Harlan County U.S.A. (1976) - Plot Summary Poster

Plot Summary

  • This film documents the coal miners' strike against the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. Eastovers refusal to sign a contract (when the miners joined with the United Mine Workers of America) led to the strike, which lasted more than a year and included violent battles between gun-toting company thugs/scabs and the picketing miners and their supportive women-folk. Director Barbara Kopple puts the strike into perspective by giving us some background on the historical plight of the miners and some history of the UMWA.

    - Written by Martin Lewison <lewison+@pitt.edu>
  • In the summer 1973, the coal miners working at the Brookside Mine, located in Brookside, Harlan County, Kentucky and owned by the Eastover Coal Company, voted to join the union, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), against the wishes of Eastover administrators. Shortly thereafter, the miners went out on strike on Eastover and its parent company, Duke Power Company, refusing to sign a contract with its employees, union members. Beyond the direct economic issues of wages and benefits, the miners' grievances included long standing inherent problems with the coal mining industry in the United States in general, such as health issues most specifically with black lung from inhaling coal dust, and other more acute dangers, an explosion at Consolidated Coal's Mannington Mine in Farmington, West Virginia a few years earlier which killed seventy-eight of eighty-two people working in the mine itself at the time. The company was granted an injunction prohibiting the strikers from blocking vehicles from entering/exiting the mine site and from calling the replacement workers hired "scabs". Emotions on both sides ramped up as the strike progressed, with wives and other miner supporters joining the strikers on the picket lines, and the potential for violence, most specifically gun violence, becoming more blatant. Discussions of a no-strike clause as a possible item within a contract became the most contentious issue. But other problems within the UMWA, which led to an indictment for murder, and the UMWA's contractual relationship to the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA) would also be factors. But a tragedy would be the turning point in the divisive strike, which hearkened back to similar such struggles in the area during the great depression.

    - Written by Huggo
  • A filmed account of a bitterly violent miner strike.

    - Written by Kenneth Chisholm


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