About 800 wildcat strikers from the Appalachian coal fields marched and rallied here yesterday to protest medical benefit cutbacks and to call for a congressional probe of management of their health funds.
Chanting "No (medical) cards, no coal" and "Burn peanuts," the demonstrators - many attired in miners' garb - protested in front of the White House, Capitol, Bituminous Coal Operators Associaiton and the headquarters of their own union, the United Mine Workers.
In a tense 45-minute confrontation with a top aide to a UMW President Arnold Miller on the edge of McPherson Square across from the union headquarters at 900 15th St. NW, they complained angrily because Miller wouldn't meet with them, Miller, recently released from hospitla after treatment for exhaustion, was reportedly in Charleston, W.Va.
The demonstrators were also turned away from the BCOA headquarters a block away. They met later in the day with Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.) and Labor Secretary Ray Marshall in Randolph's office on Capitol Hill.
They said Randolph indicated the Senate Human Resources Committee would consider any evidence of human suffering that results from the cutbacks, and Marshall said he would look into any questions they raised.
The protesters are among more than 60,000 wildcat strikers, one-third of the union's working membership, who have walked off their jobs in four Appalachian states to protest benefit cutbacks ordered last month becuase of an impending deficit in the union's health funds.
The shortage results from reduced coal production royalties caused in large part by the continuing wildcat strikes. This snowballing crisis reportedly also threatens the fund that finances pensions to retired miners.
BCOA has rejected a union demand for reallocation of pension royalties to the health funds, saying this would only reward wildcat strikes. The operators estimate that the funds are now losing $1 million a day because of the strikes.
The cutbacks mean miners and their families will have to pay up to $500 a year for health care, instead of receiving it free.
The demonstrators, seemingly as angry when they left as when they arrived, vowed to continue striking until full medical benefits are restored.