McCALLA, Ala. — Over 1,500 United Mine Workers of America members, retirees, family members, other unionists, and community supporters rallied in Tannehill State Park here April 6 to back UMWA members on strike at Warrior Met Coal in nearby Brookwood.
The rally was marked by the miners’ determination to fight as long as needed to emerge victorious. They led chants of “One day stronger, one day longer!”
Some 1,100 UMWA members walked out on April 1, 2021. Their fight to win a better contract after living with five years of lowered wages and benefits and attacks on their working conditions and dignity is winning widespread union solidarity.
“This was a good turnout today to support the miners. It means a lot to us,” striker Otis Sims told the Militant. Sims has worked at the mine for 43 years and was a longwall operator when the walkout began last year. “My dad, granddad, and great-granddad were all miners,” he said. “I could retire any time now, but I’m out here and on the picket line every week. I don’t want to retire until we see this through.”
The rally drew hundreds of UMWA members and retirees from West Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and elsewhere in Alabama, along with members of many other unions.
“The strike has taken a long time,” said Charles Foster, who works with Sims. “But when you’re fighting for a better future, for something that’s important and worth fighting for, it’s going to take some time.” Foster had been a contract worker taking care of train derailments before working at Warrior Met. “I thought being a miner would be a more stable schedule,” he said with a laugh. “This rally is progress. It gives us hope to see all the support from other union members.”
Rally speakers included UMWA President Cecil Roberts, who thanked the many unions and thousands of individuals who have donated $2 million to the union’s strike fund to help strikers and their families make it through the long months on the picket line. “We’re here to stay for a just contract,” Roberts said. “We practice solidarity. Come and walk the picket line with us!” Messages of solidarity from other unions and announcements of new donations to the strike fund were also featured.
Anthony Shelton, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union; Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA; AFL-CIO presidents from Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama; and other union officials also spoke, pledging support for the striking miners.
Unions mobilize support
A spirited contingent of 43 workers and union officials from the UNITE HERE union came to the rally from New Orleans, Atlanta, and Biloxi, Mississippi. “We wanted a big outpouring today for the miners,” UNITE HERE member Shaun Mills, who works at Harrah’s casino in New Orleans, told the Militant. “We consider them our brothers and sisters!”
Several busloads of United Auto Workers members and retirees came from Atlanta and Louisville, Kentucky; along with Amalgamated Transit Union members from Chattanooga, Tennessee; Teamsters; members of the BCTGM; United Food and Commercial Workers; United Steelworkers; and others.
Representatives of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, who have been working to win union recognition at the Amazon distribution center in nearby Bessemer, joined in. A few UMWA strikers are currently working at Amazon and participating in the union drive there.
The recent union victory at the Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, New York, along with the successful union battles in 2021 that involved thousands of unionists using the strike weapon to confront assaults by Kellogg’s, Nabisco, Frito-Lay, John Deere and other employers, have also helped strengthen Warrior Met strikers’ resolve.
There have been solidarity rallies nearly every week since the strike started. Contingents of striking Warrior Met workers have also joined protests outside the offices of BlackRock, the company’s largest investor, in New York and other cities, with backing from local union members.
The company was formed by BlackRock and other creditors out of the 2015 bankruptcy of the mines’ previous owner, Jim Walter Resources. Threatening to close the mines if the union didn’t accept major concessions, the new bosses slashed wages, benefits and other gains miners had fought for over decades. Promises to restore cuts when the mine began making money were never met, leading to the strike.
The company is mining some coal, using scab labor.
Strikers have also had to weather company efforts to violence-bait the union, which led to a court injunction last October that violated their constitutional rights, prohibiting all picketing for several months. Strikers at the rally said they were glad to be back on the picket line.
Help spread the word about the strike! Build solidarity! Send donations to UMWA 2021 Strike Fund at P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026. Messages of support can be sent to District 20, Email: email@example.com.