From Pittston to the Future
Once upon a time in America, men and women were required to work 60 or 70 hours a week. The economic structure of America offered no safety net for the elderly (i.e. Social Security), and children could be hired at slave wages and worked like adults, until the 1930s labor unions were the prophetic voice that called the nation to address these injustices.
Many of the union workers involved in this struggle were also active church members, and they left a rich legacy of religious involvement in the struggles of organized labor. A new chapter was added to this legacy with the 14-month strike by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) against Pittston Coal, which ended this past Janu-ary.
The strike against Pittston was an authentic working-class movement for the right to adequate health care and secured pension funds for retired workers. It was led and fueled by the miners and their families in the mountains of southwest Virginia and eastern Kentucky. But the religious community (both regional and national) played an integral role in what is considered by most labor observers to be the first major labor victory in more than a decade.
Cecil Roberts, vice-president of the UMWA, explains that the support of church people helped to bring national credibility to the strike and gave the mining community encouragement and prayer support. "When they looked at ministers, priests, nuns, and bishops standing up with them, they realized that they were morally right-legally incorrect but morally right," Roberts told Sojourners.