Union coal miners in Brookwood, Alabama, who have been on strike since April 1, 2021, are stepping up their resistance plans. The task for local United Mine Workers (UMWA) now is to break through Warrior Met Coal’s threat to starve them out – and move forward at the negotiating table.
In what may be the longest coal miners’ strike in US history, 1,100 workers walked out 20 months ago and only 161 crossed the picket line. The miners made serious concessions on wages and benefits to keep the company from bankruptcy on previous contracts — and then the company broke its “promise” to restore those cuts.
The pressure on the miners was unrelenting. Scabs are escorted by the Brookwood cops at Warrior Met, who then harass the picket with blue lights. A state judge essentially banned strikers and supporters from picketing near mine entrances.
The UMWA workers fought back with intense solidarity. They marched in Brookwood’s holiday parade last year in their carbide lamp hats and work overalls. They traveled to New York City to rally and commit civil disobedience at Blackstone Financial, Warrior Met’s global investment sponsor. They’ve picketed, held weekly rallies, given media interviews, rounded up supplies from food banks, connected with a nationwide labor network and more.
During the first week of November, miners planned to block the road where scabs cross the picket line and hide behind local police escorts. Four members of the UMWA relief force – three former miners and current President Haeden Wright – volunteered for arrest.
When news of the plan broke out in the small Brookwood community, miners and supporters were threatened with fines of up to $200,000.
The blockade has been suspended for the time being. Instead, on November 8, a convoy of buses unloaded miners, auxiliaries and supporters near the mine heads, accompanied by UMWA President Cecil Roberts and Secretary-Treasurer Brian Sanson.
To a soundtrack of union classics – from “Union Maid” to “Solidarity Forever” – protesters made their way to the entrance of the number 4 mine, chanting and waving yellow and black UMWA signs. Solidarity was strong as a busload of UMWA Local 2300 miners joined the crowd. after a long drive from western Pennsylvania.
Brookwood police cars attempted to herd the march, then formed a menacing ring around the protest. The strike was slandered as “violent” in the local media.
But Kris Mallory, special assistant to the UMWA President, told labor journalist Kim Kelly, “They paint this picture of us as, ‘These are people who are here to do violence.’ We’re just here to try and get a collective agreement.” (realnews.com, Nov. 7)
Mallory stressed that the union plans to do one new action weekly until they get their contract. Active in the Alabama mines since 1890, the UMWA has a long history of successful resistance.
UMWA Auxiliary, which organizes material support and solidarity in the movement, needs steady donations to help the miners and their families stay strong in this class struggle showdown. Send support to: Solidarity Santa: tinyurl.com/43r5fe4j and umwa.org/umwa2021strikefund.