Bucket of Blood - The Ragman's War , by R. S. Sukle

Book Classification : Labor History - History of Organized Labor & Labor Unions - Mining Industry -
1927-1928 United Mine Workers Strike in Russellton, Pennsylvania / Allegheny County, PA - Historical Fiction

Bucket of Blood - The Ragman's War by R. S. Sukle
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268 pages
268 pages
Hardcover, 2004
ISBN 0-595-30155-X / 059530155X

Paperback, 2004
ISBN 0-595-66137-8 / 0595661378

Published by iUniverse

Book Review

At the time of the mine workers' strike of 1927-1928, Russellton, Pennsylvania was a company town. Miners and their families paid rent to live in company houses, and they shopped in the company stores. The law men on the street were the "Coal and Iron Police."

The owners violently resisted the organizational efforts of the the United Mine Workers. The town became what the mine workers called a "bucket of blood", that is, a site where workers' efforts to build a union and establish the right to strike was met by violence from company thugs and agents provocateur.

Oral history has been conveyed in the families of those involved in the Russellton strike and the mine owners' violent response to it. The author is the daughter of a coal miner who was one of the organizers of the UMW and also a civil rights activist. Because the book is based largely on this oral tradition, specific dialogues such as the following must be regarded as fiction:

Buy the book Bucket of Blood The Ragman's War by R. S. Sukle - Paperback Edition

Stan Waloski refused to sign a work agreement and found an eviction notice posted to his house. The next day, he took the notice to the mine office and asked the clerk for an explanation.

"You ready to sign a work agreement?"

"No. My family of only three persons cannot live on six fifty a day, so how can we live on six?"

"Then you gotta move."

"I pay my rent. Each month I pay," Waloski said. "Why I get eviction notice?"

"Because we need your house for 'working' miners."

[Book excerpt from page 17]

While the book is based on historical facts and presented realistically, such fictionalized dialogue requires the author to classify the book as a novel. A minor fault of the book is that it is not made sufficiently clear whether certain character names in the story are also fictitious.

Each of the 43 chapters begins with one or more headlines and excerpts from real newspaper articles. These reports are from the archives of the [Allegheny Valley] Valley Daily News during the period of March 1927 through March 1928. The news dispatches describe union activity and the mine owners' practice of evicting families to prevent strikes. Republic Mines initiated this reactionary tactic and Monarch Mines soon emulated it. As the newspaper reported, the union quickly built barracks so that the evicted miners could survive the harsh winter. One of the stories covered is the unsolved killing of a Coal and Iron Policeman.

People in our own era too often forget that our grandparents had to put their lives on the line to win every workplace right that they ultimately won. Let's not rely on the conventional news media to bring attention to the fact that the people who built society's economic base from top to bottom have been so frequently denied the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor. Thomas Jefferson's observation that "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance" is as true on the industrial field as it is on the political field. In addition to the intrinsic value of Sukle's book as a suspenseful story, I hope and believe that it will promote greater awareness of the significance of giving our full support to organized labor.

Book review by Mike Lepore for crimsonbird.com

Three pages with six black-and-white photographs precede the text.

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Book Description from the Publisher

"Bucket of Blood" is what a coal town was called when deaths occurred to establish a worker's union. During the 1927-1928 strike in the western Pennsylvania coalfields, Russellton became known as such a place. In an effort to break the strike, special Coal and Iron police were brought into the area to evict the mine families from their company houses. These men imposed unconstitutional restrictions to harass the people and keep out relief workers and organizers. It was a time of brutal beatings, rape, and murder.

Without union representation the workers were constantly exploited. Because the company used many weapons to keep them enslaved, the miners' families were forced to live in abject poverty. The miner had only one weapon, the strike.

Bucket of Blood : The Ragman's War chronicles the depravation and indignities suffered by the families in the Russellton camps during the strike. Author R.S. Sukle explores the glimmers of hope appearing through relief efforts by the sons of a local farmer who become union activists.

Ragman, a mine mechanic, walks out with the other men. Against his intentions, he is drawn into the struggle by his brothers, and the abuse that is heaped on his family by the Coal and Iron Police.

The killing of a state Coal and Iron policeman in Russellton is a local legend. The killer was never identified. This story has been passed down in certain families, each with their own version. Each claims the killer as a relative. Bucket of Blood : The Ragman's War is one of those stories.

Bucket of Blood - The Ragman's War by R. S. Sukle -- Please select a book edition to check the price ...
Published 2004 - 268 pages
Published 2004 - 268 pages