Select material on this significant chapter in the battles of working people in the United States is also available on the Militants web site beginning this week.
The Militant Fighting Fund grew out of a hard-fought effort by coal miners at the Co-Op mine near Huntington, Utah, to win UMWA representation, beginning in 2003. Supporters of the Militant established the Fund in 2004 to defend the paper from a harassment lawsuit filed against scores of supporters of the union-organizing struggle by C.W. Mining Company, Co-Ops owner, and by the International Association of United Workers Union (IAUWU), described by miners as a company union.
Co-Op miners fight for a union
In August 2003, coal miners at Co-Op began discussing how to fight for better pay, safer conditions, and dignity on the job. Like many other miners in the United States, they faced unsafe working conditions and had no recourse in face of company abuse. Starting wages for underground miners there were about $5.50 an hour, compared to a nationwide hourly average of $17. The miners, overwhelmingly immigrants from Mexico, began organizing a union to fight for their goals. The UMWA pledged its backing.
On Sept. 22, 2003, some 75 Co-Op miners were locked out after stopping work to demand the company reverse the firing of union supporter Bill Estrada. His dismissal came on the heels of other victimizations of union backers.
The workers turned the lockout into a strike. They won support across the country and the world. Local unions, especially in the West, along with community and labor organizations, lent solidarity in the form of food and monetary donations. Support came from as far away as New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
From the outset, the Militant was the main voice of the miners cause, presenting the facts week in and week out and rallying support for the struggle across North America and the worldsimilar to what the paper has done with other labor battles over decades. In three years, the Militant ran 150 articles and 9 editorials on the struggle and related events.
The strike lasted nearly 10 months. By standing up to defend themselves, the Co-Op miners struck a chord with working people, and their actions had influence across the region. Nonunion miners visited the picket lines to bring support. Coal truck drivers approached the UMWA about organizing. Members of rail and electrical workers unions began discussing how to stop the sale and transport of struck coal.
Ground shifts in the struggle
As a result of the strike, in July 2004 C.W. Mining was forced to offer the strikers their jobs back and agreed to a union representation election. The agreement followed a decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that the 75 miners had been fired illegally and ordering the company to reinstate them.
About half the miners returned to work; others had already gotten new jobs. As returning miners organized to win coworkers who had crossed the picket line to vote for the UMWA, union supporters faced a virtual war with the company inside the mine.
It was at that point in the struggle that conditions were the best for pressing toward a UMWA local at Co-Op, Alyson Kennedy, a former Co-Op miner, told the Militant in a May 2006 interview.
Thats what was opening up for us, she said, if labor action both in this area, the region, and nationally had been strong enough to reinforce what was being done on the picket line and then when we were back in the mine. But that kind of help from the broader union movement was never organized, she noted. While C.W. Mining couldnt defeat us, the fight for a union in the mine turned into a standoff.
Days before the union representation election in December 2004, C.W. Mining fired 30 workers. The company claimed it had just learned these miners did not have proper documents to work in the United States, even though many of them had worked there for years.
Bosses use courts to retaliate
Unable to defeat the miners on the picket line or in the mine, C.W. Mining tried to shift the focus of the struggle into the courts. In September 2004 the company and IAUWU filed a defamation lawsuit in Federal District Court in Salt Lake City, Utah, against more than 100 individuals and organizations.
The coal operators aim was to thwart the miners determination to win a union of their choice and deal blows to all those speaking out and organizing solidarity with the miners.
Among the defendants were 16 leaders of the unionization drive at Co-Op, the UMWA and its international officers, the Salt Lake City diocese of the Catholic Church, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Militant. The coal bosses complaint falsely described the Militant as a newspaper owned and/or controlled by the Socialist Workers Party. Other newspapers were also targetedincluding Utahs largest-circulation dailies, the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret Morning News, and the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of Salt Lakes Catholic dioceseas well as a number of individuals, organizations, and trade unions.
Broad labor defense effort
As C.W. Minings campaign against the organizing drive developed, the company used its lawsuit to concentrate its fire on the miners, the UMWA, and the Militant. It asserted that miners who spoke out publicly about their organizing struggle, and anyone who supported them or reported what they said, was guilty of defaming the company. Defendants were also charged with a litany of other alleged offenses.
UMWA attorneys represented the miners cited in the suit.
The Militant and the Socialist Workers Party retained Salt Lake City attorneys Randy Dryer and Michael Petrogeorge to represent them. The SWPs general counsel, Michael Krinsky, collaborated throughout the case with the Utah attorneys. Although the SWP and several other defendants were dropped by C.W. Mining and the IAUWU from a second amended complaint in July 2005, the company could have asked the court at any time to reinstate any of the initial defendants.
The Militant organized the Militant Fighting Fund to raise money to pay attorneys fees and court expenses, and to ensure the paper could continue its labor coverage and socialist editorial policy undeterred, including remaining a consistent voice of the Co-Op miners battle. Spurred by this struggle and by the growing political weight in the U.S. working class of immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, the Militant in June 2005 published its first bilingual issue and has appeared in English and Spanish ever since.
Some 1,470 individuals and organizations from 17 countries endorsed the Militant Fighting Fund. These included 10 international unions; 26 local unions; 230 union officers; and hundreds of defenders of free speech and freedom of the press, backers of labor rights, and others. Material on the case was translated into French, Spanish, and Swedish.
Of the $122,000 donated to the Fund, union locals and labor organizations contributed more than $6,000. The Militant provided the defense effort $23,000 at the outset to cover initial expenses. After all attorneys fees and other costs were paid, $37,925 was returned to the Militant.
On July 6, 2006, nearly three years after the Co-Op miners were locked out, a federal judge in Salt Lake City dismissed the C.W. Mining lawsuit. The UMWA, the Militant, and the 16 miners had reached a settlement with C.W. Mining and the IAUWU to end the lawsuit and outstanding NLRB issues. Coming amid a massive proletarian movement for legalization of immigrants and during what was to become the deadliest year for coal miners in more than a decade, the judges decision registered that the miners had stood off the bosses once again.
In an article published in the Aug. 7, 2006, Militant, its editor, Argiris Malapanis, noted that the dropping of the lawsuit was a victory for the working class and union movement. The victory registered in defeating this harassment lawsuitone of the most important labor defense cases in many yearsis cause for celebration by all working people, he said.
On our web site
The Militant Fighting Fund material posted on the Militants web site includes a table of contents of items now at the Wisconsin State Historical Society; a summary and chronology of the union-organizing struggle and fight to defeat the bosses retaliatory court action; several articles from the Militant and New International magazine explaining the place of the fight and the significance of its outcome for the labor movement; the Funds wrap-up financial statement; and the final published endorsers list.
The record at the historical society also includes, among other things, press coverage of the union battle and defense effort from the Militant, the UMW Journal, and newspapers in Utah and elsewhere, as well as public legal documents from the bosses court action. The latter includes the judges 2006 order dismissing C.W. Minings complaint against the two Salt Lake City dailies.
The Militant Fighting Fund record at the Wisconsin State Historical Society complements others there on labor and political defense efforts. The society holds the record of the Civil Rights Defense Committee, which campaigned on behalf of leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and Minneapolis Local 544-CIO (formerly Teamsters), who were framed up in 1941 and subsequently sent to federal prison for their activity organizing labor opposition to Washingtons entry into the imperialist Second World War.
Other collections include the records of defense cases for frame-up victims of the class struggle, from the Kutcher Civil Rights Committee, formed in 1948, which successfully fought the dismissal of James Kutcher, a legless World War II veteran, from his federal job because of his membership in the SWP; to the Mark Curtis Defense Committee, which supported the 1988-96 legal defense of framed-up packinghouse worker and socialist Mark Curtis; and the Róger Calero Defense Committee, which successfully fought government efforts in 2002-03 to deport Calero, a Militant reporter.
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