“The working class needs its own party to lead the fight for political power, to produce the energy we need and defend our health and environment,” Kennedy replied. “The SWP is that party.”
Kennedy and SWP campaigners visited 13 towns around Morgantown and Fairmont dotted with coal mines over four days, knocking on doors to introduce the party to workers there. While a few “Trump” signs were visible, and one “Hillary” sign, they were far outnumbered by “Proud Union Family” and “We Support United Mine Workers” placards.
SWP supporters were also helping to build the United Mine Workers Sept. 8 rally in Washington, D.C., called to defend miners’ pensions and retiree health benefits. Many people in Wana and Blacksville near the Monongalia mine, formerly Consol-owned Blacksville No. 2, knew about the march. In 2013, coal boss Robert Murray bought five Consol mines in West Virginia. The UMW District 31 office in Fairmont said they are sending six buses to Washington.
Coal miners, workers in factories that service the industry and working people who live in mining regions like this have been especially hard hit by the contraction in capitalist production and trade. Since September 2014, more than 170,000 workers in coal-related jobs have been thrown out of work, from Wyoming to Alabama.
Coal bosses are seeking to shift the burden onto the back of miners and their families. Five major coal employers — Peabody Energy Corp., Walter Energy Inc., Alpha Natural Resources Inc., Patriot Coal and Arch Coal — have declared bankruptcy in the last year, joining more than 50 others.
“Trump says what he does about coal jobs to get votes, he doesn’t care about coal miners,” Mullins told Kennedy, adding that he has no confidence in Clinton either.
“Billions of people worldwide desperately need energy,” Kennedy said. “Miners and working people need to fight to strengthen and organize unions, to put miners back to work and to meet the energy needs of workers around the world — a basic requirement for reading, culture and political struggle.”
“As more struggles rise, as more workers fight, we will gain confidence and build a movement to overthrow capitalist exploitation and rule,” Kennedy said. “Along this road, miners will help lead the transition to nuclear and other sources of power that are cleaner. The working class in power would guarantee every miner a socially useful job and a rewarding place in the process.”
Mullins has also worked in construction. He was making $18 an hour and immigrant workers beside him were getting $11. “Why don’t you pay the man the same wage?” he told the bosses.
Mullins got the new Pathfinder Press book Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege and Learning Under Capitalism and subscribed to the Militant.
In Maidsville, Kennedy knocked on the door of Byron Forman, a miner operator at Consol’s Bailey Mine. He said bosses there try to bribe workers into getting support for Trump by giving them a day off if they sign up 10 people to back him.
Forman was concerned that the U.S. has been continuously at war for the last 25 years. “Hillary Clinton is running as a war candidate, and the root cause of Washington’s wars is the increased competition for markets built into the capitalist system,” Kennedy said. Forcing the U.S. rulers to bring the troops home from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, like all changes in the interest of workers, are not accomplished by pulling a lever on election day, but by workers’ struggles, she said.
In Fairmont, this campaigner met Aaron and Tracy Dragoo at the door to their trailer. Tracy is a registered nurse and Aaron a construction welder who also traps foxes to supplement their income.
We discussed the crisis in health care and how the lure of commodities under capitalism mires the working class in debt. I explained how workers and farmers in Cuba made a revolution to overthrow capitalism and its degradation of working people.
The Cuban Revolution is based on qualitatively different values, I said, “You are what you do, not what you have. And the Cuban people have expressed these values for over 55 years in Cuba and in internationalist solidarity from Angola to Venezuela.” They got Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? and a Militant subscription.
“There aren’t enough jobs and people feel hopeless,” a young woman in Farmington told us. Many people she knows get caught up with drugs. She was familiar with cases of abuse by police and frame-ups too. Describing what happened to a classmate who never learned to read, she said, “The police just talked circles around him until they got him to sign a confession. Now he’s in prison for something he didn’t do.”
She agreed working people need to take political power.
Ved Dookhun contributed to this article.
BY JOHN HAWKINS
MORGANFIELD, Ky. — “There’s three buses going from Morganfield alone,” retired miner David Aker told Dan Fein and Betsy Farley, Socialist Workers Party candidates for U.S. Senate and Congress in Illinois campaigning here. “Buses are going from Madisonville, Henderson and other towns here and in southern Illinois too.”
Aker was talking about the Sept. 8 rally called by the United Mine Workers union to demand passage of the Miners Protection Act to prevent the cutting off of health care and pension benefits for retired coal miners and their spouses and dependents.
In 1946, after a national strike of 400,000 miners, the UMWA won the promise of lifetime health care from the federal government. A health and welfare fund for miners was set up, paid for by a coal tax, and run by the union and the government.
“They already told us that as of the first of next year we won’t have medical coverage unless the bill is passed in D.C.,” Aker said. “My wife’s arthritis is treated with some of the same chemicals used to treat cancer. It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars without the medical coverage.
“A clean coal-fired power plant was supposed to go up in central Illinois,” Aker said, “but the companies building it backed out when the Obama administration withdrew funding for it.”
Mine bankruptcies and shutdowns are not just affecting retirees, Aker pointed out. Younger miners who are laid off have to get by on unemployment or jobs that pay far less.
In Sturgis, Lawrence Brown and Derrick Utley were preparing to fry some fish they’d caught. Brown had three years in the mines and Utley six before being laid off. Both now work at Liberty Tire rubber recycling for $10 an hour.
“Not having the job in the mine has meant a real struggle,” Brown said.
“I started out working for nonunion West Kentucky Coal, hand loading for 44 cents a ton,” 90-year-old Charles Dixon, whose father had also been a miner, told Fein and Farley. “I mined coal for 40 years, the last 22 at Peabody.
“I wasn’t part of the 1946 strike because I was working at a nonunion mine,” he said. “My dad warned me against union talk. But I wanted a union. I left to work in a union mine.
“These were company towns all around here. The movies, drug store, clothing store, furniture store, houses, doctor — they had it all sewed up,” he said. “If they caught you shopping anywhere else, they fired you. You paid for everything with company flicker [scrip].
“President Truman made us a promise in 1946 and the government should live up to it,” Dixon said. “I told my father when he retired, ‘That’s what saved you, the union and the pension and health care we won.’”
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