction so the members would have a say in the quality of care, doctors, etc. First the company wouldn't hear of it then they changed their minds and the members got to vote it into their contract. We had so many hoops to go through but we got it passed and then our families got healthier, they had checkups, and care during pregnancies.
I was able to push through a pension plan that we as employees could pay out of our checks every week into our own retirement. Before that the company put a certain bit in and that was out of our control.
I think back now and I say wow, that was before 401K's or anyone being forced to buy insurance from whomever their employer has it from. I know from working on Healthcare reform in Arkansas all that state offers is Blue Cross Blue Shield. They monopolize the whole state. (at least in 2009 they did) It doesn't matter where you worked in Arkansas, you get BCBS. WOW! Grandfather would turn over in his grave. He said before the healthcare as a benefit people used to go buy it just like buying car insurance, you went into and agent and bought health coverage from anyone you want. By the Union negotiating a large number of folk they got discounted rates and employees participated if they wanted. In those days mostly wealthy folk could afford health insurance, Grandfather said that's why he fought so hard to get it for the working men in the Union.
I think he was way ahead of his time and yet was heart broken toward the end. He had no faith in Politics or Unions. I'm not sure why he lost that and he didn't think he had accomplished much but I'm glad he told me. Now my Aunts and Uncles are telling me a little more here and there.
I do want to tell you more about Blair Mountain though and take you back there with me again. I'm actually working this campaign cycle and as we get down to crunch time it is harder for me to find the quiet time I need to relate these stories. That is why the delay in diaries, however, please stick with me, I want you to know what I know.
I will say one last thing about Grandfather, after the National Labor Relations Act was passed the men had a choice to be paid in script or US currency. Well if you asked for currency you were branded a trouble maker (which they were already) but Grandfather always got paid in cash and he suffered for it. The Coal Company would put him down in narrow cramped holes with water at times and his knees and back were never the same but he never Kai-towed nor complained. He told me because it was more important to show the other men that you stand for something or you don't stand at all. The men all loved him for that. Yet--it started earlier for him; he used to
walk out of the coal town eleven miles to go to the A&P store for families when he was just a boy and his arms had big muscles from all the groceries he'd carry back for everyone! He showed me the store where he walked to and we drove up Cabin Creek to see his Mom and Dad. It was a long way to walk, but he said it wasn't so bad. Again, I will write because their is so much more to tell.
Until next time I thank you kindly for reading this diary.