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Happy Labor Day

Hazel Dickens’ song Fire in the Hole is the title track from the 1987 John Sayles movie Matewan, which tells the story of a coal miners’ strike in the small West Virginia town in 1920.

Here are the lyrics:

“You can tell them in the country, tell them in the town
Miners down in Mingo laid their shovels down
we won’t pull another pillar, load another ton
or lift another finger until the union we have won

Stand up boys, let the bosses know
Turn your buckets over, turn your lanterns low
There’s fire in our hearts and fire in our soul
but there ain’t gonna be no fire in the hole

Daddy died a miner and grandpa he did too,
I’ll bet this coal will kill me before my working days is through
And a hole this dark and dirty an early grave I find
And I plan to make a union for the ones I leave behind

Stand up boys, let the bosses know
Turn you buckets over, turn your lanterns low
There’s fire in our hearts and fire in our soul
but there ain’t gonna be no fire in the hole

There ain’t gonna be no fire in the hole”

Here is the first paragraph of John Bush’s profile of Dickens at AllMusic:

Protest and folksinger Hazel Dickens grew up the eighth of 11 children in a large, poor mining family in West Virginia, and she used elements of country and bluegrass to spread truth about two causes close to her heart: the plight of non-unionized mineworkers and feminism, born not of the ’60s movement but traditional values. Born June 1, 1935, in Mercer County, West Virginia, Dickens learned about music from her father, an occasional banjo player and Baptist minister who drove trucks for a mining company to make a living. She was influenced by country traditionalists such as Uncle Dave Maconthe Monroe Brothers, and the Carter Family. When she was 19, her family’s dire poverty forcedDickens to move to Baltimore, where she worked in factories with her sister and two brothers.

I found the song through a list of top ten labor songs compiled by Pete Rothberg at The Nation. We also linked to a Rothberg choice last year.

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David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.