Coal Miners’ Strike: Over 500 Days and Betrayed by Democrats and Republicans

Coal miners in Alabama have been on strike now for more than 500 days — nearly a year and a half. The strike originally started when the mine’s owner, the company Warrior Met Coal, refused to negotiate a contract with better terms. This refusal came even though years earlier the company told miners they would “take care of them” in the next contract if they agreed to concessions like reduced pay, worse healthcare benefits, and a disappeared pension. It was framed as a choice: either workers help shore up the company’s profitability, or the company lays off masses of workers due to bankruptcy. Now, over 500 days later, miners are still out on the pickets fighting for better working conditions and benefits — the very things they had only agreed to give up in the first place to help “save” the company years earlier.

What’s more, only a few weeks ago, the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) ordered the strikers to pay $13.3 million in damages to Warrior Met Coal. The reason: “lost revenues for unmined coal” and security costs. The United Mine Workers of America called the move a “slap in the face” to the striking workers, and declared that they do not intend to pay the fines. Union President Cecil Roberts also said, “Is it now the policy of the federal government that unions be required to pay a company’s losses as a consequence of their members exercising their rights as working people? This is outrageous and effectively negates workers’ right to strike.”

While the insane amount of the fine shows just how much value the miners produce for the company — millions of dollars — the actions taken, or rather not taken, by either Democrats or Republicans during this struggle has some miners waking up to an important reality: neither political party represents them.

In an interview with The Daily, one prominent striker, Braxton Wright, is clear about his role in the company: “We’re the ones that gave them [Warrior Met Coal] the right to be billionaires.” However, in return, “This company isn’t treating us fairly. That’s the bottom line.” And when asked what either political party has ever done for coal miners, Wright responded, “[With] us being union coal miners, it’s kind of like the Republicans don’t want us because we’re union. And the Democrats don’t want us because we run coal.” And although he thought Trump, with his pro-worker rhetoric, would step in and protect the mine workers in the first place, no such thing ever happened during his presidency.

In fact, Braxton Wright also explains, during the strike the strikers quickly realized that the state police under Republican Governor Kay Ivey “were blatantly supporting the company… And the judge took the side of the company.” And according to Wright, the same Republicans who just a few years ago said they would have the miners’ back, “supported the industry and not the worker. They supported the company and not the worker. We’re seeing that more clear as this strike goes on. The picture just gets clearer as time goes on.”

Meanwhile, some Democrat politicians may have shown some support — in words only — for the unionization effort at an Amazon facility only 30 miles away in Bessemer, but they have failed to support the striking miners in any way. They’ve been mostly silent about this struggle. This left Wright with the feeling that “we have been abandoned by both sides.” He continued:

“I mean, each election year, each party stands up and says, we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do that. And then at the end of the four years, it’s very rare that we’ve seen anything happen that they promised would happen at the beginning of their time… I mean, just me as an average working-class American, I can’t see to where either side has done anything to help the working class.”

This is one lesson that we can all learn from. When push comes to shove, although the Democrats and Republicans at various times may claim support for this or that struggle, or this or that section of workers, at the end of the day, it is clear who they truly represent, the rich, the corporations and the banks. As shown in this struggle, both political parties are aligned with the interests of the companies, not the workers. They will always defend the right of the exploiters to continue exploiting us. They will never represent the interests of the working class, those who do all the work to make society run, and who create all the wealth that lines the pockets of the rich.