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The Legacy of Mother Jones: Interview with an Alabama Coal Miner’s Wife

Left Voice speaks with the wife of a mine worker who is currently on strike for a better contract at Warrior Met Coal in Brookwood, Alabama.

Left Voice

April 15, 2021
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How have the families of the striking miners played a role during this strike? 

I think a big thing is that we understand how to really use social media and how important it is. Social media is how you get a message out now. So we’ve been active in that. A lot of the wives that actually go out there don’t have young kids. They’re actually there on the lines almost every day but many of us can’t go because of our family’s obligations.

We actually have a group that makes us work altogether. So we post updates about the strike, the union and the company. If there’s anyone that needs additional men at the line, we can coordinate with our husbands and families. The union has many locals, so we kind of work around them all and give everyone information so that everybody can kind of stay on the same page with everything that’s happening and going on.

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We have common chat groups and we’ve been trying to bring back the women’s auxiliary of the union to work. There was a huge struggle in 1989 known as the Pittston Coal strike that lasted more than 10 months and thousands of workers were arrested during it. In this fight, the “Daughters of Mother Jones” group was formed. It was a group of women who helped organize the picket lines, helped workers, and ran committees. So after that, the UMWA formed a women’s auxiliary and we’re working on trying to get that reestablished as an auxiliary for the strike and the union.

How will this contribute to making the strike stronger?

One of the things that we’ve been monitoring is when there are union updates, we’re also helping to organize the picket lines, having conversations with the community about the strike. Many times we have to explain what a union is, that if you enjoy having a 40 hour work week, if you enjoy PTO (paid time off), if you enjoy having safe working conditions, all of those things happen because of a union. Whether you’re in a union job or not, the union sets the standard for the workplace across the board. So I think part of our job is trying to educate people on exactly what the strike is about and why.

The good thing about the strike that we’ve seen is that it’s brought the women together because if you don’t have a family member or a husband that works on a mine, you don’t understand what it’s like. Since our husbands worked 12 hours a day, and some of them have a two hour drive home, we might only see them for an hour or two a day. And we worry that nothing happened to them at work because these kinds of jobs are risky. That’s on top of all of the other everyday concerns a family would have. So we are trying to use all this to bring families together. 

How do the four-strike policies affect your family?

Many of us have gone into labor alone, gone to intensive care alone, dealt with miscarriages alone, if something happens to our kids, if there is an emergency we have to think twice if we call our husbands or not, because even leaving early can count as a strike. So, I mean, with kids in emergencies, you’re making the choice. Do I even call and tell him, because as a man, as a husband, as a dad, you’re going to want to be there for your kids. So a lot of the time, we try not to even call them if it’s not a dire emergency because we know what’s going to happen. So it’s really these kinds of working conditions that put a strain on your entire family and even your extended family, because you had to make the choice. And there’s also a lot of times when the kids are sick, our husbands can’t miss work, and we work full time too. 

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Workers are now dealing with an injunction that only allows for six workers to guard the picket lines at any given time. How do you think this affects the strike?

Well, the company filed the injunction, I guess on the grounds that we were basically violent and that people felt threatened coming into work. How can you limit somebody’s right to assembly with no grounds? There’s been nothing violent happening. We already have more police state troopers than workers on some of the picket lines. Not to mention private security to intimidate us. They placed armed security in the private area of the company before the strike even began, they had put up all the concrete barriers, and everything was locked up. So this was their plan all along. 

This is a big deal. This is actually a suppression of a constitutional right. We have the right to assemble and right to protest. It prevents people from coming to the picket lines, it’s made it really hard to plan shifts because we haven’t all been able to be together. So it’s hard to coordinate because you have to split people between so many locations. So you can’t just tell everybody: “Hey, y’all show up here at the main gate, and then we’re going to divide you all, alright?” Everything has to be done ahead of time and organized over the phone by text and groups. And that’s a disadvantage because you can’t just have everybody together and send people where they need to go.

A lot of the community has shown their support. We’ve had people drop off food, restaurants offer discounts, and a ton of Oak Grove miners bring food in solidarity as well. But many people are scared to come out to the picket lines because it looks like a police state with armed security and armed guards. And it’s all to control us, to paint the narrative that the union and the workers are being violent. That’s why we’ve been so dedicated, and are trying to get out ourselves out there, and take pictures, and take our kids. It’s because all of that counteracts with the false narrative and the image that the company is trying to portray.

What other steps can be taken to strengthen the strike?

We need to have more initiatives, bring more people in from other unions, we need to reach out to some of the other unions in Alabama and make a statement that we all support each other. We need to join other workers’ rallies, like the one organized by the Amazon workers. And we as wives need to keep supporting the strike. We need to keep calling the media for attention and make sure the strike doesn’t become isolated. It’s so easy for people to get caught up in their own bubble, many people are not even aware that there are coal mines in Brookwood. 

It would be great if the local media would come out and if we could get more media out here to put these stories out for the world to see what’s happening. Because I think a lot of people would be shocked if they actually knew what we are going through or to learn about the court order to fill the area with police. I think there’s a lot of people that would be outraged to see what is happening here, but we can’t get local people to cover it, which I just can’t understand why.

I appreciate all the coverage you are doing. Thanks for your support.

You might be interested in: “This Strike’s Far From Over”: Interview With a Striking Miner In Alabama

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Left Voice

Militant journalism, revolutionary politics.

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