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Are You a “Redneck”
(The below transcript was used by Charlie Rittenhouse during his opening remarks at the 2010 Inter-Union Gas Conference in Orlando Florida hosted by the UWUA. Charlie is a Coordinator on the IUGC Steering Committee for the UWUA and a National Executive Board member. He is the president of UWUA Local 69 and has been involved in the union movement for 35+ years.) Charlie resides in a small town in central West Virginia.)
Hello, my name is Charlie Rittenhouse, I’m from the great State of West Virginia and I’m a redneck. Some of you may associate that with a car named the “General Lee” or a “good ole boy” image. That’s not what I mean when I say; “ I’m a redneck.” In the southern part of West Virginia during the nineteen twenties, coal miners were literally fighting a bloody war to become Union.
I’m sure many of you have seen the movie; “Matewan” and heard of the bloody wars in the southern coal fields as the miners fought for their right to unionize. Many lives were lost and families destroyed as they stood up for what they believed in; “better lives for themselves and their fellow workers.”
What a lot of people don’t know is that the term “redneck” found its way into history as it was used in distain by the coal operators and proudly by the union activists to identify a “union man.” Miners would tie a red bandana around their necks to identify themselves as a union man. Legend has it the dye from the red bandanas would stain the miners necks as they sweated during the hard work in the mines, thus they were referred to as “rednecks.”
In any case the red bandana became the symbol of a union activists, “a redneck.” It’s hard to believe in today’s day and age that men literally died wearing this union red badge of courage, the bandana, because they truly believed in Unions. They made the ultimate sacrifices for Unionism, giving up their lives. History shows that to be a Redneck is to be a Union person, it cannot be disputed. Therefore, if you’ve ever stood a picket line or helped a union sister or brother; you ARE a Redneck.
So the next time someone calls you a redneck, don’t get mad, be proud, shake their hand and say; “Damn right I am and proud of it.” In closing, I say that we all pick up that red bandana, that union badge of courage and we let people know that we are not going to go quietly into the night, that we’re not going let the memory of those who sacrificed so much fade into obscure history, that we recognize what miners and the United Mine Workers Union and other Union activists sacrificed for us. I say we take those bandanas, put them on and proudly display that we are Rednecks and that we’re Union Proud. Thank You.