Redneck. It’s a term which is synonymous with being derogatory towards a certain section of white working-class people. However, its origins are far more emotive than what we think of when we hear the phrase.
In the early decades of the 20th century, industrial struggles were taking place across America. In 1921, up to 20,000 coal miners battled for their right to be part of a union. The miners clashed with company enforcers and the National Guard in the Battle of Blair Mountain. It was said to be the biggest uprising in America since the civil war.
The white, black and immigrant miners who came together to fight for better working conditions all wore red bandanas around their necks. This was to identify each other in battle, but it would later come to have a far more symbolic meaning.
Miners in West Virginia were forced to work in horrific, unsafe conditions. It was once said that a West Virginian was safer in a front line trench on the western front during the First World War than he was as a coal miner back home.
The redneck was a symbol of pride, of an example of how the working-class masses can come together and fight for better conditions and the right to have working rights.
This symbolism in the state has been used again as recently as 2017. The teachers of West Virginia went out on strike to demand better wages and more support for the role they play in society. School workers, including janitors and bus drivers, went in their thousands to the state capitol.
Many of these wearing the red bandanas first worn by the miners of the 1920s.
Together they pushed for the improvements to their jobs which were so desperately needed and deserved. The thousands which marched on the capitol forced the Republican governor to push through a 5 per cent wage increase for all school staff.
Like the coal miners, the school staff had gathered together to take on the authorities and stand up for themselves. Once the success of West Virginian teachers was seen, school staff in other states began to follow suit.
West Virginia has a proud history of working-class movements, through its teachers this lives on a century later from when the states coal miners made their stand; and members of both movements wore their red bandanas with pride.