The recent Jim Beam strike in Clermont, though a passive and contained frustration, is a reminder that the working class in the core cultural pillars of the Bluegrass state such as bourbon manufacturing still hold some semblance of engagement in their trade and consciousness against the structures of capital. It has defeated my sorrow at the late void of working class voices in the commonwealth, and as usual, presents an opportunity to reach out to the strikers to push their grievances into wider political and economic aspects. While the walkout like many is simply a frustration against contract offers, staff shortages and work hours, in these times of mere regulation and deterrence against direct collective action, no angry worker can be left without a hand of unity. It tends to be a signal to leftists to fuel the flames wherever they emerge, that the opportunity is constantly presenting itself but always trampled by the discourse around the conditions the worker relies on.
The obstacles in re-enriching proletarian power are daunting and seem to expand increasingly each passing day of this election season’s ins and outs, complementary to the habitual attack on the labor movement and the ingrained shutter from the power structures against the present serfs organizing for their own interests. And even within the more radical left we stumble onto copious internal differences of approaches and viewpoints to wade through until a solid point of solidarity can be reached, moving on to the next hundred or so obstacles of actually getting to what we believe. The entire process has possibly been one of the most boom and bust formations of action in American history, whose resolve depends on the health of the current labor organization getting to the next point, all without tampering by neoliberal establishment. Now is one of those crucial points in time we need to foster.
But strikes and unity alone can’t hold up against the forces which dictate the status of human well-being and exploit the resulting desperation. The provisional means of outcry can’t carry us into a better way, nor can they last forever in serving our best interests. Like all scenarios in history a need to unite under new order arises when the battle changes form. The working class in all regions must acknowledge itself as the non-possessing entity in a possessing and non-possessing dichotomy of material conditions upheld by the laws of the state, and hence the recipient of all ill burdens of social life. They need to know they fall under a specially designated class of exploited people for the benefit of the possessing class, rewarded, like a treat to an obedient dog, with hardly a quarter of their value for their services and no further. From this understanding of the abusive relationship of concentrated power, working people of all backgrounds must overcome their boundaries and unite as an autonomous, democratic force against capitalism, the state and the emerging hierarchical divides of persons.
For Kentucky and other Red-states, the pressure put on everyone by local governments and their celebration of Right to Work policy, designed to ensnare workers in an unrestrained labor market, more recently in Kentucky with Matt Bevin’s governorship, has created the divide on policy among the workers guaranteed to quench any and all flames regardless of the vote’s outcome. False and hollow reform distracts class energy from revolution into the bourgeois honeypot where it dies instantly. Otherwise, the ills of working people are revised by the bosses and politicians to scapegoat ethnic minorities and eliminate the very idea of class and its effects.
Disengagement due to political dissatisfaction is either the break from the crushing world around everyone or the innate nihilism in those who want to work a job and come home to their families or breaks from reality, and nothing more. Life itself for the worker is a burden of routine and not a matter of being the master of ones own existence in the company of other self-masters united to build a greater world. Life’s purpose becomes suffering for the vague hope of an offspring’s suffering to grow less and less over a hundred years, with no substance to guarantee this.
Appalachia is caught between a tense historic antagonism against the left, and being one of the most impoverished working class areas in the country because of this. Towns and neighborhoods lack maintenance, families go without medical care, go starving, unemployed and homeless. Drug use skyrockets and laws combating individual choices create broken families. Meanwhile the course of hollow reform leaves Republican and Democratic workers alike chasing their tails leading them right back where they started. Hope placed in presidential candidates proves the gross lack of people’s autonomy in a state society. The union men and women are laughed off and told to accept the imposed changes of the workspaces, let alone seen as the growing potential of a labor revolt in a southern state.
This needs to change, and the change must start with bolstering the spirits of the strikers and organizing them, but not in basic contained unions. Their ambition needs to be influenced for a long-term efficiency of liberation from compromises and desperation. A broad inclusive platform of workers needs to be situated in the region. A dedicated, armed socialist-anarchist federation built on free groups stationed in the states composing Appalachia needs to be arranged and managed horizontally. The group representing Kentucky should begin with engaging with similar workers in the essential cultural productions of the commonwealth. This would gain volume more than any other area to strike in. Kentucky’s bourbon industry, which makes up 90% of the world’s whiskey, being uprooted and reclaimed by those who develop it would get the world’s attention by a thousand times the scope of Clermont’s strike. Gradually; ideally, this would apply to places beyond the lower Midwest area, and include Pittsburgh’s steel and Oregon’s timber, etc.
The opportunities for better organization come and go in all circles, but something in the revolt involving such things as an area’s cultural legacy illuminates the image. The trademark symbols of cultural regions should be appropriated during revolt for the benefit and happiness of working people than for the excess intake of industry. The crafts and trades enjoyed by generations taken out of an exploiter class’s hands and put under a new social system is a hallmark of our endeavor: Our sources of happiness situated next to universal well-being. Freedom and expressive outlets being integral to one another. Mountain-men shiners under black-and-red flags, drinking happily with their family and friends in a better life. This can only be accomplished with organizing under this idea, and acted on in unity with other states and groups. Kentucky, and Appalachia, must unite.