Socialist Worker

Class struggle in your video store

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 1805

HARLAN COUNTY War is a brilliant new film just out on video. It is drama based on the year-long strike of 180 miners in Kentucky in the US in 1973. The miners work long hours in dangerous conditions. The miners and their families live in small houses without running water.

The film opens with the death of two young miners after the collapse of a shaft. Holly Hunter plays Ruby Kincaid, a miner's wife, whose husband, Silas, is trying to build the union. The mine company believes it owns its workers and does not allow a union. The evening after the shaft collapses one of the company's hirelings calls round at Ruby's to intimidate her husband back to work.

When a radical union organiser comes to town the miners' anger turns into an all-out strike in demand of a union contract. Ruby originally stands aloof from the strike because the union, when it was controlled by corrupt right wingers, had allowed her mother to die. But as the strike becomes more bitter and violent a judge rules that the miners can only have three men on the picket line at one time.

Ruby then takes it upon herself to organise the women to replace the men. The women, who had previously run the miners' homes and looked after the children, become the driving force of the strike.

They begin to challenge all the ideas about their role that both they and the men accepted, as they lie down in the road in front of scab trucks and are arrested by the police. Silas's attitude to Ruby and their children is also fundamentally changed by the strike.

Harlan County War is a fabulous film about solidarity and working class struggle. It is only available on video and can be a difficult film to get hold of, but video rental firm Blockbuster has some in stock. It is worth joining Blockbuster just to see this film.

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Article information

Sat 22 Jun 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1805
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