From the May-June 2018 issue of News & Letters
Living as we are in an age dominated by the almighty computer algorithm, “narratives,” brand building and risible “progressive” politics, the passing of Andy Phillips carries great weight. Andy’s whole life revolved around the knowledge that the current social arrangement depends on the sweated labor of wage workers and those who work for no wages to make their labor possible.
Andy’s many years in the dangerous coal mines of northern West Virginia around the historic town of Scott’s Run were full of rich experiences of working-class struggle and solidarity in the eventful post-World War II period. The acts of creative and purposeful resistance to exploitation and bureaucracy he witnessed and participated in were the high points of his eventful life.
The work Andy did to communicate knowledge of those experiences is a great rebuke to the common sense thinking of today, in which social class has long since been transformed into an exclusively cultural category, thereby occluding the contradictions of capitalist society.
Andy, who took his pen name from Wendell Phillips, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s greatest co-thinker and critic, was also a great fighter against racism. Andy’s writings tirelessly decried racism in the coal mines of West Virginia (reminding us of the forgotten history of African-American miners) and the auto factories of Detroit.
I had the great opportunity to hear many moving stories from Andy over the years. I was fortunate enough to know him, from the revulsion he felt at the treatment of enlisted men in the Army Air Forces during World War II to his experiences visiting Poland during the Solidarity period. I will miss his great reservoir of kindness, humor and sense of purpose.