Why the coalfields of Central Appalachia need Bernie Sanders!

Mine helmets and painted crosses sat at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine on April 5, as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there one year earlier.

Mine helmets and painted crosses sat at the entrance to Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine on April 5, as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there one year earlier.

by Matt Skeens

For nearly a century the coalfields of Appalachia was a hotbed for union strikes and labor activity. We were at the center of more than a few violent and bloody fights between coal-miners pining for better pay and work conditions and the coal industry that was, and still is, one of the most corrupt and destructive industries in U.S. history. Mining conditions were horrid for those who went miles below into the earth for work to support their family. Tens of thousands of miners were killed and many more mangled in mining accidents or explosions weekly, and sometimes daily, that resembled the Upper Branch mining disaster that killed 29 miners in 2010. Company stores weren’t just lines in a song but real places where families were forced to give back over their pay, or scrip which wasn’t as valuable as cash and could only be used at the stores, to feed their family and survive.

The coal companies owned everything: the land, the stores, the courts, and local governments. The only thing they didn’t own were the people, not completely at least, and their desire for better and for what they deserved. It was because of this burning fire that wars were waged. Real ones. From the largest labor uprising at the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia which also served at the largest armed uprising since the Civil War to the multiple union strikes in Harlan County, Kentucky. The last one I remember was the Pittson Strikes in this part of Virginia right around the time I was born. Since then, however, the battles have been few and far between. The war against the impoverished Appalachian waged by the coal industry has continued without interruption ever since. Continue reading

Voices of Protest from Tahrir

by Carl Finamore

Thousands of thousands of demonstrators fill Tahrir Square to mark the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.   (Photo by Carl Finamore)

Thousands of thousands of demonstrators fill Tahrir Square to mark the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. (Photo by Carl Finamore)

CAIRO: On the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, the scene at Tahrir Square was a dramatic example of the quandaries facing the country.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into the square yesterday to celebrate the 18-day revolution that, two years ago, ended the corrupt 29-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. But as Egyptians continue their struggle today, they find themselves divided over its goals and direction.

Though the huge numbers in Liberation (Tahrir) Square recalled last year’s demonstration, the composition of the crowd was markedly different.

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Dumping on low-wage workers is lousy direct action

by Sarah Jaffe

(Walmart Black Friday Strike Facebook page)

The picket line outside the Secaucus, N.J., Walmart at 1 p.m. on Black Friday was joyous, festive and celebratory. The sousaphonist from the Rude Mechanical Orchestra had the slogan “Stand Up, Live Better” around the rim of his instrument, and banners declared solidarity with the striking Walmart workers and support for union rights. They called on the world’s largest private employer to pay its workers a living wage and stop retaliation — the firing or punishing of workers who speak out about their working conditions. The crowd sang “Solidarity Forever” in all its glory, shaking fists at the “greedy parasites.”

At least as far as I could tell, though, there were no striking workers at this particular Walmart.

Around the country, hundreds of Walmart workers walked off the job on Black Friday, the notorious shopping day after Thanksgiving. Organizers say that a hundred cities saw strikers and a thousand total protests were held, covering all but four states, in an escalation of an ongoing campaign led by the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). They drew support from Occupy organizers, unions, community members and elected officials; Congressman-elect Alan Grayson walked one striker out of a store in Florida, and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio told me, “I commend the workers who are exercising their rights to protest in order to improve conditions for other working Americans.”

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Bread & Roses STRIKE Centennial “Double Feature!”

The Lawrence History Center will be hosting what is calls “an academic symposium on the Bread & Roses Strike of 1912” on April 27-28, 2012 in Lawrence, MA. But it should be of great interest to more than academics.  Union activists, 99 percenters, and occupiers should check out  two exciting panels.  One on “Labor Today” and another on  “The Importance of Strikes in Building New Unions.”

The symposium will feature a concert on Friday night April 27th at the Everett Mill (15 Union St.) on the 6th floor in the exhibit space. Saturday the 28th will be a full day of panel presentations, music, artwork, and walking tours. Click here for a schedule of Saturday’s programs, events, and registration information.

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Several Teamsters Locals Are Striking, Some For Over a Year, But Nobody Seems to Notice

by Chaz Bolte

Redburn Teamsters on strike

2011 was a year in which the Labor Movement reappeared at the forefront of the national political conversation. Born out of the Wisconsin struggle, a sense of solidarity swept the country’s organized workforce and, as extreme actors in the GOP continue to attack unions, more middle class mettle is being primed for the 2012 haul.

Still, in 2010, a total of 11 strikes were documented; this compared to as many as 300 at any given time in the 1970s, according to Mortimer B. Zuckerman.

But the Teamsters Union, which represents workers in myriad fields from bus drivers to art handlers and everything in between, currently has hundreds of workers on strike, all over the country, that nobody in the national labor media is dedicating much copy to. The only Teamsters struggle to get any legitimate media attention has been the Sotheby’s lockout (see below). Only Sotheby’s workers have witnessed “solidarity actions” from Occupy Wall Street or higher-profile union efforts. The largest group of striking Teamsters, though, is affiliated with the Pipe Line Contractors Association. They are striking over unreasonable contract demands by a profitable industry organization looking to gut workers’ retirement security.

Below is a brief summary of ongoing Teamsters strike and lockout actions.

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