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‘On toward victory in union election in August,’ Utah miners say
Co-Op miners describe advance at Colorado event on Ludlow massacre
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 68/No. 26July 20, 2004


This is a two-week issue of the ‘Militant.’ The next issue, no. 27, dated July 27, will be mailed to readers July 15.

lead articles
Bosses are forced to rehire
striking Utah coal miners
UMWA announces breakthrough in union-organizing battle
Top: June 27 meeting to commemorate 1914 massacre of striking miners in Ludlow, Colorado. Strikers from Co-Op mine in Utah were among speakers at UMWA-sponsored event. Bottom, from left: strikers Celso Panduro and Bill Estrada, UMWA international executive board member Mike Dalpiaz, and UMWA Region 4 director Bob Butero. Portrait in back shows former UMWA president John L. Lewis. (See article)
Militant/Guillermo Esquivel

‘On toward victory in union election in August,’ Utah miners say

Co-Op miners describe advance at Colorado event on Ludlow massacre

HUNTINGTON, Utah—In a major breakthrough for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) organizing battle at the Co-Op mine here, the union received a draft settlement from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that orders C.W. Mining Co. to reinstate all of the 75 miners who were illegally fired last September. With most of the Co-Op strikers back to work before mid-July, the chances increase that the UMWA will win the NLRB-mandated union election that will be held sometime in August, workers report.

On June 21, two bosses from the Co-Op mine hand delivered letters to the striking miners giving them an unconditional offer to return to work. The letter stated that workers must let the company know by July 6 if they are returning to their jobs and that they must report to work no later than July 12.

“It’s a victory: we won the right to go back to work,” said striker Domingo Olivas. “All the work we’ve done up to this point puts us in a good position to win the UMWA inside the mine. We hope the miners who are already working inside will be with us.”

“Rather than reporting separately, we will all march together to the mine on July 6 and let the Co-Op bosses know we are coming back united,” said Bill Estrada, one of the strike leaders. “We are inviting all strike supporters to Huntington to march with us that day and celebrate. Fifteen retired UMWA members were the first to tell us they will be there. We look forward to doing everything possible to win the union election in August.”

On Sept. 22, 2003, 75 coal miners were fired from their jobs at the Co-Op mine, owned by C.W. Mining. They were fired because they had contacted the UMWA about getting a union organized at the mine. The miners were being paid between $5.15 and $7.00 an hour with no benefits.

A company union has existed at the mine for many years. Workers have submitted evidence that the officers of this “union” are bosses and are related to the Kingstons, the wealthy family that owns the mine.

The strikers report that the settlement agreement from the NLRB clearly states that any type of intimidation or harassment of pro-union miners by the Co-Op management is illegal. The document states that the agreement must be visibly posted at the mine for 60 days.

This is important because this is what led to the wholesale firings last September, workers say. Prior to that date, the miners had been talking to UMWA organizers about how to get a real union organized at the mine. Bosses began harassing and suspending the miners for this activity. They had cornered miners alone underground and questioned them about “the meetings they were having with the UMWA.”

The bosses also tried to disrupt a meeting the strikers had organized outside the mine, and had threatened workers, most of whom are immigrants from Mexico, with sending the immigration police after them. When they learned of the company threats, the strikers changed the time and location of that meeting. When the miners returned to Huntington after their gathering, they say they saw the bosses standing in front of the old location waiting for the meeting to begin.

The settlement explicitly prohibits any of these practices, workers say. It states that the employers must refrain even from watching the workers, or from giving them the impression they are being watched, while participating in union activities.

On Sept. 23, 2003, the UMWA filed charges with the NLRB stating that all 75 miners were fired illegally for union activity. The national labor board upheld the charge in its ruling.

The NLRB made the decision nine months into the workers’ strike, which has continued to win broader support in the labor movement throughout the country.

The miners also reported that the draft settlement includes a back pay order, the exact details of which are being negotiated and may be settled in court. The settlement reportedly states that employees have the right to pursue any legal claims they may have against the company because of loss of wages or other benefits.

Strikers said that as soon as they received the news, they began contacting all the miners who were fired. Many of the miners had taken jobs in other cities and are in the process of driving very long distances back to Huntington by July 6. A striker who went to Idaho and has been working in the potato fields for several months, for example, informed the strike leadership committee he plans to be back.

Other strikers have gotten jobs at other mines in the Utah area, and a number have indicated they will return to Co-Op.

The NLRB has set a hearing for July 20-22 in Price, Utah, to determine who will be eligible to vote and the time and place of the union election.

After the strikers and their supporters march to the mine office on July 6, everyone plans to meet at the town hall in Huntington for food, refreshments, and a celebration.

For more information, contact the UMWA office in Price at (435) 637-2037 or (435) 650-2019. Solidarity messages to be read at the rally can be faxed to the UMWA at (435) 637-9456.

Co-Op miners describe advance at
Colorado event on Ludlow massacre
LUDLOW, Colorado—“Ninety years ago in April we had people die here,” said Bob Butero, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Region 4 director. “They were immigrants and worked in unsafe mines.

“I’d like to say that doesn’t happen in mines today. But in September 2003, miners struck in the small town of Huntington, Utah. They worked for between $5.25 and $7.00 an hour and under unsafe conditions. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled this week they were illegally fired.”

With these words, Butero opened the program at a UMWA-sponsored event here to mark the 90th anniversary of the Ludlow massacre. The ceremony was held June 27 at the Ludlow Massacre Memorial.

The monument is dedicated to the 21 miners and family members who were slaughtered during the April 20, 1914, assault by company thugs and state militiamen on a tent camp of coal miners on strike to win union recognition.

About 300 people, including UMWA members and Steelworkers from the region, participated in the event to pay their respects to those who fought and died to build the miners’ union in the western coalfields and to hear about today’s battles.

Fred Lupo, UMWA District 22 president in Price, Utah, chaired the meeting and introduced a group of nine striking Utah miners. The strikers were received with a standing ovation.

Celso Panduro, one of the Co-Op strikers who is on the leadership committee of the UMWA strike, addressed the meeting in Spanish. Bill Estrada, another striker, translated.

“I want to thank Bob Butero and Roy Fernandez for the invitation to be part of this commemoration of the 1914 massacre of fellow miners who were gunned down by the company,” Panduro said. “I am one of the 75 miners unjustly fired on Sept. 22, 2003, by Co-Op. We were working for this company under dangerous conditions with low pay and no benefits. After nine months on strike we continue to fight with the help of the UMWA, the Catholic Church, the PACE union, the National Union of Mineworkers of the United Kingdom, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and many other labor organizations.

“We find ourselves at a very decisive moment,” Panduro continued. “Because of the support we’ve gained the NLRB told us verbally that the company illegally fired us. We have won the right to have a union election and now the company has been forced to give us our jobs back. They used to say they would never give us our jobs back. We’re now discussing the best way to return to work so we can win our union.”

The strikers said they received a letter in English and Spanish dated June 21 from managers of the Co-Op mine, which is owned by the Kingston family. “C.W. Mining Co. unconditionally offers you immediate and full reinstatement to your former job without prejudice to seniority or any other rights or privileges you previously enjoyed,” the letter says. “To accept this unconditional offer, you must respond to C. W. Mining company, as soon as possible or no later than July 6, 2004, and be on the payroll and back at work no later than July 12, 2004.

“C.W. Mining Company has removed from its files any reference there might have been to any disciplinary action against you arising out of the September 2003 labor dispute and any such action will not be used against you in any way.”  
Marching back to work united
Panduro said the strikers will march together to the mine along with supporters the day they report back to work to show the company that the miners remain united and strong.

“But we’re also facing an obstacle in the upcoming election—the company union, which has bosses as members,” said Panduro. “We have been fighting to get rid of this fake union but the NLRB still recognizes it, even though it only represents the bosses.

“We have the dates of July 20-22 for a hearing on who will be eligible to vote. The UMWA and the miners, Co-Op, and the NLRB will be part of this meeting. Now we have to pressure the NLRB not to allow Kingston family members or the management to vote. The election may be in August. That’s why today we’re here asking for your support. This is not only our fight but the fight of all miners who have a common goal,” concluded Panduro, to applause.

Mike Dalpiaz, UMWA international executive board member and the union’s western regional representative, was the keynote speaker. He announced that the Co-Op strikers will be returning to the job because the NLRB has put down in writing its ruling that the miners were fired illegally. “On July 6, we’re going to be at the entrance of that coal mine,” he said. “We’re going to march to that mine and go back to work!”

Dalpiaz also made special mention of Patti Salazar, president of UMWA Local 8935. The local organizes nurses and hospital workers at the Mt. San Rafael hospital in Trinidad, Colorado. Salazar, a former underground coal miner, Melody Albreski, and four other nurses led a fight for the union at the hospital in the summer of 2000. They won the union election in December of that year and strengthened that victory in the early part of 2001 by wining a closed shop election. The nurses, Salazar said, “chose the UMWA because they were willing to organize the hospital wall to wall. I knew Bob Butero from high school and the UMWA is a well known union in the area.” The local voted June 28 to approve their second contract, which includes an across-the-board pay raise.

The nine striking Co-Op miners who made the 10-hour journey from Huntington, Utah, displayed photos of their strike activities next to boards of black and white photographs of Ludlow coal miners in 1914 set up by the event organizers.

“I’m very impressed,” said Berthila Len, one of the nine strikers from Utah, referring to the Ludlow event. “I ate with an older lady who told me she was born at the camp and whose father was a coal miner during those times. She told me what they lived through. I’d like to know more about their history.”

Bob Butero reported on the progress of the project to rebuild the Ludlow Memorial. “The labor community has raised $80,000 to repair the statues of a man, woman, and child,” he said. The monument that depicts a miner and a woman with a child in her arms was beheaded in 2003. “Since 1918 the memorial had stood unguarded and unprotected,” Butero said. The statue will be rededicated next year for the 91st anniversary commemoration, after painstaking work to rebuild the statue using granite from the original quarry it was built from. Butero thanked the many UMWA locals that took part in preparing the memorial site for the rebuilding project, making special mention of UMWA retirees Local 9856.

Alex “Wolf” Gerardo, a retiree with Local 9856 who has worked in area mines for 20 years before they shut down about 15 years ago, said, “I want to go to Huntington July 6. We’ve got to support them.” Gerardo said he was on strike in 1985-86 for 19 months at Wyoming Fuel. The mine was located 23 miles west of Trinidad.  
The Ludlow massacre
Paul Mendrick, secretary-treasurer of the Colorado AFL-CIO, explained the struggle 90 years ago leading up to the Ludlow massacre. “Nine thousand miners walked out on Sept. 23, 1913, protesting wages of $1.68 a day,” he said. After facing years of deplorable working conditions and the refusal of Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and its owner, John D. Rockefeller Jr., to negotiate, the coal miners voted to strike for union recognition. Their demands included a 10 percent increase in tonnage rates; the eight-hour day; payment of all narrow and dead work; election of check-weighmen by the miners; and the right to shop at stores and obtain housing not controlled by the company.

The Ludlow massacre took place on the morning of April 20, 1914, when state militiamen and hired company thugs took positions in the hillside overlooking the tent colony of the strikers and exploded two dynamite bombs. The miners, remembering the Forbs tent colony attack on Oct. 17, 1913, that ended in the killing of one miner and a boy being shot nine times, took positions in the arroyos nearby. A 12-hour battle followed and resulted in the death of one boy and two miners at the hands of the company.

Many of the miners, women, and children failed to escape the attack and hid in the cellars and trenches dug under the tent colony offering some protection from indiscriminant shooting at the miners’ settlement. Upon orders from their officers the militiamen poured coal oil on the tents and set them on fire. Eleven children and two women died from the arson. A total of 21 workers and family members died in the brutal assault.

As word spread of the massacre, miners, with arms in hand, marched on Ludlow to avenge the deaths of the women, children, and miners. A 10-day rebellion ensued and ended when federal cavalry troops, called by President Woodrow Wilson, arrived on April 30 to put down the miners.

The strike ended Dec. 10, 1914, after 15 months of bitter battles. The miners decided to return to work without union recognition.

Photo displays of the Ludlow strike were shown throughout the monument area. The photos showed the armed defense the miners had organized to take on the company, the notorious Baldwin-Felts detective agency, and the state militia. Photos of Mother Jones, who played a major role helping to organize the union in the coal fields throughout the country during the late 19th early 20th centuries, were also on display. Many of the participants also took a tour of the memorial and the cellar where the bodies of the women and children were found.

Bob Wise, recording secretary of the United Steelworkers of America Local 2102, said, “We started coming in 1998,” referring to the Ludlow massacre commemorations. “We started our strike in October 1997 and we had just gotten an agreement. We struggled with forced overtime throughout the mill in Pueblo and we’re still fighting.” Vic Padilla, USWA Local 2102 financial secretary, presented a $500 donation from the local for the Ludlow memorial reconstruction fund.

State representative Buffie McFadyen, a Democrat from Pueblo West, also addressed the event.

Working and retired miners along with spouses and other trade unionists mingled after the presentations to discuss where the fight for the union stands today. Participants ate a catered lunch of BBQ roast beef, potato salad, and baked beans, before a thunder storm quickly moved in and ended the event. After the meeting, the Co-Op miners and a group of their supporters drove the mile-and-a half down an old unpaved road to the Ludlow mine portal to collect pieces of coal to take back to Huntington with them.

Other locals present or acknowledged at the event were UMWA Locals 6417 and 7949 from Raton, New Mexico, and Local 8622 from Helper, Utah.

Guillermo Esquivel contributed to this article.

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