Program focuses on miners’ strike

By Maureen Morrissey

The Pittson miner’s strike that has captured national headlines for the past eight months found itself at NIU Monday, thanking area supporters and vowing to continue the struggle for all laborors.

Tony Kujawa, district 12 executive board member of the United Mine Workers of America, spoke in the Art Building on the strike against Pittson Coal Company in Virginia.

The program, sponsored by Northern Student Workers Alliance, focused on the eight-month strike and asked for “A Call For Conscience.”

An invocation was given by the Rev. Eric Dale of The United Campus Ministries and was followed by an introduction by Larry Henry of the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees.

The film,”They Will Never Keep us Down” was shown before Kujawa spoke, highlighting the struggle of the mine workers and their strike against Pittson.

Kujawa began with a “thank you” from the workers as well as the UMWA to all of the people who have supported the workers’ cause. “The workers feel better when groups like this can get together to speak about the strike,” he said.

Kujawa told the crowd of about 50 that in 1984, Paul Douglas, the son of the late Illinois senator, came to Pittson as CEO. He created a non-union subsidiary, creating new mines and costing the UMWA 4,000 jobs.

Throughout 1987, the UMWA made several agreements and more than 100 negotiation attempts with Pittson, all which were turned down. These attempts dealt with job security, and “Pittson turned down all of them,” Kujawa said. “Pittson was out to bust the UMW,” he said.

In January of 1988, the mine workers’ contract expired and Pittson made no attempt to renew. “The workers continued to work without a contract for 14 months,” Kujawa said. “During that time, Pittson cut off benefits to retired and disabled workers and did everything in their power to get us to strike,” he said.

In April of this year, UMA decided to strike. UMA took on a policy of civil disobedience, using such tactics as sit-ins. Federal and state police and municipalities have tried “to bust the strike mood,” Kujawa said. More than 3,000 people have been arrested for civil disobedience and UMW has been imposed with millions of dollars in fines. “It is evident they will do whatever they want to do to break the strike, but the strike is stronger now than ever.”

The UMW strike against Pittson is more than a single issue, it is a movement for all of organized labor. ” We’re not going to let no two-bit slugs—like Paul Douglas—break the American movement of labor,” Kujawa said. “We will not go back,” he said.

After the program, local 1081 in DeKalb of the International Union of Electricians presented Kujawa with a check for $500 in support of the UMW.