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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 67/No. 36October 20, 2003

lead article
Utah coal miners set up
pickets in fight for union
Locked-out workers win solidarity from fellow unionists
Militant/Alicia Guerrero
First day of picketing at Co-Op mine, October 3. Miners have been receiving solidarity from other unionists, and spouses have organized a women's auxiliary (see article).

PRICE, Utah—Coal miners set up a picket line October 3 at the entrance to the Co-Op mine, located near the town of Huntington, about 20 miles south of Price in central Utah.

“Miners united will never be defeated,” some 50 workers shouted in Spanish in front of a video camera operated by a young member of the Kingston family, which owns the mine, also known as C.W. Mining Company or Canyon Mining Co.

These union supporters were in a festive mood. They chanted, waved United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) picket signs, and pointed their fingers at the company camera in front of this mine portal.

“We’ve been eager to start the picketing so that every worker and everyone around here knows we’re not going anywhere and that we’re going to get our jobs back,” said Jaime Rodríguez, a picket captain and a coal miner at Co-Op for 14 years.

“It’s October and the bosses might think this is the end of it,” he said, “but this is just the beginning. Our union representative reported that we will have brothers from the [UMWA-organized] Deer Creek mine and from other mines in the region and the country come to our picket line. I can’t wait to see my supervisor’s face when he sees this.”

On September 22, all 75 miners walked out of this underground mine. They were protesting unsafe working conditions and the suspension of a co-worker for union activity. The company fired and locked out the workers, who vowed to continue their fight and to organize into the UMWA.

On the picket line, miners held up signs listing some of their demands. These included, “Protest the unfair labor practices of Co-Op, we want our jobs back,” “We want a safe workplace,” and “We are fighting for dignity and respect.” Miners proudly wore UMWA hats they had received earlier that week at the union’s national convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, which pledged to back the locked-out miners.

The day before, at an event held at the UMWA District 22 offices in Price, miners received the first shipment of donations for the UMWA-organized food bank. The newly established women’s auxiliary had organized many families to bring their children to the union offices to get information about medical assistance programs and other available social entitlements such as food stamps.

Representatives from the Association of Utah Community Health (AUCH) were on hand to answer questions about health-care facilities that are available and d to help those who are eligible to register for assistance programs. A short program preceded the distribution of food.

Jesús Salazar spoke for the leadership committee of the miners at Co-Op. “I am speaking of behalf of a committee of representatives that has been working to advanced this fight over the past month,” he said. Salazar introduced the women’s auxiliary organization as one of the important accomplishments of the miners’ fight. He welcomed everyone and expressed thanks for their participation and solidarity.

“[UMWA] President Cecil Roberts told us at our convention that our union will do what ever is necessary to help you,” said Warren Oviatt from District 22. He said he would be administering the miners’ food bank in Huntington, where most of the miners live.

“This union has taken on and won against much more powerful opponents than the Kingston Family,” Oviatt said. “I can assure you we will win this fight.”

“My grandfather was a coal miner,” said Edward Armour, who was representing the Salt Lake Central Labor Council. “I have also done some jobs in ventilation systems for coal mines as a sheet metal worker,” he added, “so I know what is like underground, and I have loads of respect for miners. Look at the pictures that are hanging from the walls of this hall,” he said, pointing to portraits of UMWA members going back a century. “You will find pictures of my family. And now your families join them. The Central Labor Council is with you and will continue to do so until you win. Sí se puede! [Yes we can],” he concluded.

“You are not alone,” said Corey Hilton, an organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who was speaking for a coalition of building trade unions in Salt Lake City. Workers from Co-Op explained that Hilton had been instrumental in organizing this first food shipment. He had met the coal miners the previous week at the send-off rally for the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride in Salt Lake City.

“Your fight is our fight,” said Darryl Terk, a Communications Workers of America organizer who explained that he spoke for the 1,700 CWA members in Utah.

“It is an honor to be among such courageous miners,” said George Neckle from Utah Jobs with Justice. The miners gave thanks to Neckle for inviting the UMWA to the immigrant rights march in Salt Lake City. “We normally don’t do this kind of hands-on work,” said Gina Cornia, who spoke in Spanish for Utahns Against Hunger. “We normally do work related to achieving grants and passing legislation in Congress that pertains to making food and nutrition accessible to people,” she said. “But when we learned about your fight, we decided we had to come today.” A photographer from the Price Sun Advocate took pictures of the coal miners and their new backers outside the District 22 offices.

On the morning of October 4, miners reported they succeeded in getting four out of seven workers to either turn back or join the picket line. They were either coming in or just getting off work. One of these workers reported that the bosses were working very hard trying to operate the mining equipment to try to get some coal delivered. “But yesterday they couldn’t get any out because of some belt problems,” he said. Workers also report that stockpiles at the coal load are also down.

“We’ve tried to change the situation in this mine before,” said Jaime Rodríguez. “But the company was successful in pushing us back. My cousin was fired on my fourth day on the job because he had been trying many years ago to organize what we are doing today,” he said.

“But with the UMWA and the way we are united, it will be different this time.”
Related articles:
Miners’ spouses organize into the struggle

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