On Solidarity and the Blackjewel Coal Miners

Blackjewel coal miners in Kentucky demand their pay from the bankrupt company.
Photo/Matt Alley, Blue Collar Writer

Editor’s note: Kentucky miners have been blocking trains loaded with coal from leaving the mine after Blackjewel, the sixth largest coal mining company in the country just two years ago, abruptly filed for bankruptcy on July 1. Hundreds of workers were left with no severance or health benefits, and the company stopped payment on their last paychecks. As of this writing, the miners are still protesting, demanding they be paid. Labor activist Matt Alley of Blue Collar Writer sent the material below on the opportunity for expanding working class solidarity for publication in the People’s Tribune.

The Blackjewel miners hit home with me. My family and I went through our own bankrupt coal company story in 2004 with Horizon Natural Resources. My dad was retired and all I had was about three years during the 90s with the company. I was more concerned about my dad being ripped off of his union retirement. In the end, we won, thanks to having the union fighting for us and friends in Congress. We were all put on the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund for orphaned miners, a term for union miners orphaned by coal companies walking away from their legacy liabilities via bankruptcy. (The fund is now in jeopardy thanks to the likes of Mitch McConnell and others; with the decline in coal, the industry doesn’t want to keep paying into it.) At the same time, thousands of coal miners, some sick from Black Lung disease, lost their medical coverage after a U.S. Bankruptcy judge ruled that Horizon did not have to honor union contracts that guaranteed benefits for 1,000 active miners and some 2,300 retirees.

I have been covering and doing relief efforts for the Blackjewel miners. I

don’t consider myself a humanitarian because my activism leans more towards militant. I, however, have found myself forced to be the voice of reason when it comes to the topic of fairness of the Blackjewel miners. Sadly, far too many progressives on social media have said things like “they get what they deserve for voting Trump,” or using the unpaid miners plight as a soapbox for renewable energies, but in a way that’s mocking these workers. I find this behavior disgusting and not what the progressive movement is about. They are no better than the enemies of the working class when they act like this.

What happened to the Blackjewel miners could happen to any of us and it doesn’t matter what profession it is. Give it some time, and one day there will be a solar company who stiffs their employees on pay or the workers lose everything because the solar company went bankrupt. If money is to be made, greed will happen.

We need to come together. Stand in solidarity as the working class. Stop allowing the politicians and corporations to divide us. Stay on track with Solidarity. Overall there’s been an outpouring of solidarity.

I must say I’m proud of our 120 Strong Movement network in Kentucky that includes KY 120 United, KY United We Stand, The Kentucky Initiative, Teamsters Local 783 and myself, for hammering down the fact these are our fellow Kentuckians and we have to help them. It’s what we do.

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