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Feb. 11th, 2012 | 07:08 am

Further labor protests on campus yesterday got me thinking about labor issues on my mother's side of the family.

With a little poking around online, I came up with some interesting info on the coal industry in Pennsylvania, which is where my mother comes from. Her father was a Slovak immigrant who worked in the coal industry.

I had long thought that it was rather bizarre that my mother, who was Polish and Slovak, had married my father, who is English. In fact, British and Eastern Europeans were the predominant ethnic groups within the Pennsylvania coal industry. Evidently, the British brought more technical expertise while the Eastern Europeans (whose economy was slumping in the late 19th century) brought an influx of cheap labor. There was ethnic and political tension because, initially, the Eastern Europeans were exploited as strikebreakers and were looked down upon by the British (the "Johnny Bulls").

In a sense, by marrying someone of British ancestry, my mother seemed to be enacting a desire to increase her social status. She was, if anything, incredibly status conscious. But the way in which she did so was very much in conformity with the ethnic makeup and politics of her community of origin. Even though my father, like my mother, grew up in relative poverty, he did bring a sense of technical expertise to the family, as he was naturally gifted in science and metallurgy.

My mother's home town had a population of 145 according to the latest census (2010). The towns of Barnesboro and Spangler (both named after mining companies), where we used to go shopping when we visited my mother's family, both went out of existence in 2000 as they merged to create a new borough. Both towns were founded in the 1890s. I find that kind of bizarre, as I am accustomed to greater longevity in the towns and cities where I have lived.


Om Kreem Kalyai Namaha,

ak

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