BROOKWOOD, Ala. — “We’ve worked out with the court that the union can start picketing again,” United Mine Workers of America District 20 Representative James Blankenship told the crowd of striking Warrior Met Coal miners at their weekly solidarity rally here Jan. 12.
The rally drew strikers, retired miners and family members to hear the latest developments in the long-running strike, which began when 1,100 UMWA members walked out April 1. They also picked up their strike benefit checks.
“We’re going to be back on the picket line, starting this upcoming week,” Blankenship said. “We’ve got to take the bull by the horns and drive this strike through until we win. We know who the scabs are, we see them driving around town. We need to talk to them, to try to win them over, to explain what the strike is all about.”
The union is planning a larger solidarity rally in February, in conjunction with the Alabama AFL-CIO, Blankenship said. Meanwhile, weekly rallies, which began shortly after the strike started last year, will continue at the Brookwood Ballpark.
The union was forced to stop picketing after the company got a restraining order against the union Oct. 27 by Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge James Roberts. The order, which was extended several times, banned all picketing and any union activity at all within 300 yards of the mine entrances.
Other strikes, like those at Kellogg’s in Omaha, Nebraska, and at John Deere were also hit with injunctions. The miners union had been staffing a dozen picket lines at the No. 4 and No. 7 mines, the preparation plant, the central shops, and at several railroad crossings since the strike began.
Warrior Met got the restraining order after hiring an anti-union publicity outfit, Los Angeles-based Sitrick and Company, to mount a violence-baiting campaign against the miners. Meanwhile, local and state police and courts have turned a blind eye to numerous incidents of company scabs using pickup trucks and other vehicles to strike and injure picketing union members.
Striker Greg Pilkerton and his wife Amy told the Nation magazine they were both hit by scabs. Greg Pilkerton described how one scab, who the strikers had been arguing with, drove his truck right into the picket line. Pilkerton was hit by a flying burn barrel. “I’m trying to keep from having a knee replacement,” he said.
Amy Pilkerton described how she was hit. “I didn’t even see the car coming. He didn’t even attempt to stop. He just barreled through the picket line, and luckily he hit me just on the right side.”
The strike, now in its 10th month, began last year after union members overwhelmingly refused to accept another five-year concession contract. They remain determined to win back improvements in wages, benefits, working conditions and dignity on the job after living with a deep cutback contract forced on the union in 2016. This was after the mines’ previous owner, Jim Walter Resources, went bankrupt.
Warrior Met, the new owner set up by Jim Walter creditors led by New York-based investment company BlackRock, threatened to close the Brookwood mine operations unless the union went along with massive concessions.
BlackRock boasted Jan. 14 that it is the first asset management company ever to have over $10 trillion under its control.
“I want to thank all of you who haven’t missed a rally,” UMWA International President Cecil Roberts told the crowd. “And I want to thank our auxiliary, which made sure that all our kids had a good Christmas, with toys and plenty to eat.” He also thanked all the unions and other supporters who have contributed to the fund that makes it possible to pay weekly benefits to the striking miners, along with the union’s own strike fund.
Spread the word about the strike! Send donations to UMWA 2021 Strike Fund at P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026. Send messages of support to UMWA District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216, McCalla, AL 35111. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.