About half of West Virginia's striking coal miners today heeded a back-to-work order from United Mine Workers leaders - same eagerly, some grudgingly and some in defiance of militant roving pickets from Kentucky.
But an estimated 30,000 miners in West Virginia, along with another 15,000 in surrounding states, remained off the job - testing once again the leadership of their strife-torn union.
Along the narrow valley of Cabin Creek, which is lined with small cottages and huge mine shafts about 20 miles south of here, groups of local miners gathered in small taverns, pondering what to do.
As one group plotted strategy, another worker sat ouside in his car, gesturing with a beer can and pouring out his confusion and frustration: "They all lie. The company lies, the union lies and I'm just gonna sit here and drink until something happens."
The strikers - sometimes numbering as many as 85,000, or half the UMW's working membership - have defied previous back-to-work appeals from their union leaders since the strike in 60 days if health benefitcials figured this time would be different because the directive was coupled with a threat to call a nationwide coal striked in 60 days if health benefit cuts, the immediate cause of the walk-outa, are not restored by then.
"It's a tart," said Dan Fields, spokesman for the West Virginia Coal Association, which estimated that the UMW's return-to-work order Monday was about half-successful in the state as of this morning's shift changes: 30,000 working and 30,000 still on strike.
There was no official word late today whether roving hands of Kentucky UMW pickets, whose surprise appearance at mine entrances in the Charleston area turned away thousands of miners this morning, were successful in keeping the mines close down indefinitely. "What they've been able to accomplish tody is anyone's guess," said Fields.
At Cabin Creek, the pickets appeared early this morning - reportedly with shotguns and baseball bats - at a fork in the road that leads to two large mine complexes.
A mine official, who asked not to be identified, said the Kentuckians stopped many miners at the fork and rousted others, who were already at work, from the mines. "They took their lunches and their money in some cases and they told them not to come back," he said.
The official said one of the Kentuckians was quoted as saying, "You kept us out of work and now we're going to keep you out." This was an apparent reference to West Virginia's reputation as the hub of the strike and the training ground for roving pickets that shut down mines in other states. But another said the Kentucky group represents an ultra-militant faction that is determined to shut down as much of the coal industry as it can.
The back-to-work order, agreed on here Monday during an angry, six-hour meeting between th UMW International Executive Board and leaders of the union's Charleston-based District 17, which was the center of the strike move, called on the strikers to return to work for 60 days.
During that period, the union would attempt to resolve with coal operators a dispute over UMW medical benefit cutbacks that precipitated this latest wave of wildcats strikes when ordered in mid-June.
If the cuts aren't restored in 60 days, the officials agreed, the UMW would terminated its current contract and call a nationwide coal strike - just six weeks before the agreement is due is expire on Dec. 6. A full-fledged strike is widely anticipated when the contract expires.
The union wants pension funds reallocated to restore what has been cut from health benefits, which is costing miners and their families up to $500 a year for services that previously were free.
But coal operatores have insisted that his would encourage wildcat strikes and risk violation of federal pension laws.
The Bituminous Coal Operators Association, the industry's bargaining arm, is withholding comment on the UMW's action until it receives formal notification by the union, which had not arrived late today.