“Yet Conscience is a nobleman, the best in us, and a friend.”
By Adam Katz
This is our hundredth post.
Solidarity takes work and engagement. So imagine my surprise when I saw a story covered by an independent media outlet to the effect that there has been a coal miners’ strike going on in Alabama for four months, and no national news source has covered it. Here it is in the Tuscaloosa News.
I am not a newspaper reporter so I will keep it brief (though not as brief as the actual newspaper reporters who have yet to cover this story at all).
Below is a screenshot of a Google search using the keywords “Warrior Met Coal Strike” (Warrior Met is the name of the company that bought several coal operations as ‘distressed assets’). The first page returns not a single major news site (unless you count Wikipedia). The sites (ABC, The New Republic, The New York Times) that have spent the last year (rightly so) reporting on the stripping away of first amendment rights governing peaceful assembly have failed to mention a story that includes 3 cases of vehicular assault against protesters.
I do not even deign to mention Warrior Met’s official reason, reported by the Tuscaloosa News, as to why there were 3 cases of vehicular assault within the space of one week: that the strikers were blocking the entrance to the factory. I don’t deign to mention it because, while there may be good reasons to run someone over with a car, “they were in my way” is not one of them.
I will also say that most grad students are members of unions; but we are not members of a grad student union; as far as I am aware, there is no such thing. I was a member of Communication Workers of America, and I stood with Verizon workers when they went on strike in 2011 (and 2016). Additionally, the things that happen to the striking miners also happen to striking grad students and other union members. For instance: the miners’ families lost their healthcare at the beginning of the strike. How is it possible to have a dialogue between labor and management when management can remove the healthcare of labor, essentially threatening them with death or medical bankruptcy? If we were in conflict with a country and we blockaded their ability to import medical supplies (which we lowkey do to Cuba and Iran), that would be a human rights violation. But at least those stories make the news. Here on US soil, as I said, a major publication has yet to bring up the story of the striking miners in Tuscaloosa. Ok one has.
It seems like a long time ago that I came up with the name “The Ivory Tower Boiler Room.” As these things do, the name came to me in a moment of inspiration–or clarity–but when I thought about the name, it turned out to be an appropriate name for a number of reasons. One is the sardonic idea that we may be in the ivory tower, but we’ll never make it to the top. But another—the main one—is that, as a former grad student, I have long felt more of a sense of solidarity and even similarity with the laborers both at the university (nurse’s aides, bus drivers, fast food workers) and in general (miners, factory workers, fruit-pickers) than with the professors I was working with and, at the time, anyway, working to become. Whatever other differences there might be, like them, I felt trapped at the bottom of an economic pyramid with little to no possibility of rising. One counter-argument always sat uneasily with me: that there is likely to be a world of difference between me, a privileged, white person from an upper-middle-class family, and a person who literally works in a boiler room. So the name is a promise. When there is a conflict between a person who works in a boiler room (or one works in a related field, such as coal mining) I will always take that person’s side. I have to.
I will say one more thing: newspaper reporters are often former grad students like us; and they are certainly writers like us. So why are we covering this story and they are not? Newspaper reporters are myriad, and the owners of newspapers are few. So why would these reporters not feel a certain sense of empathy for the eleven-hundred striking coal workers? Have there been reporters–at the times, the major TV stations, etc., who have tried to bring up the story only to watch it ‘caught and killed’ by senior editors? How could a big story like this languish for so long–a four month strike with three cases of vehicular assault perpetrated against the strikers? The answer may have something to do with the fact that Warrior Met is backed by at least three massive hedge funds, including BlackRock Inc., which is always in the news for something, and Renaissance Technologies, which is based in East Setauket and was founded by a former math professor at Stony Brook.
Please comment, share, and get involved. If the mainstream media does not support workers’ rights, then we have to do it.