The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Alabama Coal Miners Forced to End Their Strike

Mar 20, 2023

The United Mine Workers of America have agreed to an “unconditional return to work” by miners at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama after 23 months on strike. Assuming they can pass a physical and a drug test, some of the striking miners will be allowed to go back to work, though some who have found work elsewhere may choose not to return. As of now, the company is refusing to allow 41 miners whom the company claims engaged in illegal activities during the strike to go back to work.

After the company’s previous owner declared bankruptcy in 2015, the company cut the miners’ pay by $6 an hour, increased their health care costs from a $12 co-pay to a $1,500 deductible, took away overtime pay for Sundays and holidays, reduced paid holidays from 13 to three, and turned the costs of workers’ retiree health care over to a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, among other cuts.

While the company threatened to close its mines if workers didn’t accept the cuts, it promised to restore the cuts when its finances improved. Yet when the miners’ contract expired in 2021, the company insisted on maintaining most of the cuts, which led to the strike. Some 1,100 miners went on strike.

The company continued to mine coal using highly-paid strikebreakers. When the miners attempted to prevent the strikebreakers from entering the mines, the company got a local circuit court judge to issue an injunction telling the union to stop all picketing and other activity within 300 yards of the mines. Local, county and state police acted as escorts for the strikebreakers, but took no action against company management who intentionally struck picketing miners with their cars.

The National Labor Relations Board sided with the company in forcing the union to pay the “costs” the company claimed to have incurred due to the striking miners blocking access to the mines. The NLRB initially billed the union 13.3 million dollars, but later reduced the bill to “only” $435,000!

Meanwhile, Warrior Met Coal raked in huge profits, while paying generous bonuses and salaries to its executives.

In the face of the combined forces of the company, the cops, the courts and the NLRB, the Met Coal miners fought a determined fight. Their fight, however, shows that workers today likely cannot win if they carry out their fight in isolation. There are many other workers facing similar attacks who could be convinced to join such a fight.

The Met Coal miners gained an experience through their strike. To capitalize on that experience, they and the rest of the working class need to draw the lessons to widen that fight.