Both Massey Energy (now Alpha), which has the Upper Big Branch legacy, and the International Coal Group, which has the Sago legacy, eagerly bought coal mines at bankruptcy court to avoid labor agreements.
The pattern has also been national. Over the past decades, former airlines like Continental and Eastern went bankrupt to break labor contracts. Manville Corporation declared bankruptcy, even while profitable, to avoid pending lawsuits by victims of asbestosis and lung cancer. Firms with well-known brands like Swift, Wilson, and International Baking (Twinkies) went bankrupt to re-package their brands union-free and/or negotiate major labor concessions.
Unionized coal companies closed or re-organized to set up new firms that were destined to fail, like Patriot, or become non-union, using the legal business arena to claim the new firms are separate while in fact working with them to maintain markets and access to capital.
This kind of economic violence eventually leads to a reaction in its victims. People are told to adjust, tighten their belts, or move somewhere else. But there is a limit to sacrifice. Belts can only be tightened so much, and it is obvious that those who control the economy aren't sharing in the sacrifice.
In essence, what is going on is that, over the past decades, miners have been stripped of effective means to protect their livelihoods and living standards. West Virginians are law-abiding people - more so than anywhere else in the United States, as shown by available crime statistics. But that does not mean they can or will peacefully accept economic violence that destroys their lives and threatens those of their children.
Perpetrators of economic violence, proclaiming themselves as "Friends," are well protected and get off scot-free. After all, their crimes are simply "good business." In the meantime, millions of people are destined for the scrap heap to waste away in desperate suffering and bitter hate that threatens survival and leads toward civil strife.
At the Patriot rally, UMWA President Cecil Roberts referred to various wise words of Mother Jones, who also predicted that there will never be peace in West Virginia until there is justice. Thousands who came to the Civic Center on April 1 and 16 who were arrested for sitting on steps of Laidley Tower took giant steps in walking that talk. Take it from those there, this is not the end; it is only the beginning.
David is a retired WVU-Tech professor.