The event was organized to back the coal miners who were on the 86th day of their strike to get their jobs back at CW Mining Company, also known as Co-Op, and to win union recognition.
Roy Fernández, an international organizer for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), co-chaired the rally, and read the message to the 200 people present. Among other messages, he also described a letter of solidarity signed by more than 100 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 271 in Omaha, Nebraska. These workers had won a union-organizing drive two years ago in a Swift meatpacking plant in that city.
Our whole unionfrom Pennsylvania to Arizona to Kentucky knows about this fight and is behind it, Mike Dalpiaz, a UMWA international executive board member, told the rally. It was a proud moment for us when the Co-Op miners came to the UMWA. We stood up then, and we stand up now. We will stand up till we make sure these Co-Op miners win dignity and justice.
Earlier that day, a busload of 55 supporters of the Co-Op miners strike from Salt Lake City pulled up in front of the mine. A car caravan from that city joined the trade unionists, students, and others who came by bus. The expanded picket line of nearly 100 marked the 86th day of the miners struggle, which is backed by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The miners, most of them born in Mexico, have drawn the line against the bosses profit drive that includes operating the mine under increasingly dangerous conditions. Most miners were paid between $5.25 and $7 an hour.
Cal Ockley, treasurer of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 57 at the Huntington power plant a couple of miles down the road, came to the picket line after receiving a flyer advertising the days solidarity activities. I support the Co-Op miners because they are standing up and they deserve some dignity and a decent wage, he said.
Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), three locals of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers union (PACE), United Steelworkers of America from the Kennecott Copper mine, and workers in the building trades and musicians unions joined the picket line. CWA members brought five truckloads of food to the Co-Op miners and have opened their union hall in Salt Lake for meetings of the Co-Op strike solidarity committee there. Students from the University of Utah, members of the Student Labor Action Project who have raised food and financial contributions for the strikers, also took part.
Amidst cold gusts of wind in the entrance to Bear Canyon, pickets held banners and signs reading, Jobs with Justice, Mormons for Equality and Social Justice, and hand-written placards saying Support the Co-op Miners. A banner hung in front of the canvas shelter read, Organizations Supporting the Co-Op Miners on Strike. The names of union locals and other organizations that have visited the picket line and given support to the strike are inscribed on it. They include UMWA Locals 1984 and 9958, PACE Local 8593, the Central Utah Labor Council, UMWA District 22, the International Association of Machinists Local 568, and Jobs with Justice.
The picket line was followed by the solidarity rally and a dinner prepared by the miners and their families. Spirits were high as the strikers pledged to continue their struggle, encouraged by solidarity messages that have begun to arrive from around the world.
After more than nine months of being on strike I can tell you that fighting for what is right is not always easy but it is necessary, said a message from Keith Griep of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 538 in Jefferson, Wisconsin. Your fight is for all workers across the nation, so stay strong and stay together and you will be victorious.
Members of Local 538 have been on strike since February 28 against Tyson Foods. While the rally was taking place here, a solidarity rally was being held in Jefferson for the striking meat packers.
The Co-Op miners responded with their own message to the workers in Jefferson, written by Jesús Salazar on behalf of the miners leadership committee. With this message we want you to see us as brothers in struggle as well, wrote Salazar. We want Tyson to know that your fight is now our fight, and starting today we will help to get the truth out about your strike. We celebrate your nine and a half months of resistance. You are an inspiration that reaffirms our decision to fight for justice.
After almost three months of struggle the company has just now begun to hurt in the pocketbook and is getting concerned, said another message from Lawrence Oliver, former president of UMWA Local 1332. Therefore it is important that you stay strong and united. You have a union, the United Mine Workers of America, which will support you all. Its a strong union with experience and one that you can depend on.
Oliver is a veteran miner at the UMWA-organized Pittsburgh and Midways McKinley mine in New Mexico on the Navajo Nation. He is currently the Division Director of Human Resources for the executive branch of the Navajo nation. The UMWA has just begun to fight, Oliver continued. Pressure is rising with support from other unions for an attack on the Kingstons and other assets they own at the core.
The Kingstons are the owners of the Co-Op mine. They are notorious not only for the superexploitation of their employees in their $150 million empire across six western states, but also for the convictions of prominent members of the clan for abuse of young women in the family forced into polygamous marriages with relatives who have beaten them when they tried to escape.
Ernest López, a retired UMWA member and president of the Parish Council at the San Rafael Catholic Mission in Huntington, explained that through their efforts monies have been raised to cover the rent and utility bills for the miners for the last three months. The Council will continue to raise these funds, he said, adding: This is a just course and we stand with you.
Miners reported that five truckloads of food were brought by workers from Salt Lake Cityincluding some fresh meat and eggscontributed through the efforts of the support committee and KRCL radio there.
Today we are proud to celebrate the 86th day of our struggle for justice and we are even more determined to continue until justice is served, said Salazar for the miners leadership committee. We are coal miners and immigrant workers mainly from Mexico. Because of this fact, the company never thought we would ever stand up and organize to defend ourselves.
This mine is one of the most lucrative businesses of the Kingston family, Salazar added. But today they do not have the production they need and are losing thousands of dollars every day. We want that to be a message to every employer in the region that wants to abuse workers in the same way.
Stakes are high in Co-Op strike
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