The United Mine Workers Of America released video last week of two of the three attacks on its picketing members by people driving large trucks. The union says these assaults were carried out “...by persons working for Warrior Met Coal, Inc.”
Around 1,100 coal miners have been on strike since the beginning of April, seeking better pay and working conditions, according to the Guardian. Miners accepted a staggering $6-an-hour pay cut, agreed to a strict attendance policy and a steep reduction in benefits five years ago when the last owner of the No 7 mine in Brookwood, Walter Energy, filed for bankruptcy. Strikers say they now can’t afford basic necessities like food and housing. The miners told the Guardian they are simply seeking payment and benefits similar to other local unionized mines. While the strikers have received a great deal of support from the labor community, their struggle has not received much attention in the press.
When the strike started, Warrior Met Coal immediately brought in scabs. The UMWA suspects it is either one of these “replacement workers” or someone working directly with Warrior Met Coal who is attacking these legal picket lines.
From the UMWA’s press release:
“Warrior Met personnel, either management or nonunion workers, have repeatedly struck our members who were engaging in legal picket line activities, with their vehicles,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said today. “We have members in casts, we have members in the hospital, we have members who are concerned about their families and potential of violence against them if they come to the picket line.
“We have been to court on multiple occasions regarding what we can and cannot do on the picket lines and our members respect the guidance of the court,” Roberts said. “Warrior Met seems to believe that it is all right to strike people with cars as they engage in legal, protected activity. This is a dangerous course of action that can swiftly lead to events spiraling out of control. That is the last thing anyone should want.
“I call on Warrior Met to back away from violence and finally come to the bargaining table in good faith, ready to hammer out a fair and reasonable agreement,” Roberts said. “But if Warrior Met decides to continue inspiring violence on the picket lines, their leadership should understand that UMWA members have been subjected to company violence for 131 years and will not be deterred from seeking a fair contract for them and their families. We are still here and we will remain here long after those leaders have gone.”
Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office told AL.com that they had no reports of the attacks on strikers.
Of course, Warrior Met Coal isn’t just abusing its workers. The mine itself recently turned a formally healthy local creek completely black with unknown particulates, according to AL.com.
Vehicles ramming into crowds is a popular, but ultimately ineffective, means of terrorizing groups of people. ISIS praised the technique in its Rumiyah magazine and dozens of Black Lives Matter protests have been rammed into, including one case where the attacker was a local judge.
Coal mining is one of the most dangerous and difficult jobs in the U.S. Miners are no strangers to putting their lives at risk on the job and on the picket line. Events like the Battle of Matewan, West Virginia, which killed 10 people, are among the many episodes in the history of American labor that are, by design, almost completely overlooked in the U.S. education system. As striking coal workers again face violence, it feels like we’re entering the “doomed to repeat it” part of this story.