Alabama Miners Continue Their Struggle

Protest in NYC, July 29. (Photo: NY Labor Council)

1,100 miners for Warrior Met Coal in Alabama have been on strike since April 1st. They have been fighting for a living wage, more humane scheduling of hours and more time off. The origins of the strike go back to 2015, when the previous company, Walter Energy, filled for bankruptcy. This allowed Warrior Met Coal to take over the operations and rip up the previous union contracts and massively cut workers pay, benefits and retirements. Under Warrior Met Coal, workers faced rock bottom wages and benefits as well as a tyrannical work schedule with long hours and few days off.

Fed up with working longer hours while earning less, when their contract expired at the beginning of April, the workers went on strike. A low-ball tentative agreement was soon reached between the union and the company, but it was rejected overwhelmingly at 95% of the vote. While the workers have been determined to maintain picket lines in front of the various coal mine worksites, there have been some confrontations with scabs (workers brought in by the company to undermine the strike), who ran their vehicles through the picket lines, injuring strikers who had to be hospitalized. There have even been reports of scabs brandishing weapons and making death threats towards the strikers.

Alabama troopers have made it clear which side they are on by acting as escorts for scabs, making them essentially the company’s security apparatus. The company has used the incidents mentioned above as an excuse to obtain an injunction to limit the number of picketers at a given time. On October 27, a circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking strikers from gathering within 300 yards of any mine entrance or exit through November 15.

In response, the miners have escalated their fight and taken their struggle to Blackrock, Warrior Met’s largest shareholder, which is based in New York. Hundreds of coal miners traveled from Alabama to Manhattan to picket in front of the Blackrock financial headquarters. Their rallies have been joined by trade unionists from other unions. In the most recent demonstration, seven union leaders were arrested.

The company recently reported that the ongoing strike has cost the company some $6.9 million, but so far, this has not been enough to force them to come to the table with a serious contract proposal. This is largely because Warrior Met is still making high profits, as the price of coal is high right now due to trade tensions with China and Australia.

For months, the mineworkers have been standing strong and fighting courageously. Their determination and resolve to stand up against the capitalist bosses should be an inspiration to us all.