• U.S.

COAL STRIKE: First the Calm, Now the Storm

2 minute read

The 14-week-old strike by 1,900 mine workers against Pittston Coal in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky began as a model of genteel labor relations, with strikers staging peaceful sit-ins and picketing politely. But last week the increasingly bitter standoff, which has grown to include more than 37,000 wildcat strikers throughout coal country, turned into an old- fashioned, ugly war. A car bomb exploded at a Virginia coal company, and strikers hurled rocks at coal-carrying trucks near the entrance to Sydney Coal in Kentucky.

In West Virginia, where battles have been especially fierce, nearly 300 strikers were arrested for blocking the road to a nonunion mine. Two employees at Hampden Coal were hit by shotgun pellets. Said a spokesman for A.T. Massey Coal: “There is a total state of chaos. The state ((of West Virginia)) is out of control.” Mining-company executives have urged West Virginia Governor Gaston Caperton to call out the National Guard, which he has so far refused to do.

The battles erupted during a weeklong work stoppage that was authorized by the United Mine Workers. Richard Trumka, president of the U.M.W., said he ordered the shutdown in order to “calm the volatile situation.” When miners return to work this week, tensions will be high. Trumka has accepted an invitation for the U.M.W. to return to the negotiating table, but Pittston has not yet commented on the proposal.

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