Ricardo Chávez (right) and other miners fighting for a union at the Co-op Mine in Huntington, Utah, picket company offices in Salt Lake City October 30.
The miners drove from Huntington to hook up with folks they had met during the kickoff of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride here last month. Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor and community organizations, helped the miners organize the informational picket line in front of Kingstons legal office. The group also hosted a meeting later that day to launch a broader effort to extend solidarity for the miners fight.
On September 22, 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 have vowed to continue their struggle to get their jobs back and be organized into the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
UM-WA, UM-WA chanted miners and supporters as lawyer Carl Kingston refused an offer from the anchorman of ABC TV Channel 4 to debate UMWA International representative Jim Stevenson in front of the camera. Mineros unidos, jamás serán vencidos! (Miners united will never be defeated), chanted the miners, most of whom come from Mexico. Others joined in with chants of Luchamos para vencer, no nos ganarán! (We are fighting to win, they will not defeat us), and Aquí estamos, y aquí nos quedamos; y si nos sacan, nos regresamos! (We are here, and we are here to stay; and if they throw us out, we will return).
In addition to Channel 4, coverage of the action included articles published the next day in the Salt Lake Tribune and La Prensa, and the previous day in the Deseret News. The current issue of the UMWA Journal has extensive coverage of the struggle in Huntington. The miners also did a one-hour live interview prior to the picket line on the Gena Edvalson show at KRCL radio.
Surface and underground miners, oil and rail workers, students from the University of Utah, and members of community groups such as Utahns Against Hunger and Mormons for Equality and Justice took part in the picket line.
I am here to express support to the miners and their families and to find out what else we can do to help, said John Langford, a miner at the huge Kennecott Utah Cooper surface mine, just outside of Salt Lake. I will pursue the possibility to discuss this in the locals in my mine.
We have been collecting monies and food for the miners during our midday break at school this whole past week, said Gokcer Ozgur, a student at the University of Utah here and member of Student Labor Action Project. The group organized a trip to Huntington along with some activists from a local Mormon church to bring food and the donations they collected at school for the miners fight.
James Tobler of the group Mormons for Equality and Justice decried what he said was lack of attention by the Kingstons to the teachings of Mormon leader Brigham Young, who he said stood up for workers and injustice. Well stand by the workers until justice is achieved, Tobler stated. It surprises me that people can sleep at night.
Bertila León, a coal miner who is a single mother of five, was one of the miners interviewed on KRCL radio and by the Salt Lake Tribune during that days activities. Yes, of course I am worried about the medical bills, the rent and the food for my children, she said. But it is important to stand up against years of injustice.
During the KRCL interview León was asked how a mother of five ended up working at Co-Op. After I separated from my husband because of violence, she said, its not like I had much of a choice. There are not many places where I could earn enough income for my family where I live. So I went to the mine and I became a belt man.
When she was asked about safety, León responded: We would sometimes force them to fix some unsafe situation if we pushed hard enough, but in general you would point out the problems and the boss would do nothing.
Ricardo Chávez and some of the other Co-op miners at the picket line showed the Salt Lake Tribune and other reporters scars from injuries suffered on the job.
Today we described to the media and the activists we met with after the picket line the huge economic pressures all miners are under, said Ana María Sánchez, one of the Co-op miners. We have organized ourselves into committees of miners: Picket Line Maintenance, Food Bank, Outreach, and an Emergencies committee that I am a member of that makes sure no one gets evicted, nor their gas or electricity is cut off. We have organized a clinic to charge us less for care and medicine. We make sure no kid is without medicine and we already had an abscessed tooth to deal with, she explained.
But the economic pressure is baring down on every miner, Sánchez continued. Everything we have gotten so far has made it possible for us to make it this far, but people must realize that most of us have had a total income of $100 in six weeks of struggle. A number of us have gotten part-time and full-time jobs and more are needed. We are here in Salt Lake to organize people to help us get the means we need to maintain the fight. Meeting people like Michael Lester, from the AFL-CIO Community Services, was important, she concluded.
Both the picket and the meeting were very good, said Jesús Salazar, a leader of the fight at Co-op. You can see what is possible. We asked the folks at the meeting for some gas money and we got over $300 in donations just at that meeting. We need to come back to Salt Lake to keep the pressure on the Kingstons.
The meeting took place at the Jubilee Center in downtown Salt Lake City, reported Francisco Picado, a UMWA Local 1984 miner who works at the Deserado mine near Rangely, Colorado. Picado has been assigned by the UMWA to help with the organization of the struggle at Co-op. The meeting decided to organize a big rally around November 29 and to continue to do smaller actions at the University of Utah and at some of the Kingston locations between now and then, he said.
Were going to keep this battle going until they [the Kingstons] come into the 21st century, UMWA International organizer Jim Stevenson told the Salt Lake Tribune. The dark days are gone.
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