MCCALLA, Ala. — At a rally attended by 450 people here April 21, striking miners from the Brookwood coal mine were joined by union retirees, family members and contingents from other unions. The event was held at Tannehill State Park in the first union-organized rally to support the battle of United Mine Workers of America members against Warrior Met Coal bosses. Some 1,100 UMWA miners have been on strike since April 1.
International UMWA District 20 Vice President Larry Spencer welcomed everyone to the rally. “We’re tired of the contract we’ve had to work under since 2016,” he said. “That’s what the strike is all about. The company has decided to take on the union. We appreciate the support from all of you. We’re in the battle of our lives.”
Retirees are helping to staff the picket line during the rally, so more miners could attend, Spencer said. “We have 12 picket lines set up now, but we really need 20 in place. We’re going to have to ramp up.”
“We’re here to stand up and fight with you,” Marianne Hayward, president of the Central Alabama American Federation of Teachers, told the crowd. She read a message of solidarity from AFT-West Virginia President Fred Albert.
“I want each and every one of you to know that the heart and soul of every West Virginia teacher, including myself, is on the picket line with you. During our back-to-back statewide teacher strikes in 2018 and 2019, the solidarity of my UMWA brothers and sisters was unlike anything I have ever experienced,” Albert wrote. “Our union will forever be grateful to yours.”
He was describing the powerful West Virginia teachers strikes and protests that won gains for teachers and other school employees and inspired a wave of teachers’ strikes across the country.
UMWA President Cecil Roberts was the featured speaker. “We’re going to continue this fight for as long as it takes to win a better contract,” he said, to cheers of “No contract, no coal!” He reported that the AFL-CIO had contributed $25,000 to the UMWA’s strike fund.
“The airline companies, like the mine owners, have long used bankruptcy courts to take away our pensions and other gains the airline unions have won over years of struggle,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told the crowd to cheers. “Like you, they want fewer of us to work harder for less money. They use the courts to strip us of our rights.” The flight attendants’ union contributed $10,000 to the miners.
Workers and officials from the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and railroad unions were among those present to back the miners.
A group from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union also attended, including a few of those involved in the recent RWDSU organizing drive at the Amazon warehouse in nearby Bessemer. The union drive, while unsuccessful, drew attention and support from many other unorganized workers and union members, here and around the country, including many miners.
The Warrior Met mine bosses got a court injunction against the union limiting the number of pickets at the No. 4 and No. 7 mine portals, central shop, preparation plant and railroad tracks. The company is trying to mine coal at No. 7, using managers and strikebreakers, some of whom were contract workers before the strike. A few union members have crossed the picket line.
Build solidarity for miners’ strike!
Warrior Met Coal was formed in 2016 after previous mine owner Jim Walter Resources went bankrupt. Like many other coal operators around the country, the “new” mine owners — unpaid creditors — were able to use the capitalist bankruptcy courts to force major concessions on the union.
The previous five-year contract expired April 1. Miners are now fighting to regain some of the ground they lost in wages, benefits and working conditions. Union members voted overwhelmingly April 9 to reject a company offer of a measly $1.50 an hour wage increase over five years and to continue the strike.
“The jobs we do are the same type that other miners do, but their benefits are far greater,” UMWA representative Moses Moore said, referring to union contracts at other unionized mines in Alabama. “We just want things to be balanced out to where everything is equal. That’s what being a union is all about.”
The union is planning solidarity rallies every Wednesday night at Tannehill Park at 6 p.m., as long as the strike lasts.
Retiree William Lee says he plans to be on the picket line until they win. He worked at the Brookwood mine for 33 years before retiring, he told the University of Alabama TV station WVUA. “I will be there with bells and whistles,” he said. “I have stood on the picket lines once and I will stand on it again if that’s what it takes.”
Bring your co-workers and fellow unionists to join the rallies! Send contributions and messages of support to UMWA District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216 (Miners’ Memorial Parkway), McCalla, AL 35111. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel.: (205) 477-7500. Fax: (205) 477-0004.