Build support for striking miners and steelworkers!

Mineworkers battle for safety, against divisions

By John Hawkins
and Maggie Trowe
May 3, 2021
UMWA Local 2397 members Andre Ball, standing on left, and Ronnie Reynolds, seated in the right foreground, staffing the picket line at Warrior Met Coal’s No. 7 Mine West Portal.
Militant/Maggie TroweUMWA Local 2397 members Andre Ball, standing on left, and Ronnie Reynolds, seated in the right foreground, staffing the picket line at Warrior Met Coal’s No. 7 Mine West Portal.

BROOKWOOD, Ala. — “We are one UMWA,” “No contract no coal,” and “United we stand UMWA” signs dot yards, showing support for the 1,100 members of the United Mine Workers of America on strike against Warrior Met Coal here since April 1. You also see these yard signs in working-class neighborhoods across the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham corridor.

When Warrior Met offered a five-year contract with little more than a paltry $1.50 raise April 5, union miners voted overwhelmingly to continue their strike.

Warrior Met Coal was formed in 2016 out of the bankruptcy of Jim Walter Resources. The pro-boss bankruptcy court helped the “new” mine owners — hedge fund bosses and other creditors owed money by Jim Walter — to take over, reorganize the company and insist on concessions from the miners.

The new bosses demanded major givebacks on wages and working conditions, claiming sacrifice was necessary to continue production, save jobs and pay benefits for retired miners. A major wage cut, loss of sick days and holidays, and higher health care premiums were imposed on workers, along with speedup and erosion of safety.

“We lost 15 years of gains in that last contract,” Ronnie Reynolds told these two Militant worker-correspondents on the picket line April 18. John Hawkins worked at Jim Walters No. 5 Mine from 1985 to 1997. “We get overtime pay after 40 hours instead of after eight. That 80/20 health plan and the $750 deductible we have to pay amounted to a wage cut too. Just like the company taking our paid lunch.”

“I hadn’t thought about it quite that way, but that’s right,” Andre Ball said. “I know we lost between $6 and $8 per hour right when they filed for bankruptcy. In the first year our labor brought them out of bankruptcy The second year after they had declared bankruptcy they made $1 billion. They bragged about it and then offered us $1 an hour.”

“This strike is about doing what’s right,” said Lawrence Green, who has worked underground at the No. 7 mine for the past two and a half years. Before that he was a contract worker in the mines. “They’re making money. Why isn’t there something for us, for the miners?” Green spoke with us April 15, the day miners picked up their first strike benefits at their union halls.

The company got a Tuscaloosa Circuit Court judge to impose an injunction April 5 that limits the number of pickets the union can have at the mine portals. They claimed union members were “harassing” and “intimidating” strikebreakers driving into the mine. The injunction, now posted at the portals, has been extended to April 28.

“We can only say, ‘No contract, no coal,’ when anyone drives in,” one miner said.

Support grows for strikers

When we knocked on doors in nearby Cottondale April 17 to build support for the strike, many workers knew about it, but some didn’t. The Tuscaloosa News had no coverage of the strike for the three days we were there.

Some miners we met on the picket line or door-knocking were hesitant to talk with people they didn’t know. In recent weeks an anti-labor outfit that calls itself the Socialist Equality Party or the World Socialist Web Site have come to the picket lines, denouncing the UMWA and urging miners to quit.

Acting in the interests of the bosses, this group has twisted strikers’ statements or put words in their mouths. When miners expressed concerns, we showed them the article, “Anti-Labor Outfit Attacks Miners Strike, Union” from the April 26 Militant.

Demand is high for the metallurgical coal mined here. Warrior Met bosses are trying to get some coal out during the strike, using managers and strikebreakers, some of whom were contract workers before the strike. Scabs are brought into the No. 7 mine in school buses with darkened windows from the company-run training center.

A few union members have crossed the picket line, several pickets told us angrily. There’s a heavy presence of state troopers and other police in the area, some parked at mine entrances and others patrolling mine roads.

Unionists and workers who have heard about the strike have begun to visit the picket line to offer solidarity, strikers told us, including a delegation of union miners from West Virginia. Members of United Steelworkers Local 1013 from the nearby U.S. Steel pipe mill came by. Their local set up a collection area in their union hall for members to bring food for the striking miners.

The national union has called a series of rallies in solidarity with the strike. The first one was April 21 in McCalla.

The miners’ fight is in the interests of all workers. Contributions and messages of support and solidarity should be sent to UMWA District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216 (Miners Memorial Parkway), McCalla, AL 35111. Email: Tel.: (205) 477-7500. Fax: (205) 477-0004.