On December 20, 2019 a promise was kept. The pensions and health care of 80,000 Appalachian coal miners and their families are now secure and guaranteed by the federal government. Tom Breiding’s music was an integral part of the nine-year fight to secure these benefits. Standing side by side with UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts, Tom performed his original rally songs on the sidewalks and streets in front of coal company corporate buildings across the U.S., at fairground gatherings, at marches throughout Appalachia, and ultimately before 10,000 at the steps of the United States Capitol Building.
The day after a rally in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, the front page lead story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette began with these words, “Carried by an Americana folk chord progression on acoustic guitar, musician Tom Breiding’s message was as poignant as any rallying cry issued from the podium at the Greene County Fairgrounds on Friday. “Promises made, promises broken,” Mr. Breiding crooned over a D-chord. Clad uniformly in United Mine Workers of America camouflage, more than 5,000 supporters of the Appalachian coal industry whooped and hollered.
Breiding’s work with the union has not been limited to protest. Tom was commissioned by the union to document some of the most important labor events of the 20th century such as the Ludlow Massacre of 1914 and the Farmington mine explosion which brought about landmark mine safety legislation in 1968. In each case, Breiding performed his songs “Ballad of Mary Petrucci,” “The Women and Children of Ludlow,” and “Farmington #9” to the families and descendants of the victims’ families in ceremonies facilitated by the union.