Striking Virginia coal miners received injunctions ordering them back to work yesterday and began holding a series of meetings that are expected to continue through Monday before they decide whether to return or risk defying the injunctions.
At a regular bimonthly gathering of Dixiana Local 8017, coincidently scheduled for yesterday morning, before the injunctions were served," I told them the law says they have to go back to work", president Charles Bateman said, "They just laughed at me."
When Bateman got home he found the three-inch thick stack of injunction papers waiting for him. "Now I got to call me another meeting and tell them again," he said. Taft-Hartley regulations require that strikers ordered back to work be informed of the provisions of the law at special meetings.
The Taft-Hartley injunction, obtained by President Carter Thursday and distributed yesterday in this hilly Virginia coal country, makes Bateman and other United Mine Workers officials liable to arrest if they do not urge the miners to end their 96-day strike. So the leaders are going through the motiins in a series of conclaves continuing through late Monday. Early shifts on Tuesday are thought to be the first time that the mines in this area might reopen.
Reporters were barred from the squat green and white concrete block building during the Dixiana gathering, at which about 50 miners sat on hardwood theater seats before a wraping portrait of former United Mine Workers president John L. Lewis. It was taken when his hair was not yet white.
There were yellowed photographs of the UMW convention in Cincinnati in 1936 and another from 1948, along with the Dixiana UMW flag. There were copies of photographs of Bateman being arrested Thursday in a dispute with a Richmond television station team, courtesy of a wire service reporter. There were no photos of current UMW president Arnold Miller.
"Miller? Who's he?" said one retired miner with a toothless grin. The mood was playful but the men were serious.
Nonunion strip mining activity slacked off the weekend although a few trucks still jounced over the rutted roads to disgorge coal. State police watched, seeming to be at every intersection; the miners yelled insults at them from the meeting hall.
"Ain't nothing they can do to prevent us walking down the road," said Omer Pite, 67, another one of the retired miners whose pension rights are one of the main issues in the strike. A veteran of 37 years in the mine, Pite said he and other pensioners would picket next week no matter what (even though picketing is illegal under the injunction.) "These boys is our sons and grandsons. They won't cross our line," he said.
The retired members called a district-wide meeting for today at Castlewood, about 25 miles southeast of here. Several-seemed convinced that the Taft-Hartley Act permitted them to picket while excluding only active miners. One striker said they would talk about that as well as "everything else, from shooting deer, to striking, to pickets , to food stamps."
"Just because we're miners, everybody thinks we don't know, what money is," said striker Herman Mullins. "This whole things ain't about money anyway." Most of the men insist they don't need food stamps to hold out and have stocked up to get by.
About 6,000 persons have been receiving food stamps in the area, but not all of them are miners or their families, according to Lynn Gallagher, cheif of Virginia's Welfare Department Assidtance Program Bureau. No one will be ineligible for food stamps until a judge formally declares the strike illegal, she said.
That could be March 17, when the current temporary restraining order is set for a hearing on a preliminary injunction.