Camp Solidarity in Southwest Virginia

Camp Solidarity in Southwest Virginia

The night is cold and damp as our weary group finishes a day-long drive. We follow the beaten pickup through back roads for several miles, then up a winding dirt road. We pass a check-in point staffed by camouflage-clad volunteers and finally arrive at the camp. No, this is not South Africa or El Salvador; it’s “Camp Solidarity” in Saint Paul, Virginia, a small coal-mining town in rural southwest Virginia.

The similarities are not lost on the United Mine Workers (UMWA), who have been on strike against the Pittston Coal Group/Clinchfield Coal Company since April 5, 1989. Before that, they worked more than fourteen months without a contract. The National Labor Relations Board found Pittston guilty of unfair labor practices, paving the way for the strike. In the first six months, the strike has had 100 percent participation; not a single miner has crossed the picket line to return to work. Pittston has been bringing in “replacement workers” (“We got another name for them [scabs],” says Jim, a UMWA miner) since the beginning of the strike. Production, though, has stayed consistently around 30 percent of normal, despite Pittston’s predictions that by October the mines would be producing near 100 percent.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima