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Vol. 75/No. 25      July 11, 2011

‘I remember that paper,’ say
workers in Utah coal mine towns
(front page)
PRICE, Utah—“I quit along with an entire crew in protest of what they did,” a worker in nearby East Carbon told us, describing what happened when new management at a machine shop where he had worked cut wages from $21 to $14 an hour.

He was one of 28 people here in central Utah’s coal-rich Carbon and Emery counties who bought subscriptions to the Militant in late June, as a team of four socialist workers—from Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Des Moines, Iowa—knocked on doors in working-class neighborhoods and visited two mine portals.

While here, we rekindled political relationships with vanguard workers in the area. Beginning in 2003, this was the center of a battle by coal miners who worked at C.W. Mining Company’s Co-Op Mine near Huntington. The Kingston family, owners of the mine, paid workers $5.25 to $15 per hour, well below the $20 and more paid by other mining companies in the region. Like at other mines, workers at Co-Op labored under dangerous work conditions because of the company’s disregard for safety.

The miners, most of whom were born in Mexico, fought for higher wages, safe working conditions, and union representation by the United Mine Workers of America. In September 2003, when the bosses fired some of the miners involved in the fight, a big majority of the workers began a 10-month strike that was part of a fight that lasted until 2006. They won support and solidarity from workers in this region, across the United States, and in other countries.

In 2004, after the workers won their jobs back and the right to a union election, C.W. Mining filed a defamation lawsuit against 16 miners and more than 100 supporters, including the Militant newspaper. The suit was finally dismissed by a federal judge in 2006. Many miners were fired in December 2004 just days before the union election, after the company claimed they did not have proper work documents. The fired miners voted in the election but the National Labor Relations Board refused to count the votes.

Many workers we talked to here proudly told us the Kingston family was eventually forced to sell the mine. C.W. Mining was never able to come back from the steep drop in production as a result of the struggle and ended up in bankruptcy. According to several miners we spoke with, the new owner, Rhino Resource, pays $19 to $20 per hour.

We spent an evening in the living room of a trailer in Huntington with some of the miners who—along with Alyson Kennedy, one of the authors of this article—were central leaders and participants of the Co-Op strike. They and their families warmly greeted us, and we discussed the importance of the strike and broader politics. Three renewed their Militant subscriptions and picked up The Changing Face of U.S. Politics by Jack Barnes and Is Socialist Revolution in the U.S. Possible? by Mary-Alice Waters.

Many former Co-Op miners like themselves are working in other coal mines in Utah and Wyoming now. Several mines now have a significant number of Mexican-born miners.

Other workers in this area were also interested in the revolutionary working-class perspective of the Militant.

A miner in his 20s, who lives in East Carbon and works at the West Ridge Mine, told us, “I’d like to see a union there,” but said overcoming the owner’s opposition would be a big challenge. He listened with interest when we said that workers and farmers produce all the wealth and need to build a powerful movement of millions to put an end to the dictatorship of capital and put power in the hands of the working class. He bought a subscription.

The West Ridge Mine, owned by Robert Murray, is one of eight underground coal mines in the area, all but one nonunion. In 2007, Murray’s Crandall Canyon Mine near Huntington collapsed, killing six miners. Three miners on a rescue team died trying to reach the men. In addition to mines in Utah, Murray owns mines in Illinois, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and other eastern states.

In Price, a town of 8,200, we knocked on the door of Ernie Herrera, a retired miner, now a construction worker, who was a staunch supporter of the Co-Op strike. “I remember that paper,” he said, and bought a subscription and a copy of The Changing Face of U.S. Politics.

“This area has been in a depression since the ’80s,” Herrera told us. “I’m holding on, but I know families that are falling further and further behind.”

As in other parts of the country, we found many people looking for work. According to government statistics, unemployment in Carbon County was below 3 percent in 2007. It is now around 7 percent after hitting 8.6 percent earlier this year. There are many empty houses and vacant trailers, a product of joblessness and foreclosures over the past three years.

In Elmo, a town of 1,000 south of here, we talked with Jennie Jensen, 32, a former Walmart worker whose husband is a miner. We mentioned the Supreme Court’s decision the previous day not to hear a case about Walmart’s discriminatory practices against women. “I was fired when I asked permission to take my son to be treated for an asthma attack,” she told us. “I had a good work record, but sometimes I had to take time off when he couldn’t breathe. I would always make up for the missed time, but that wasn’t enough for them.” She signed up for a subscription.

We met workers injured on the job. A construction worker, who broke his back four years ago when the earth-moving equipment he was operating fell into a ditch, subscribed.

Not everyone was open to a discussion about the working-class and revolutionary outlook of the Militant. The manager of a trailer court in Price told us to leave the property. A man in East Carbon took sharp issue with us when we mentioned the number of workers who had lost houses to foreclosure. “They should never have bought houses they couldn’t afford,” he told us. “There are plenty of jobs for people who want to work,” his wife said.

At a morning portal sale to miners and power plant workers at the Energy West Mining Company’s Deer Creek operation near Huntington, we sold eight copies of the Militant. Afterwards we drove to the Crandall Canyon Mine. The entrance is plastered with concrete and the mine is closed. Near the mine there is a memorial to the miners killed in 2007.

The team sold 9 books and 46 single copies of the paper, in addition to the 28 subscriptions.
Related articles:
‘This book will be read in picket shacks in mountains, prairies, cities, small towns’
Introduction to ‘Teamster Rebellion’—account of 1934 strikes provides class-struggle lessons for present and future union battles  
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