UMWA Hosts First Unity Rally for Miners on Strike
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) hosted their first Unity Rally at Tannehill State Park on Wednesday night for the miners on strike at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood.
The strike started on April 1 after contract negotiations between the company and around 1,100 workers broke down.
The rally started off with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, which were followed by a speech from Larry Spencer, the International Vice President of the UMWA District 20.
"This battle is not just for the coal miners," Spencer said. "It started in our home, but I'm telling you if [the company] wins this battle, they're coming after you next. It seems like these companies have just taken a complete change from what we're used to in Alabama. They don't have any concern about the people they say they do, but when you go down there, they want to intimidate; they want to scare you. They want you to take whatever they put out, and you know people don't realize what we go through."
Spencer also teared up as he spoke about an accident that reportedly happened atWarrior Met Coal mine, when a worker named Dalton Lewis was paralyzed from the waist down after a vehicle collision at the mine.
"He's a young man. This shouldn't have happened, but that's the greed that we're dealing with," Spencer said. "Dalton spent 12 hours the other day on the picket line out there in his wheelchair. I think we can all do that."
Spencer told the large crowd that while there was an injunction filed against them limiting the number of picketers allowed on-site at one time, they would not stop fighting.
"We've got 12 picket lines out there right now, and we probably need probably 20. So look, this thing is going to continue to ramp up," Spencer continued. "We're not going to slow down. It don't matter how bad our voices get or how tired we get. We're going to continue to fight to the end. They one thing you got to remember. We're going to be there one day longer than they can stand us. If you never quit fighting, and I'm stealing this from Cecil Roberts, if you've never quit fighting, you can't lose a battle."
The rally's keynote speaker was UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts. He began his presentation by asking members of different groups to come to the stage, starting with the active and retired union leadership.
Roberts led the group in several chants as he continued to call forward members of the military and those with family members serving. At the end of his chanting, Roberts had most of the audience in a circle near the stage.
Roberts spoke about being united as one.
"I want you to look at this Warrior Met. We are in solidarity," said Roberts. "We're standing here in unity. I pledge to you from the top all the way down to here that I'll stand with you, we're gonna fight, and we're gonna win this battle because we stand in solidarity.
"Here's what we know. I'm gonna tell you just how it is for a second, I've been through so many fights. So many of these battles," Roberts continued. "I look at people I've known for 50 years, 60 years. I'm looking people at I've been to jail with here. I've been in jail in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Washington DC, Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois. Not one time for a crown. It's all for working-class people that make this world better."
Roberts also spoke about the monetary support that is being given by other unions. Last week, the UMWA pledged to donate $50,000 to support the strikers, and Roberts announced that the president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) would be donating $25,000. The board of the AFL-CIO Executive Council in Kentucky voted to donate $2,500, and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) donated $10,000 to support the strike.
"I've heard from the national president of the teachers' union, the second-largest union in the country," he said. "She said, 'I sent you money, and there's more to come. What do you want?'"
In addition to members of the UMWA, other union representatives also spoke at the rally, including members of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and AFA.
"We've always been under attack [and] now you're under attack," said Richard Franklin, President of Birmingham AFT. "You've always stood with us, so we're standing with you in solidarity."
Franklin also said that their organization would be encouraging teachers to come to future rallies to show support.
Marrianne Hayward, the president of the Central Alabama AFT, spoke about receiving support from UMWA in the past.
"There was a time when we were not getting a raise, and yet the cost of our health insurance and our retirement [was] going up, which really meant that we were going to make less money," said Hayward. "[So,] we had a rally around in Lynn Park in downtown Birmingham, and there was a sea of camouflage there that day. Y'all stood with us and made our effort important, and now you need us, and I will assure you that we are here with you [and] that as you stand strong, we're gonna stand with you."
In addition to their monetary contributions, the AFA's president, Sara Nelson, also attended the rally in Brookwood Wednesday and spoke about the reasons unions go on strike.
"I want to tell you something; I had to come here because I know your fight," said Nelson. "Twenty years ago, after 9/11, the Airlines saw an opportunity to adjust the market rates for flight attendants, for pilots, for mechanics, for customer service agents. They [used] bankruptcies to take our pensions, cut our pay, to keep us working harder for less."
Nelson said when unions stand together, they help each other achieve their goals.
"I know something else; when we stand together, there's nothing we can't do," said Nelson. "The whole country is watching you right now, because the whole country is sick and tired of them taking our labor and expecting us to work more and squeeze us harder, expecting us to pay more for health care and spend more time away from our kids. Management wants the most labor for the least pay. Labor wants the most pay for the least labor, but we hold the whole solution in the palms of our hands. Because when we stand together, stick our hands in our pockets in unison, the world does not go on."
Nelson also thanked the miners for the jobs that they do and their courage to stand up to Warrior Met Coal.
"I [want to] thank you because I was born in a hospital that was lit and warm because miners went underground and risked [their] lives to make sure that I could have that life," said Nelson. "I want to thank you because the heart of our union and the heart of so many other unions that are here come out of the spirit of the United Mine Workers of America who populated this country as Cecil Roberts would say, and Thank God you did. But that spirit is stronger than it ever was here on this strike. You have stood with us. You stood with us this year when we almost lost all of our jobs. I got to fly on a flight that was recently restored from Washington, DC to Birmingham today because you stood with us, and we got federal relief to protect all of our jobs. You did that. You made that possible. You know, the people that I represent have health care, they have their jobs, they have a paycheck, they can take care of their kids, they can pay their taxes so that we make sure that we have taxes that support our educators, and the people who take care of our sanitation, and our transportation. You did that. You stood with us. And so I'm here to tell you, thank you, but I'm also here to tell you that you are going to inspire the next fight and the next fight after that and the fight after that, and working people are back."
At the end of the rally, Roberts spoke about the history of mining jobs and why the UMWA fights for its members.
"I want you to think about how far we've come," said Roberts. "These coal mining jobs used to be horrible jobs. You didn't make any money. You worked all day to live in their house. You didn't have anything, but the union made those good jobs."
"We've won strikes people said you couldn't win," he continued. "I want you to leave here today with this one thought: this union right here has been touched by the almighty hand of God."
The union plans to continue holding rallies weekly every Wednesday night until the strike is over. Roberts encouraged each person in the crowd to bring one person next week in hopes of doubling the number of attendees.