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1990 Eugene V. Debs - Norman Thomas - Michael Harrington Dinner

The 32nd Annual Dinner was held on Friday, May 4 at the Midland Hotel. This event only had one honoree, Arthur Loevy, Secretary Treasurer of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Joyce Miller presented the award. The featured speaker was Cecil Roberts, Vice President of the United Mine Workers of America, who spoke on "Victory Over Pittston: Lessons for the Progressive and Labor Movements in the 1990s". The Master of Ceremonies was Sue Purrington. Music was provided by Alan Schwartz. This was, incidentally, the first Dinner after Michael Harrington's death and his name was added to the Dinner in his memory.
1990 Program Book Cover

Arthur R. Loevy

You have continued the progressive labor tradition of Sidney Hillman, Frank Rosenbloom and Murray Finley,

Your union has been a pioneer in the fields of health and housing, and

Your continued commitment to the needs of your members had led you to nurture and expand these programs, and

Your union has been in Labor's forefront working for a more humane and democratic foreign policy, and

You have demonstrated your understanding of labor's larger role in the world by your work for democracy in Central America.

This 4th day of May, 1990, the Eugene V. Debs - Norman Thomas - Michael Harrington Award is hereby presented to you for your lifetime of devotion to the cause of working men and women.

The Debs-Thomas-Harrington Address


Cecil Roberts, Vice President United Mine Workers of America

We realized early on that Pittston didn't want a contract because they didn't want to meet their economic and social responsibilities. But, we didn't strike initially. That's what the bosses wanted us to do. We've got to stop doing what the bosses want us to do. Instead, we were busy for fourteen months: traveling, studying at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta, trying to deal with the grievances piling up. Pittston was busy too: they cut off our health care, their pension contribution, violated health and safety rules.

Pittston wanted a strike, so after fourteen months, we gave them one. Not the one they wanted, though. They didn't think that a predominantly white rural work force would follow the teachings of Dr. King. But we did. We sat down.

That's when we really saw our tax dollars at work. The Virginia State Police came running to haul 300 pound coal miners out of the road.

Our main tactic was nonviolent civil resistance. This requires men and women of courage. Men and women who don't need weapons. But who might need bail.

It was hard to see the enemy directly in this strike. It was not just a strike against the company, but a strike against the Federal and State governments, the courts, against Pittston's many subsidiaries that would try to produce what we weren't, against the power of money. Pittston used their money to try to hire every scab who could crawl across into Virginia. Whatever money the UMWA has had is for the social good of the people of this country.

We had many friends to support us during this strike. But one in particular really stands out. Someone who was willing to stand with us from the very beginning, before there were many-- that's Jesse Jackson. Jesse was at the first rally when I used a phrase in my speech that was to become the slogan of the strike, "We won't go backwards. NO, we won't go back."

There was no greater courage shown in this country than that of the civil rights activists of the '60s. They gave us an invaluable lesson: that we can derive strength from one another; replace hate with love. There 'ain't nobody gonna turn us around.'

These days there is a sure recipe for defeat in the labor movement. It goes like this: A judge issues an injunction; the union leadership says, let's obey that injunction; the company hires scabs. The end. Defeat.

We decided we weren't going to obey the injunctions handed down to us. We decided to test something that Dr. King had tested. He said, "I read somewhere of the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press. . ."

What we were engaged in was class warfare. When I first started using that term, there were a lot of questions. I answered it this way for the miners. 'If you don t know which side you're on of this class warfare, look at it this way. You work and they don't. You're on one side, they're on the other.' We had 4O,OOO UMWA miners across the country walk out with us for six weeks. What was started in Pittston was a people's movement. We wanted and want more than a contract. You know, the solidarity during the strike was tremendous. It makes me think that we ought to have one big union. During the civil rights struggles there was another saying about solidarity. "I can't be what I ought to be until you're what you ought to be."

We had to build Camp Solidarity to hold all the people trying to be what they ought to be. It was a place to eat and sleep when people came to Virginia for the fight. And people came by the thousands.

They sat in the road with us. But by now, hundreds of our miners and family members had been arrested for sitting in front of coal trucks. People were going to jail. So, we decided, okay, we won't sit. We'll drive. And we put 2000 cars on those little winding coal roads. Sightseeing, we called it. We slowed things down pretty well. But another twenty-two of our leaders went to jail. Myself, Tony Kujawa, Jackie Stump, a lot of others. The funny thing is, the judge didn't really want us in there. There comes a point when the jails just won't hold all the people who are fighting for what's right. So, we got out.

After that, we got to thinking about who paid for this mining operation anyway? In particular, who paid for the cleaning plant, for example? We figured it was as much ours, the miners' and the union's, as it was theirs. So we took it over. One Sunday there were 2000 people outside that plant and 99 miners and a minister inside. A Virginia judge and hundreds of State Police behind him said, "you better get out of there." U.S. Marshalls ordered us to leave. We were being fined $60,000 a day per miner. But we wouldn't leave until we decided to leave-which was 3-1/2 days later. And we left the plant to walk into a rally of 5000 camped outside.

Three weeks later, Elizabeth Dole, Secretary of Labor, was standing outside that plant. Ironically? Coincidentally? I don't think so. . .

Another consequence of this peoples movement was the election of Jackie Stump to the State Legislature. In three weeks, we succeeded in a write-in campaign against the longtime incumbent, the daddy of our Virginia fining judge. So, Jackie went from the jailhouse to the State House.

We paid our strikers, ignored the injunctions, ignored the fines, used militant, direct action, all of which united the labor movement.

I said before that the movement that was begun at Pittston was not about a contract. What was it about? It was about each American having national health insurance. About abolishing the Taft-Hartley Act. About equal opportunity in education. A place for every American to live in the richest country of the world. It was about equal rights for women.

Dr. King said in one of his most unforgettable speeches that he "had been to the mountain top and seen the promised land." We feel that we got a glimpse of the promised land during the Pittston strike. And if we fight to get all that we've talked about today, we will be in the promised land. "Free at last, free at last, thank god Almighty, free at last."

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