Wednesday Poetry Break — Which Side Are You On?

In America today, we forget about coal until we hear of a tragedy such as the one this week at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. But coal and death are intertwined, and that’s something that anyone who turns on a light or plugs in their laptop had better realize.  Hard to remember, yes. After all, it’s not like when my father was growing up and they had a coal furnace to stoke every morning, or when his father was a boy working in a coal mine in Ohio, opening doors inside the mine — deep inside the mine. In those days the realities of coal could not be denied. Today, let’s remember the mine workers who put their lives on the line for us.

Which Side Are You On?

Come all you good workers
Good news to you I’ll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

My daddy was a miner
He’s now in the air and sun
He’ll be with you fellow workers
Until the battle’s won

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Claire

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

Don’t scab for the bosses
Don’t listen to their lies
Poor folks ain’t got a chance
Unless they organize

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

— Florence Reece

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3 comments

  1. I grew up within several miles of a coalmine in western PA. I remember my neighbor when he came home from work, his clothes and skin grimy with coal dust. He and his family also farmed about five acres. Over the years, all three of his daughters babysat for me and my brothers and sister. As a kid I always wondered why this family never went on vacation…

  2. All the more reason to move away from coal-fired power plants…as if the environmental destructiveness of coal mining and power generation weren’t enough.

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