By ERNIE GOTTA
Seven leaders of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) were symbolically arrested outside the BlackRock corporation on 52nd Street in Manhattan, as hundreds cheered. BlackRock is the largest shareholder of the Warrior Met Corporation, which owns the mine in Alabama where 1100 UMWA members are on strike.
There were miners from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and of course, the miners from Alabama, who have been on strike since April. Some of the miners who traveled from Pennsylvania in solidarity with the Alabama miners were veterans of the Pittston strike in 1989. There were also small union contingents from UNITE HERE Local 100, SAG-AFTRA, Teamsters Local 1150, CWA, New York City Hotel Trade Council, and the National Writers Union.
From 59th Street, miners gathered and marched seven blocks with UMWA President Cecil Roberts holding a banner that read “Justice at Warrior Met.” Miners wearing full camo outfits wore shirts that read, “We Are Everywhere.” At the rally Bob Proto, of UNITE HERE Local 35 and an International Vice President of the union, said, “The support for your struggle is not dwindling, it is growing!”
Teamster Local 1150 issued a solidarity statement from their Instagram page, stating, “These workers, who keep the profits flowing into the pockets of company ownership, should not have to fight for basic rights after this employer already cut their wages, pensions, time off, and medical benefits. It is high time Warrior Met Coal does the right thing by taking care of its workers and ending this strike.”
Tavita Uhatafe, a vice president of the Texas AFL-CIO, said, “I’ve traveled across the country from different picket lines, from Nabisco to Kellogg’s and now to the mineworkers, and I’m inspired by your stand. You guys are our heroes, it’s through your actions we all stand tall.” Uhatafe continued, “The Texas AFL-CIO is with you. Solidarity forever! Sí se puede!”
The support is needed as the company strikebreakers have become violent by ramming workers and family members on the picketline with their vehicles. In July the wife of a miner was hit, and UMWA President Cecil Roberts had this say, “She was obeying the orders of the Sheriff’s Deputy to stay out of the way of vehicles as they were going in and out of the mine.” Roberts, who witnessed the incident, added, “Without any warning the driver of a Mazda pulled in, swerved toward her and struck her along her back and arm.”
On Nov. 4, A Tuscaloosa County judge issued a restraining order against picket line activity at Warrior Met. It prohibits picketing or “other activity” within 300 yards of 12 different locations in the county, including mines and offices. The order was to expire on Nov. 5, but it can be extended.
UMWA International President Cecil Roberts said that the order is unconstitutional. “The Constitution of the United States protects American citizens’ right to stand on the side of a road and call a scab a scab,” he said. “It protects their rights to peacefully assemble and air their grievances with an employer or any other person or entity. … We intend to continue to exercise our rights.”
UMWA members remain committed to their strike, as there is a lot to lose. In recent contract negotiations, the miners have demanded $1.1 billion that would reverse the concessions made in 2016 to help the mine recover profitability. The billion-dollar price tag included concessions in health care, vacations, overtime and more. Since those concessions, an influx of investors has made the mines very profitable. The strike is costing the company money as SPGlobal.com reported losses of $17.9 million in the second quarter.
Some critics may raise questions about supporting coal workers over issues involving climate change. A simple response to those concerns is that solutions to climate change must include the demand of a just transition for workers in extractive industries. No one knows the environmentally destructive power that mining can have on a community better than the miners who live there. In fact, the miners waging this fight that has been going on long before “Striketober,” will likely be the ones at the center of the fight for a just transition to cleaner energy. These sisters and brothers from Alabama are setting an important example of how to take on the company.
This was the second action in New York City at BlackRock in 2021. More actions are likely, and we encourage all our readers to attend actions and show your solidarity with the UMWA. You can contribute to their victory by donating to their strike fund here: https://umwa.org/umwa2021strikefund/
Photo by Russ O’Shea.