April 1 is important for coal miners and working people. As negotiated decades ago, April 1 is a holiday in the United Mine Workers contract honoring the eight-hour day -- first established on April 1, 1898, by the Illinois Miners' Union following a nine-month strike.
April is also the season for Passover and Easter. The spirit of Passover focuses on the tyranny of oppressors and the spirit of Easter, as noted by the late Algernon Black of the American Ethical Union, "is a power in people, a will to overcome not merely for one's own immediate sake and regardless of others. It is a power of regeneration which can and must be shared and become the basis for the new way of seeing, and the changing of conditions so that we can save life and liberate the creative potentials in human beings."
For these reasons if not more, April 1, 2013, was an appropriate time to stage in Charleston one of the largest labor rallies in recent decades. It focused on the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Patriot Coal that will rob thousands of coal miners of their promised benefits in the promised land.
Patriot, created by Peabody to shed itself of union-negotiated benefits, also bought Magnum Coal. Magnum was created by Arch Coal in a similar maneuver, thereby conveniently leaving Patriot with a total of $1.6 billion in health and retirement benefits for more than 20,000 miners and their families. Interestingly, 90 percent of those on Patriot's list worked only for Peabody and Arch.
While Patriot now seeks to rid itself of proclaimed "unsustainable legacy liabilities," it has asked the bankruptcy court to approve $7 million in executive bonuses and attorney fees of more than twice that amount. The wound is salted further, as noted in a Charleston Gazette piece by Paul Nyden, because Patriot also seeks termination of promised benefits to more than 1,000 current and retired salaried employees.
The use of bankruptcy to void contractual obligations to workers is not a new legal tactic. Particularly since passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, millions of American workers who made this nation an industrial power and fought with honor in numerous wars have become victims of economic violence, preventing them from meeting their basic needs.
This economic violence, while not moral, is outrageously legal, since it is an outcome of management techniques, government policy and legal maneuvers, all within the rules, regulations and procedures of our current economic system.
It is not difficult to list legal activities that were forms of violence in the wasted lives that are the norm in West Virginia. One can count deaths from numerous mine explosions, death and disability from black lung, and deaths caused by drilling the Hawks Nest Tunnel through silica, just to name a few examples.