MCCALLA, Ala.—Striking United Mine Workers of America members, backed by their families, retirees and other union supporters, gathered for a solidarity rally at Tannehill State Park here June 16, marking 2½ months on strike against Warrior Met Coal.
The rallies have been a weekly show of support for the strike since mid-April, often drawing other unionists from Alabama and beyond. Strikers can pick up their strike pay there and miners’ families get food and other supplies from the food bank organized by the UMWA Auxiliary, run by miners’ spouses, family members and retirees.
The 1,100 coal miners have been on strike since April 1, picketing around the clock at two underground mines (No. 4 and No. 7), a coal-preparation plant, central shops and various railroad crossings at Warrior Met operations in nearby Brookwood.
This is the first UMWA contract strike in Alabama since the early 1980s.
The miners are fighting to regain ground lost in 2016 when they took major concessions in wages, benefits and working conditions after the previous owner, Jim Walter Resources, went bankrupt. The mine’s new owners, Warrior Met Coal, used the bankruptcy hearings and threats to close the mines to demand miners give up gains they had fought for over decades, promising the givebacks were only temporary.
The metallurgical coal mined by Warrior Met is in high demand worldwide, used for making steel by bosses in Europe, South America and Asia. Although the company reported a decline in revenue during the coronavirus pandemic when steel production fell worldwide, the company has made millions in profits since taking over. They reported net income of $302 million in 2019.
“The company has exhausted its [coal] reserves” because of the strike, UMWA International District 20 Vice President Larry Spencer told the rally. “We expect some positive discussions with the company for the first time.”
The day before the rally, several hundred miners blocked vehicles from coming in and out of the No. 7 mine for several hours, miners told the Militant. The picketing ended without arrests.
The company has been busing scabs into No. 7 since the strike started, in an effort to keep up production to meet orders and to undermine the strike. Three separate incidents of vehicular assault on strikers by persons working for Warrior Met have occurred on the picket lines over three days, a June 7 UMWA news release reported. A union drone videoed the incidents. Police reports were filed by union members, but strikers say that local police have shown little interest.
Meanwhile, several strikers who were hit were sent to the hospital. One miner, Greg Pilkington, was injured when a truck drove through the picket line, hitting a burn barrel, which then struck him. “I’m not going to give up, because that’s what they want,” he said. “That’s part of their agenda, to scare us off or physically and mentally take us to where we don’t want to fight anymore.”
Donations to the miners’ strike fund are growing, UMWA President Cecil Roberts told the rally. Tens of thousands of dollars have been contributed by unions, from the Boilermakers to the Seafarers International Union, and many UMWA districts and locals have made donations. Contributions have been received from Walmart workers, churches and many individual supporters.
Support and solidarity are needed. All donation checks should be made out to UMWA 2021 Strike Aid Fund and sent to UMWA Strike Fund, P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026.
Messages of support can also be sent to UMWA District 20, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maurice Williams from Birmingham contributed to this article.