The small K’illi K’illi park sits at the top of one of the hillsides cradling the valley that is home to Bolivia’s administrative capital La Paz, providing a striking view of the city below. To the east lies Illimani, a towering, snow-covered mountain. Below and to the west is the tree-lined Plaza Murillo, home to the seat of government and the site of dozens of coups and countless protests. Across the valley, set on the sweeping plains of the altiplano, is El Alto, a booming home to millions of largely Aymara working-class people. The hills hold the rich past of this city in the clouds. Indigenous rebel Túpac Katari launched crucial assaults on Spanish-controlled colonial La Paz from K’illi K’illi during his army’s 1781 siege. After his brutal quartering by the Spanish, Katari’s head was put on display on this same hill to terrorize his followers.
Larry Spencer, UMWA District 20 Vice President, represents the 1,100 coal miners in three UMWA locals which on strike against Warrior Met in Alabama since April 1, 2021. He will give an update on the strike in a September 28 webinar. The strikers are fighting to reverse concessions that were foisted on them in 2016 when BlackRock and other billionaire creditors set up Warrior Met Coal and took over mine operations with the aid of a bankruptcy court. To keep their jobs, Warrior Met made the miners work up to seven days a week and take a $6-an-hour pay cut, accept reduced health insurance, and give up most of their overtime pay and paid holidays. BlackRock is one of the three majority shareholders in the new company.
History repeated itself as hundreds of miners spilled out of buses in June and July to leaflet the Manhattan offices of asset manager BlackRock, the largest shareholder in the mining company Warrior Met Coal. Some had traveled from the pine woods of Brookwood, Alabama, where 1,100 coal miners have been on strike against Warrior Met since April 1. Others came in solidarity from the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania and the hollows of West Virginia and Ohio. Among them was 90-year-old retired Ohio miner Jay Kolenc, in a wheelchair at the picket line—retracing his own steps from five decades ago. It was 1974 when Kentucky miners and their supporters came to fight Wall Street in the strike behind the film Harlan County USA.
To get to the big ballpark in Brookwood, Alabama, you drive down the Miners Memorial Parkway. The road goes by the local headquarters of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and close to the Miners Memorial monument, which remembers 13 miners killed in a 2001 explosion. A lot of coal miners work in Brookwood, and a lot have died here. Right now, more than a thousand are on strike there, at the Warrior Met Coal. It sits just off the same road. On Wednesday morning, a line of buses lumbered down the winding road through the woods, and a line of pickup trucks piled up behind them. All passed the “We Are One” UMWA signs lining the road for miles before turning into the ballpark, where the sprawling open grass was dotted with tents and a stage.
Faced with intransigence from the company and increasing hostility on the picket line, a caravan of striking miners and their supporters came back to New York City to voice their demands and hold a rally on July 28 in front of the NYC headquarters of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager and Warrior Met’s biggest investor. In this TRNN report, part of our ongoing series “Battleground Brookwood,” we give an update on the strike and hear directly from striking miner Mike Wright.
About 14 striking Alabama mine workers have taken their case to Wall Street this morning. Chanting “no contract, no coal,” the miners today launched the latest step in a strike that began April 1 for a new contract with Warrior Met Coal. United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts and union members plan to protest in front of the Manhattan offices of several hedge funds the union says are the reason the contract negotiations are stalled. “These are the ones that can be responsible in seeing that we get a decent contract,” UMWA Legislative Director Phil Smith said by phone this morning. The miners, along with other supporters, plan to protest in front of BlackRock Fund Advisors, State Street Global Advisors, and Renaissance Technologies.
Alabama - Just 40 miles to the west of where Amazon workers at the BHM1 facility in Bessemer, Alabama, were voting on whether to form a union, 1,100 mine workers at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood began a strike for a fair contract and better working conditions. The strike is now entering its third week, and already the workers have surmounted their first significant obstacle: they voted overwhelmingly to reject a wretched deal presented by the company, one that many workers called “a slap in the face.” The tentative agreement (TA) presented by UMWA union representatives and the company fails to address the workers’ most important concerns: wages, job security, and paid time off. In response, the miners tore up the TA and returned to the picket lines, determined to force the company to offer a better contract.
Ukraine - “This is not a strike, but a protest action.” Yuriy Samoilov, chairperson of the Krivoy Rog (Kryvyi Rih) organization of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine, prefers to clarify this point when talking about the underground protest of local miners. Workers of the privatized Krivoy Rog Iron Ore Plant (KZhRK) are afraid to officially call their actions a “strike” because of pressure from the Ukrainian authorities. Protesters remember the sad experience of striking uranium miners when the leaders of the movement were put on trial.