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Vol. 74/No. 22      June 7, 2010

Lessons from 111-day
miners’ strike in 1977-78
(Books of the Month column)
Printed below is an excerpt from Coal Miners on Strike, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for June. The booklet includes Militant articles on the 111-day coal miners’ strike in 1977-78, describing how the miners beat back the bosses’ antiunion assault with the power of union democracy and working-class solidarity. Copyright © 1981 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

The 111-day coal strike was something new and different—more important than any other strike in a long time. Not just because it was big. And not just because it was long. It was different in what the bosses set out to accomplish, and different in how the miners and their allies responded.

The miners were hit with the most powerful union-busting assault any industrial union has faced in more than thirty years. And they blocked it.

They stood up to the corporations.

They stood up to the government.

They overruled their own union officials who caved in to the bosses’ demands.

And despite a concerted effort to pit other working people against them, the miners won the solidarity of millions of workers across the country.

The confrontation in the coalfields became a social cause, raising issues that deeply affect every working person. Issues such as safety on the job, health care, pensions, union democracy, and the right to strike.

And the coal strike became a political battle, pitting courageous rank-and-file workers against the giant corporations that rule this country.

For a brief time, some of the lies and illusions that cover up political reality in this country were stripped away. The [James] Carter administration—elected with the votes of workers and politically supported by the union officialdom—stood exposed as an open strikebreaker. The Democratic and Republican politicians, the courts, the police, the news media, the government mediators and arbitrators—all stood out in their true colors as instruments of the ruling rich.

The confrontation came to a head when Carter ordered the miners back to work on company terms under Taft-Hartley. He threatened to fine or jail their union leaders, confiscate their union treasuries, and cut off food stamps for their families.

Yet the miners refused to bow down.

Carter was forced to retreat, and the coal companies quickly came up with a new contract offer that dropped most of their worst antiunion demands… .

The miners’ successful defiance of Taft-Hartley makes it harder for Carter to use that slave-labor law effectively against any other group of workers.

This spectacle—the ranks of the union showing their power and forcing the bosses to step back—fired the imagination and boosted the confidence of workers everywhere… .

The greatest accomplishment of the miners’ fight was not the contract they ended up with—which is far from adequate to meet their needs—but the example they set. An example not only to unionists but also to Blacks, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, women, students—to everyone striving for justice and social progress. The miners inspired new hope that working people can fight together for their rights. And both the successes and limitations of the coal miners’ battle hold important lessons about how to fight back.
Related articles:
Gas explosion in coal mine in Turkey kills 28 workers  
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