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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 68/No. 24June 28, 2004

lead article
Utah miners: ‘On with
fight for a real union!’
United Mine Workers union pledges backing ‘until we win’
Kenny Gunter (with bullhorn), a miner at nearby Deer Creek coal mine and member of UMWA Local 1769, told crowd at June 5 cookout and rally in Huntington, Utah, “You are in a tough fight, and you are doing a damn good job of standing up. We will continue to support the Co-Op miners and help get the UMWA in that mine.”

HUNTINGTON, Utah—At a turning point in the strike by coal miners to win United Mine Workers of America union representation, 80 miners and supporters gathered in City Park next to the Huntington Town Hall for a cookout and rally June 5. It was a festive and serious event. Participants heard about the latest developments in the fight and plans to step up efforts to win solidarity, as workers at the Co-Op mine head toward a representation election.

Standing on a bench in front of a banner saying, “On with the fight for a real union” in English and Spanish, Bill Estrada, one of the strike leaders, explained the issues in this labor battle, read messages of support, and introduced other speakers.

“We are at a moment where our activity every day and your support really count,” said Estrada. He noted that after eight months on strike, having been illegally fired by the Co-Op bosses for union activity, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) has been informed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that it will authorize the striking miners to vote in order to be organized by the miners union.

Mike Dalpiaz (standing on right), UMWA International Executive Board member, assured those attending June 5 cookout and rally in Huntington, Utah, of the UMWA’s support to the Co-Op miners until victory.

“The NLRB says the miners at Co-Op were fired illegally and there will be an election where workers can decide to vote for a real union,” Mike Dalpiaz, a member of the UMWA International Executive Board from nearby Price, Utah, told the crowd. “Those are two important victories.”  
Phony company ‘union’
With the assistance of the UMWA, the fired miners filed a petition for a representation election against the “International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU),” an outfit run by the Kingston family, which owns the mine. The miners filed the petition during an “open window” period in the terms of the so-called contract under which the Co-Op miners worked. That “contract” expires August 10.

The IAUWU “is a false ‘union’ that has never supported us,” strike leader Jess Salazar told the crowd. “The union officers are bosses who are responsible for setting production goals and disciplining and firing workers.”

Estrada said the strikers were informed by UMWA officials that the government labor board claims this so-called union is a legitimate representative of the workers. Strikers provided ample evidence it is actually run by the company.

On June 3, at the suggestion of UMWA officials following the labor board’s reported claim legitimizing the company union, the strikers suspended their picketing on the road leading to the mine. At the rally, Dalpiaz said picket lines sometimes have to be taken down and put back up, and that the NLRB position in favor of the Kingston outfit means the picket line has to come down for now.

The strikers are going to look for every opportunity to expose the company “union” and make clear to the Kingstons that the strike remains solid, Estrada said.

Miners in the West see the potential for a victory at the Co-Op mine as a spur to other UMWA organizing efforts in mines they work at or know about. Discussion about the Co-Op strike continues to bubble among miners in the region.

Many messages backing the striking miners testified to the strength of this fight. Lawrence Oliver, former president of UMWA Local 1332 in Window Rock, Arizona, and current director of Human Resources of the Navajo Nation, wrote, “You have shown them that you are stronger. We went through the same thing. Right now they are testing you. The first strike is hard, but it is well worth it.

“As labor finds out about your fight, the solidarity will grow. I know you can win,” he said. Miners in the West see the potential for a victory at the Co-Op mine as a spur to other UMWA organizing efforts in mines they work at or know about. Discussion about the Co-Op strike continues to bubble among miners in the region.  
Support from Deer Creek miners
Kenny Gunter, secretary-treasurer of UMWA Local 1769 at the nearby Deer Creek mine, told the crowd, “You are in a tough fight. There is no doubt about it. But you are standing up, and you are doing a damn good job of standing up. We will continue to support the Co-Op miners and help to get the UMWA in that mine.”

The Deer Creek miners local has raised substantial funds and food donations for the Co-Op strikers, and the local has been a source of encouragement to the strikers as they drive to and from work honking their horns or waving to the strikers. Deer Creek miners provided the refreshments for the cookout.

Estrada pointed to the indispensable help provided by UMWA organizers throughout the strike who come in from Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. “From Montana, too!” UMWA Region 4 director Bob Butero yelled out from where he was barbequing hot dogs and hamburgers with the other union officials.

Top, UMWA organizer Roy Fernandez from Raton, New Mexico, draws a ticket for Co-Op miners’ raffle of union hats, shirts, and coffee cups. Bottom, Bill Preston, president of UMWA retirees’ Local 9958 told the miners, “You are in a strong position through all you have accomplished with your strike.”

Dalpiaz reported on a recent meeting of the UMWA International Executive Board in Charleston, West Virginia, where the Co-Op miners strike was discussed and the union’s central leadership body pledged to continue the UMWA’s efforts to win the strike.

At the start of the strike in September 2003, the very first carload of supporters who visited the picket line was a group of retired miners from UMWA Local 9958. Bill Preston, recording secretary of that local, spoke at the cookout. Pointing to the wages he worked for as a UMWA miner, as well as his health-care and pension benefits, he said, “In many ways, we miners organized by the UMWA have it made, but that wasn’t always the case. When my father was in the mines 70 years ago, you were told everything to do. You were told what kind of food and clothing to buy and where to buy it, and where to work, whether it was safe or not.

“The first contract was the hardest, but from there we got to where we are today,” Preston added. He said the Co-Op miners are in a strong position through all they have accomplished with their strike.

Others came to show their support for the strikers. Many of the miners live in a trailer court near the middle of Huntington. One of their neighbors brought his whole family after seeing a flyer for the event. He wrote out a check to encourage the miners to keep up the fight. Two young Mormon missionaries who said they are winning support for the strike were also present.

Repeatedly throughout the long sunny afternoon, UMWA organizers drew raffle tickets for prizes provided by the union. A woman miner from Colorado won a union T-shirt commemorating the 1914 Ludlow massacre. A Wal-Mart worker from Price won a UMWA hat. Another UMWA hat was won by a miner who retired from the nearby Wilberg mine and who had been working another shift on the day of the explosion in 1984 that killed more than two-dozen miners. Many of the strikers and their children won prizes.  
Union solidarity tour
A message of support was received from John Castanho, secretary-treasurer of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 in the San Francisco Bay Area. “The struggles of labor and the Co-Op miners are also the struggle of the ILWU Local 10,” his message said. “You have fought a long hard battle and deserve nothing less than fair treatment and fair employment. Good luck in your struggle and your brothers and sisters of Local 10 are with you until victory.”

To applause, Estrada reminded the crowd of the solidarity visit on a cold day in February when Local 10’s 17-member drill team joined the strikers’ picket line and rally.

The cookout and rally was also a send-off for strike leaders Juan Salazar and Alyson Kennedy, who will speak June 8-10 to five locals of the longshore union in Washington and Oregon.

Salazar said in an interview that the strikers see that tour as very important at this crucial moment in the strike. “We have always sought and received support from other unions. Now more than ever, we need it. The support gives us more energy. It helps us to keep going.

“We will explain that the company union is a fraud. Some of the miners who have crossed the picket line tell us the company makes promises of better wages and safety conditions, but there is no difference from when we worked there. And some of those workers are beginning to say that they’ve had enough.

“We are putting our plan in place. Day-to-day we will be organizing the activity of the striking miners. We can’t lose if we stick together. I for one am still looking forward to seeing the bosses cry when we win this strike.”

Co-Op strikers (from left) Nite Flores, Juan Salazar, and Bill Estrada (speaking) at cookout and rally.

Representatives of two Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers (PACE) union locals representing oil, chemical, and other workers in the Salt Lake City area were also at the rally. They are actively involved in the effort to spread support for the Co-Op strike in the labor movement. A representative of the Catholic Church was warmly welcomed by the miners for its continuing support.

Ed Mayne, president of the Utah AFL-CIO, also sent a message to the Huntington event.

Strikers will be on hand when the NLRB convenes hearings in Price on who will be eligible to vote in the union election.

As part of the effort to meet other miners and unionists in the Western coalfields, the Co-Op miners have taken up the invitation by Region 4 director Bob Butero for a dozen strikers to participate in the June 27 commemoration of the Ludlow Massacre, in Ludlow, Colorado. These activities mark the brutal slaughter of 20 miners and family members who were part of a coal miners strike in 1914. The commemorative event attracts working people from throughout the West every year, and is a place where the Co-Op strikers will gain further support.

Rger Calero contributed to this article.

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