We Are One actions kick off in coal fields of Pennsylvania

“You’d better be standing up for the union,” said Margaret Starkey at a We Are One rally in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. “Because if they get rid of the unions, you’ll be working for next to nothing.” The rally, held Friday, April 1, kicked off a week of action by unions across the country aimed at mobilizing members and supporters to fight back against anti-worker attacks by right-wing politicians and corporate USA.

The rally in Waynesboro drew 5,000 coal miners and their supporters from West Virginia, Ohio, and Virginia. They marched in freezing rain to declare that they are ready to resist attacks like the ones in Wisconsin and Ohio that robbed public sector employees of their right to collective bargaining.

“I’ve got news for you,” said Cecil Roberts president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). “Today it’s the public sector employees. Tomorrow it’s the steelworkers! Tomorrow it’s the autoworkers! Tomorrow it’s the coal miners!”

The UMWA is about to open negotiations for a national contract with coal mine owners. The present contract expires December 31. The miners at the march and rally wore camouflage to emphasize their readiness to fight to protect union rights for all workers and to win a good contract that protects wages and benefits and ensures that mine safety isn’t an afterthought.

Roberts said that April 5 marks the anniversary of the deaths of 29 coal miners resulting from an explosion at the non-union Upper Big Branch mine owned by Massey Energy in West Virginia. “One year ago today, 29 miners were alive and well  in southern West Virginia,” Roberts said.” They had a meal with their family, gave a loved one a kiss, shared a laugh with a friend. Today, they are gone, ripped from the arms of their families by a disaster that did not have to happen. Massey Energy operated the Upper Big Branch and other mines with an attitude bordering on contempt for mine safety and health laws.”

At the Waynesboro march and rally, people carried signs that read, “We Are One … This Fight Is Just Starting.” Others carried signs in support of Wisconsin and Ohio public sector workers like the ones that read, “Stand with Wisconsin” and “No to SB 5,” the Ohio law that severely limits Ohio public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The Waynesboro rally kicked off a week of action across the country aimed at mobilizing workers to fight back against the right-wing agenda of breaking unions, lowering the working class’ standard of living, and gutting public services. Most of the We Are One actions were held on April 4. In all, about 1,200 actions were planned including the April 6 Save State Services, Support State Workers march and rally in Austin, Texas sponsored by a coalition of public service advocates including the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186.

April 4 was also the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, who was gunned down in Memphis while supporting a strike by public sector workers in the city’s sanitation department. That Memphis strike was as much for dignity and respect for African-Americans as it was about decent wages and benefits.

Roberts recalled the speech that Dr. King gave in Memphis before he was killed. Dr. King said “‘How long before freedom comes? How long?’ Not long!'” Roberts said. “(I say),”How long before working class people stand up to these rich millionaires? How long? Not long!”

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