Your on-the-ground report from the Miner Blockade
Editor’s Note: Sorry we’re late in posting this but we feel it’s still very relevant. The GoFundMe is over but you can still follow them @formerbjacamp on Instagram
In early July, Blackjewel coal company declared bankruptcy leaving around 1000 coal miners in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia without pay. The money owed to the miners was from coal already extracted from the ground. The CEO of the bankrupt company, Jeff Hoops, is not only not paying these miners but is also currently building a $30 million dollar Rome-themed resort in West Virginia.
The miners, who are not unionized, turned to direct action when all other avenues to get paid failed. They set up camp on the railroad tracks in Harlan County, Kentucky and blockaded the last train of coal from leaving the mine.
On the ground at the blockade is a group of trans anarchists from around the Appalachia region. They are assisting the miners however needed around the camp. We contacted these comrades organizing at the blockade via Instagram and they gave us a list of supplies needed at the camp. We packed our trunk with goods for the miners and their families and began our 8-hour drive south. We arrived at the camp Friday night around 11:00 pm, deep in the emerald mountains of Kentucky.
Our car was unloaded and we chatted with some of the people at the blockade camp. We learned that the coal being blockaded is worth $4 million dollars. Each train cart’s worth of coal costs $8000 a day to sit on the tracks immobilized. There were 100 carts of coal on the tracks. That’s $800,000 in total for the entire train.
School had started in the region, so many of the miners had to return to their families. Several miners and community members are still holding the line at the blockade. The outpouring of support from the community has been amazing. Neighbors are donating and assisting however they can, andthe mayor has been helping the miners, too. It’s a testament to the strong bonds between these communities. The towns here are small and everybody knows someone who lost their job when Blackjewel went bankrupt. The United Mine Workers of America donated a floodlight, generator, and other supplies to the camp. Senator Bernie Sanders also supported the camp by calling up a local pizza parlor and ordering 40 pizzas to be delivered to the blockading miners.
We spoke to one of the miners that night. His name is Chris and he was one of the first blockaders. He has been a miner for 11 years and comes from generations of mineworkers.
Chris: Harlan County is known for our violent labor disputes in the past. The Coal Wars, of course, but also the riots back in 1967 and 1974. We made it a point that this time would be different. We are explicitly non-violent. We want peaceful action.
FW Lupo: If the world should know one thing from this blockade what should it be?
Chris: Stand for what is yours and what is right. And kill them with kindness.
We were offered an empty tent to sleep in. In the morning, we helped clean up around the camp. A neighbor warned us that two black bears were spotted up the road and the food at the blockade camp attracts critters. FW Joe took out his banjo and we sang some old Wobbly tunes to the camp. As the day drifted on, we began to pack up to drive back north and said goodbye to our comrades at the camp.
We would like to give a shoutout of solidarity to Nico, Lills, Winter, Lucina, Mo, Ricki, Torque, Diana, Salix, Dee, Nathaniel, Bodie, and Bita for all the hard work and solidarity they’re putting in at the blockade. What they are doing is truly inspiring.
If you would like to support the Blackjewel Miners Blockade, you can donate to their GoFundMe.
Follow the blockade on Instagram at blackjewelminersblockade. More photos of the blockade can be found at formerbjacamp on Instagram, as well.
Solidarity to the miners!