Inside Appalachia's Labor History: Do You Know Where the Word 'Redneck' Comes From?

Mar 9, 2018

After a nine-day statewide strike, West Virginia teachers and school service employees are back to work with a hard-won commitment from lawmakers of a 5 percent pay raise for all public workers. Gov. Jim Justice also ordered the creation of a task force to explore long-term solutions to the public employees insurance program known as PEIA.

We’re working on an show for next week that will examine what this moment means for our state and the region. But this week, we listen back to one of our most popular episodes about the history of labor in West Virginia’s mine wars.

This is not the first time West Virginians were in the national spotlight for a labor movement. The state's labor history is a fascinating and significant chapter of our backstory. At the turn of the 20th century, striking miners sought better pay and shorter workweeks, among a list of other demands. The shoot-outs between organizing miners and hired guns for the coal company owners went on for decades. Many people died on both sides of the struggle.

Host Jessica Lilly closes the episode with some personal thoughts about the connection between West Virginia's mine wars, and the recent strike. 

"It looks like history did indeed repeat itself during this past week’s statewide, nine-day teacher walkout that included school service personnel," Lilly said. "Once again, West Virginia workers demanded better wages as part of the latest labor movement. Now teachers in other states are considering walkouts. While we know history was made just days ago in West Virginia, it’s not clear exactly just how far the 2018 teacher strike will go."

Tell us what you think. Is this the beginning of new labor movement in America? Do you think West Virginia can afford to pay state workers more? Do you think walkouts are the best way to sway lawmakers? We want to hear from you. Send us an email to

Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. Inside Appalachia is produced by Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd. Jesse Wright is our executive producer. Molly Born is our editor for online content. Liz McCormick also contributed to this episode. 

Music in this show was provided by Andy Agnew Jr., Ben Townsend, the late Hazel Dickens, Hurray For the Riff Raff as heard on Mountain Stage, Time Eriksen and Riley Baugus from the album Blair Pathways.  There's also music by Alan “Cathead” Johnston with help from Stacy Grubb from the soundtrack of the play "The Terror of the Tug."