The commonly understood definition of “redneck” is a backwards, rural, white person. That is not the definition we are referring to when we advocate for the Redneck Spring. As we have stated in the piece “Why May Day and What is it?” we are fighting to reclaim our heritage of resistance and rebellion against the capitalist system itself, best exemplified by the Redneck Army as it fought in West Virginia to reclaim the region for poor, working class people of all identities. These worker militants of Appalachia identified themselves as rednecks, wearing red bandanas around their necks to show they were in the coal miner unions against the bosses and their hired gun thugs, like the Baldwin Felts agents. It was a collective identity for Appalachian workers defined by their acts of struggle against oppression and exploitation. It was not inherently a white identity, nor an anti-immigrant identity. When industry came to Appalachia waves of new workers came with it, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and Black people in particular.
The racial system did affect the workers, oftentimes white workers were pitted against immigrant and Black workers, segregation was enforced by the coal companies through housing and at the worksite. These were and still remain effective ways to keep workers divided. But the workers eventually came to understand this tactic and rejected it, knowing that they all had more power united as workers than to remain divided by the bosses and thus more easily controlled. It was only when white workers rejected the system of white supremacy and upheld a multiracial, multinational working class politics that Appalachian workers became a real threat to the capitalist establishment. Thousands of armed workers in the redneck army marched across West Virginia engaging in guerrilla warfare against the coal barons’ private army and the US army. Every time Appalachian workers have risen up against the system the cops, courts and the military have always sided with the bosses against the workers.
These are important historical facts we, as Appalachian workers, have to remember as we reorganize ourselves for militant struggle against our class enemies. White workers must reject the racist, anti-immigrant, imperialist nationalism that politicians and bosses use to keep workers pitted against one another. Working men must reject misogynist and patriarchal politics that bosses and others use to subjugate women workers. Straight workers must reject politics that pits them against their queer fellow workers. Our unity as Appalachian workers can only be as strong as our collective commitment to building egalitarian, anti-oppressive organization. This is not about being “politically correct,” but about having respect for one another as workers. There can be no respect among the working class if one group is stepping on the necks of other workers in order to elevate themselves, and unfortunately this has been the norm for some time. Working men get higher positions and better pay over working women, working class white people are often in charge of over-seeing lower-level non white workers, queer workers are often living in fear of harassment and violence from their straight fellow workers. Until we have more privileged workers understand the divisions within the working class, working class power will remain elusive.
The system that exploits us all requires that we remain divided and oppressive towards one another. To overcome these divisions and build principled unity within the working class is to begin building a revolutionary movement itself. It is the politics of reformism, which supports the Democrats, the lesser-evilism of Hillary, the class collaboration between unions and corporations, that help perpetuate the division of the working class on the basis of race, gender, and skill-set. It is now becoming more evident than ever that our ability to win as workers hinges upon our willingness to reject the pragmatic reformism that is dominant among the left, our very survival requires us to be brave and fight for our power outside and against the state and the ruling class.