Coal Strike

Coal Strike (1978)
Duration: 00:26:22

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Themes: Urban Challenges | Motor City and Motown |

Guests: Helen Huddleston, Burdette Crowe, Len Gross, John Hutchinson, Wayne Busby, Alec Meiklejohn, Kathy Busby, Cecil Roberts, Mike Meares, John Huddleston, Jane English
Host : Ron Scott
Producer : Ron Scott
Associate Producer : Deborah Ray

Summary: This program is unusual in the Detroit Black Journal series in that it takes on a topic that does not, on the surface, appear to be directly related to Detroit or African Americans. Nevertheless, it shows the scope of the program's interests.

The topic is the coal miners' strike of 1978, which at the time of the broadcast had extended to 100 days. At airtime, a tentative contract had just been announced. After a short video clip of President Jimmy Carter speaking at a news conference, host Ron Scott speaks by telephone with a United Mine Workers official in West Virginia. The official has no details of the contract and it appears that ratification by union members is far from certain.

The heart of the program is a documentary of the situation in the coalfields of West Virginia, told mainly through interviews with the miners themselves. Scott is shown interviewing several miners and their wives who are gathered in one of their homes.

In the most direct connection between the strike and Detroit, one of the miners thanks Detroit autoworkers for sending food and clothing to support the strikers. He expresses confidence that the miners will show similar support for the autoworkers if the UAW goes on strike when contracts expire the following year.

The program explores the economic impact of the strike, but greater emphasis is placed on the issue of mine safety. At one point, Scott discusses the rate of on-the-job deaths among coal miners - four times the national average for other workers - while showing pictures of a West Virginia cemetery.

A local UMW president, Cecil Roberts, says in an interview, "We had about 35 people killed in the mines last year in the state of West Virginia. That's 35 people too many. We have injuries every day. Death's still a companion of every miner that goes inside these mines."

Scott concludes by posing a question from the song that opens and closes the show, "Which Side Are You On?" The program ranges far afield from Detroit, but it illuminates the connections that many in the city and in the African American community feel to the struggles of organized labor and working people.

Related Production Materials held at MSU Libraries, Special Collections:
Box 16, File 6, Coal Strikes: 1972, 1977-78