Miners strike passes 1-year mark, wins new solidarity

By Susan Lamont
May 2, 2022
Warrior Met miners strike rally, McCalla, Alabama, April 6.
Militant/Susan LaMontWarrior Met miners strike rally, McCalla, Alabama, April 6.

ATLANTA — Opportunities to build solidarity for the 1,100 members of United Mine Workers of America on strike for over a year at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama, are growing. The April 6 solidarity rally near the mine that drew some 1,500 union members and supporters from around the country showed what is possible if unionists spread the word and build support.

“We all thought the rally was great,” UMWA Local 2245 member Otis Sims told the Militant by phone April 18. Sims, who has worked underground for 43 years, was one of the many Warrior Met strikers at the rally. He has been talking with fellow strikers on the picket line since the solidarity action. “At our weekly strike rally on April 13, District 20 officials announced that we’ll be expanding our picket lines further.”

Warrior Met was set up by the biggest outstanding creditors when the previous owner, Jim Walter Resources, declared bankruptcy in 2015. BlackRock — the largest hedge fund in the world — and other new owners told miners they had to accept deep cuts or the bosses would shut the mine down. Wages, benefits and other gains made by the miners over decades of struggle were slashed. The bosses said when they got back on their feet, they’d make it up to the miners.

But when that contract ran out last year, the bosses refused to budge. The miners went on strike April 1, 2021. The company responded with a war of attrition, including hiring scabs and restarting some production.

They charged that the union was threatening scabs, even though the only violence on the picket line was from scabs or company people who drove their cars into pickets on the road. The company found a compliant judge in Tuscaloosa, who ordered the union to stop all picketing or any union activity within 300 yards of the mine entrances.

The strikers were forced to stop picketing for several months over the winter. They were finally able to win back the right to resume limited picketing a few months ago and are now building on that. “Come and walk the picket line with us!” UMWA President Cecil Roberts told participants at the April 6 rally.

Many unionists joined the miners there. The United Auto Workers from Atlanta organized two buses, and UAW members from Louisville came on the Kentucky AFL-CIO bus, along with other unionists.

Kathy Fowler, president of UAW Local 10, which is made up of retirees from GM’s now-closed Doraville plant here, brought a contribution of $1,000 for the strike fund, one of many contributions and messages from international and local unions that were announced that day.

Anthony Shelton, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, spoke at the rally. “The BCTGM had four strikes last year and we got solidarity and won them,” he told the crowd, including in hard-fought battles at Frito-Lay, Nabisco and Kellogg’s. “The UMWA and other unions helped us and we’re helping you. We’re going to win this one!”

SMART Transportation Division, which organizes rail workers, carried an April 4 article on its Facebook page reporting on the yearlong strike, urging union members to attend the April 6 rally. It said, “SMART Transportation Division members are encouraged to show their solidarity with the UMWA.”

Delegations also came from UNITE HERE; the Amalgamated Transit Union; United Steelworkers; United Food and Commercial Workers; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and others.

Help spread the word about the strike! Organize to get union messages of support and contributions. Checks should be made out to UMWA 2021 Strike Fund and sent to UMWA Strike Fund, P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026.

Messages of support can be sent to District 20, 21922 Hwy. 216, McCalla, AL 35111. Email: umwadistrict20@bellsouth.net.