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Which Side Are You On?

3 September 2017

More classic union songs for Labor Day weekend.

“Which Side Are You On?” was written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of Sam Reece, a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County, Kentucky. From 1931-39, Harlan County was the site of a bitter and violent battle between the miners and the mine owners of that region.

At the time, it was called the Harlan County War or Bloody Harlan. State and federal troops occupied the county more than half a dozen times. Mine workers, deputy sheriffs and mine bosses were killed.


The battles between miners and mine owners re-ignited in the 1970’s. Harlan County USA,  won an Oscar in 1976 for best documentary film. The film told the story of the “Brookside Strike”, a battle of 180 coal miners and their wives in 1973 against the Duke Power Company-owned Brookside Mine and Prep Plant in Harlan County.



One Comments to “Which Side Are You On?”

  1. One of the few things I’ve actually read up on – my oldest did a senior thesis on the Harlan County strikes, and we’ve sung the songs at folk group.

    As with anything real, the details are complex. And someone other than the owners paid the price of coal.

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