A prosecutor in Alabama had a publisher and reporter arrested on October 27 for publishing “grand jury evidence.” The arrests were roundly condemned by press freedom organizations in the United States. “Arresting journalists for reporting the news is blatantly unconstitutional,” declared Seth Stern, who is the advocacy director for the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF). “Grand jury secrecy rules bind grand jurors and witnesses, not journalists.” Stern added, “The district attorney should blame himself for failing to maintain the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, not jail journalists for doing their jobs.”
If you’re one of the people who’s been following the Warrior Met Coal strike over the past 23 months, it’s almost certain that you’ve heard the name Haeden Wright. The 35-year-old mother of two is a teacher, an activist, an elected official, a coal miner’s daughter and a boss’s worst nightmare. She’s a vocal presence on social media, has given countless interviews, and has participated in panels and other public events in an effort to direct attention to the strike. But the first time I met Wright was before all that. It was April 2021 and we were standing in a forest clearing in Alabama’s Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, surrounded by 1,000 striking coal miners and their families.
Hundreds of coal miners at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama, have been out on strike since April 1, 2020—and, as the strike nears its second anniversary, the struggle has started heating up again. It’s been a knock-down, drag-out fight for 19 months; during that time, recalcitrant coal bosses have refused to negotiate a fair contract with the miners, who are represented by the United Mine Workers of America, and the story has grown into a sprawling epic powered by solidarity, punctuated by moments of violence, and propelled by corporate greed. Last week in the Alabama backwoods, with the late-autumn heat still hanging in the air, the miners opened up a new chapter in their long struggle, and I was on hand to bear witness.
Hours before dawn on Sept. 26, the incarcerated workers who run the prison kitchens across Alabama were slated to begin their shifts when they refused to take up their posts, kicking off one of the largest prison strikes in U.S. history. “Everything was electric from then on—[people] were excited and anxious for action,” said Antoine Lipscomb, a founding member of the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) who spoke with Prism Reports from Limestone Correctional Facility, one of the largest and deadliest prisons in the state, currently housing nearly 2,300 people. The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) classifies 14 prisons within the state as “major facilities,” and there are almost 17,000 people incarcerated in those prisons.
Cottonton, Alabama - “On the morning of Oct. 1… almost 500 union members from three United Steel Workers (USW) locals at WestRock’s Mahrt Mill paper mill in Cottonton, Alabama, voted to reject a second contract offer from the company,” Jacob Morrison recently reported for The Real News Network. “The refusal to ratify WestRock’s ‘last, best, and final’ offer came as a result of the company insisting on removing contract language pertaining to what the workers there call ‘penalties’ for long hours. Members resoundingly rejected this contract, even though it included an unheard-of $28,000 ratification bonus — increased from an already staggering offer of $20,000, which workers already rejected on Sept. 21.” Workers at WestRock’s Mahrt Mill paper mill have been locked out by the company since early October and say they can’t be bought off with bonuses for signing a contract that will ensure they have even less time for life outside of work.
Alabama – Prisoners in Alabama announced on Oct. 14 that they had paused their historic three-week work stoppage. The strike, which started Sept. 26, involved thousands of prisoners throughout the state, causing the breakdown of normal operations at most major male prisons this month. According to organizers, the strike’s end was announced following a protest at the state capitol in Montgomery hosted by Both Sides of the Wall. Diyawn Caldwell, founder of the prisoner advocacy group, explained that the strike may only be on pause, depending upon the government’s response. “It’s been a collective effort from us on the outside and those on the inside that are organizing the strike to put it on hold to give the state, the governor, and the department of corrections time to address our grievances and concerns surrounding our demands,” said Caldwell.
An estimated 80% of prisoners from Alabama’s “major male facilities” went on strike on September 26th, in response to a wide range of conditions and grievances. Inside organizer Kinetik Swift Justice stated, “Basically, the message that we are sending is, the courts have shut down on us, the parole board has shut down on us. This society has long ago shut down on us. So basically, if that’s the case, and you’re not wanting us to return back to society, you can run these facilities yourselves.” The strike has now entered its third week, and at least five facilities, each with around 7,000 prisoners, continue to participate. Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has punished prisoners by drastically reducing their meals, essentially attempting to starve them off the strike.
Montgomery, Alabama – On the 19th day of the statewide prisoner work strike on Friday, about 100 people gathered in front of the Alabama State Capitol Building in support of the thousands of prisoners currently striking. On Oct. 7, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) confirmed that five facilities remained at a standstill due to the historic statewide work stoppage. Posts to a private Facebook group run by family members of striking prisoners confirmed that prisoners at five facilities continued to strike as of this week. The ADOC admitted the ongoing strike has caused significant disruptions to the functioning of the prisons. “All facilities remain operational,” the department wrote in a press release on Sept. 28, 2022.
A somber bell toll broke the silence outside the West Brookwood Church in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The white-gloved hand of Larry Spencer, International Vice President of Mine Workers (UMWA) District 20, solemnly struck the Miners’ Memorial bell as the names of victims of mine-related deaths were read aloud. “As we gather this evening for our service, it is appropriate that we remember in the past twelve months over 2021 and 2022 there has been tremendous heartache as the result of mining accidents across this country,” Thomas Wilson, a retired UMWA staff representative, announced from the podium. “Twelve coal miners’ lives have been snuffed out—also, 19 metal and non-metal miners—for a total of 31 fallen miners since we last gathered.”
Across the state of Alabama, where the state’s longest-ever strike is currently ongoing at Warrior Met Coal after over 18 months, another historic labor stoppage is in its second week. Thousands of incarcerated people at every major male prison in Alabama have refused to report to their work assignments. “The message that we are sending is, the courts have shut down on us, the parole board has shut down on us,” a strike organizer who goes by Swift Justice told a reporter for independent news site Unicorn Riot. “This society has long ago shut down on us. So basically, if that’s the case, and you’re not wanting us to return back to society, you can run these facilities yourselves.” “It makes no sense for us to continue to contribute to our own oppression,” Kinetik Justice, another striking prisoner, told Unicorn Riot.
Huntsville, Alabama - On Monday, Sept. 26, incarcerated workers at all major Alabama Department of Corrections prison facilities began a labor strike. The strike is focused on both improving the living conditions of prisoners and demanding changes to Alabama’s draconian parole and sentencing laws and practices. A 2020 Justice Department lawsuit found that the Alabama prison system “fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.” TRNN contributor Michael Sainato returns to Rattling the Bars to discuss the issues at play in this prison strike.
Alabama - “The state of Alabama is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis,” begins a demand letter authored by Alabama prisoners, who on September 26 went on strike across all major correctional facilities in the State. The letter continues, “This crisis has occurred as a result of antiquated sentencing laws that led to overcrowding, numerous deaths, severe physical injury, as well as mental anguish to incarcerated individuals.” In a country where over 80% of incarcerated workers are tasked with maintaining the prison itself, either through cooking, cleaning, laundry, or other essential needs, work stoppages can mean that the entire prison system shuts down. The strike is ongoing as of September 30 according to reports from inside prison walls.
Alabama - Incarcerated workers at all of Alabama’s major correctional facilities have begun a general strike and protest of conditions and legislation that organizers believe have created “a humanitarian crisis” within the state prison system, according to sources within the correctional system and the Alabama Department of Corrections. Last week, sources within the Alabama correctional system told APR that the strike and peaceful protest would begin on Sept. 26. An additional protest of non-incarcerated individuals, many with friends and family in state prison facilities, occurred concurrently with the strike inside. Demands include a repeal of the habitual offender act, an end to life without parole, a reduction of the 30-year minimum for juvenile offenders down to 15 years before parole eligibility, and a more streamlined review process for medical furloughs and elderly incarcerated individuals.
This month marks one year since 1,100 members of the United Mine Workers of America went on strike at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama following the failure of the union and company to agree on a labor contract. The strike continues today. Warrior Met was created to buy the assets of Walter Energy after that company declared bankruptcy in 2015. A number of hedge funds own shares in Warrior Met, with New York-based BlackRock — the world's largest asset manager — controlling the most, at about 13% at the end of 2021. Earlier this year, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) held a hearing on Wall Street greed and growing oligarchy in the United States that used Warrior Met as a case study.
In initial vote tallies today, Amazon warehouse workers in New York are ahead by hundreds of votes in favor of forming a union, while in Alabama the election is too close to call, pending a court hearing. The vote at Amazon’s mammoth warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, was a rerun of the election last April that the union lost by more than 2 to 1. The results of that election were thrown out after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Amazon had illegally interfered with the vote. This time, out of 2,375 valid ballots, 993 workers at the fulfillment center voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, while 875 workers voted in favor. There are 416 ballots being contested by either the company or the union, and 59 voided ballots.