While the miners and their supporters in- tensity their nonvio- lent strike tactics in Southwest Virginia, there are signs of
growing opposition to the Pittston Company on its home turf in Greenwich, Connecticut.
On September 24, about 2, 500 support-ers of the coal strikers (according to a UMWA estimate) converged on the
"cor-porate capital of America, " as Green-wich is known, to march and rally in support of the UMWA strike. The
march was comprised mostly of members of other unions in the region, including auto workers, telephone; company
work-ers, and airline pilots.
Religious support for the strikers is building in the region. The majority of clergy in lower Fairfield County have gone
onrecord in support of the UMWA strike, according to UMWA spokesperson Pat Speer. And a letter from New
Eng-land denominatipnal leaders delivered to Pittston CEO Paul Douglas on Sep-tember 20 called for ''serious
negotia-tions" with UMWA representatives and a restoration of medical benefits to retired and disabled miners and
The Pittston Company has criticized the union for "using religious groups" to pressure the company. "There is no
mo-rality involved here, " Pittston lawyer Forrest Roles told a recent meeting of the Greenwich Chamber of
Commerce. "A strike is an economic contest; it's economic warfare. "
Church people close to the strike say that charges the union is orchestrating violence are absurd. Many of them,
including veter-ans of the peace movement, continue to be amazed that the strike has been so peace-ful, given the
circumstances. The injunc-tions halting protests at picket sites and the harassment by company guards are clearly aimed
at provoking a violent reac-tion from frustrated miners.
Clergy in Greenwich, Connecticut, site of Pittston's headquarters,, made just that point in a letter to company CEO
Paul Doug-las, saying, "You are the cause of the vio- lence.... We do not condone violence. [But] your own actions
have precipitated and continue to provoke the very acts which you decry. "
Roman Catholic Bishop Walter Sullivan made the same point at a September 9 march in Abingdon, home of many
Pittston executives. The march, sponsored by Prot-estant, Catholic, and Jewish organizations, drew a thousand people
for prayer, song, and witness at Pittston offices and the fed-eral courthouse.
A statement of support for the union, signed by hundreds of clergy and religious organizations, was read at the rally.
Many miners and family members carried crosses bearing the names of relatives who had died in mine accidents or
from black lung. Pitts-ton's Odom claimed the march would be divisive, and said church people had refused to listen to
the company's side. But church leaders said Odom canceled a sched-uled meeting with them in order to call the press
conference at which he attacked the church presence.
MEANWHILE THE UNION IS at a crossroads as it ponders future strategy. One union official told me that it has
become difficult for any organization with a treasury to engage in civil disobedience. So far the union faces fines of more
than $8 million. Defiance of the injunctions could mean jail terms of many months and would give Pitts-ton a legal
excuse to fire union workers even if the strike is won.
Sit-ins at friendly county courthouses have been tried as an alternative to picket line demonstrations, with presidents of
other unions and members of national acti-vist organizations such as Greenpeace among those arrested. But these
actions are seen as largely symbolic.
The union may have signaled a change in strategy in mid-September when nearly 100 miners nonviolently occupied and
shut down a coal processing plant for four days. UMWA Vice President Cecil Roberts, who had earlier said that the
miners must "stop the flow of coal once again, " promised sim-ilar nonviolent tactics in the coming weeks.
"This should be a message to the state government and [Virginia] Gov. Baliles, who has clearly been on the side of
Pittston since day one: We won't go back, " said Roberts after he led 98 miners and a United Methodist minister out of
Moss No. 3 prepa-ration plant and joined 5, 000 miners and supporters who had been holding a vigil at the plant
entrance. "As long as you remain nonviolent, no one can contend with this kind of power, my friends. "
The recent occupation of Moss 3 may mean that the hard decision has been made to risk the survival of the union as a
solvent institution in order to defy the repressive labor laws of this country that make it so difficult for unions to strike. If
that is true, it would be a landmark in American labor history and a struggle that will depend upon the support of people
of faith throughout the country.
Denise Giardina, who grew up in a West Virginia coal camp, is the author of the novel Storming Heaven
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