Directed by: Anne Lewis
Running Time: 57:00
Justice in the Coalfields demonstrates how current labor law has crippled the collective bargaining power of unions and weighed the scales of justice against working people. The documentary follows the United Mine Workers strike against the Pittston Coal Company and explores the strike’s social, cultural, and economic impact on coalfield communities.
When the contract between the UMWA and Pittston expired in February 1988, Pittston terminated the medical benefits of 1,500 pensioners, widows, and disabled miners. This violation of a long standing social contract ignited a community-wide sense of outrage. Justice in the Coalfields documents the events that followed in southwestern Virgina, the heart of the strike and a right-to-work state.
Hundreds of state troopers are seen escorting “replacement workers” through the picket lines. Union members, their families and friends are shown responding with mass civil disobedience resulting in over 4,000 arrests. State and federal judges reacted with injunctions and fined the UMWA more than $64 million. These events are given context through conversations with the rank and file. Additional perspectives are provided by a federal judge, a public interest lawyer, the coal company president, and the public affairs director of the National Right to Work Committee.
This film was preserved by Appalshop Archive. To support the work of preserving and safeguarding Appalshop’s collections, please consider making a donation to Appalshop Archive.
“A compelling, timely, and important documentar. A must-see for anyone interested in one of the most important labor struggles of recent years.” – Tom Zaniello, Professor, College Degree Program of the George Meany Center for Labor Studies
“A very powerful, accessible, and thought-provoking film that should provoke heated and fruiful discussion in the classroom.” – Steve Fisher, Professor, Political Science, Emory and Henry College
“A provocative program that should be seen widely by lawyers and law students to help the profession come to terms with the way in which it tends to idolize the law. A lawyer cannot come away from the film without some sense that the issues of justice and and law are ambiguous, that justice and law are at best distant cousins.” – Andrew McThenia, Professor, School of Law, Washington and Lee University
“An outstanding video that probes deeply into the different world views of coalmining families and coal operators revealing the consistent affirmation and motivation of community responsibility vs. individual freedom that undergird their adversarial positions. I highly recommend it for classes …” – Barbara Ellen Smith, Sociologist, Marshall University
“Excellent organizing tool, especially for bringing disparate groups together.” – Hilary Chiz, West Virginia Civil Liberties Union
“After witnessing this spectacle of pain and hardship, one wonders why there isn’t more violence on the part of the workers and the mountain people of the coalmining region.” – Robb A. Mitchell, Labor Education Service, University of Minnesota
Screenings & Festivals
Appalachian Studies Conference – Screening
Big Muddy Film Festival
International Communication Film and Video Festival – Gold Plaque Winner
International Labor Film and Video Festival – Screening
Peace and Justice Activists, National Organizers Alliance – Screening
Sinking Creek Film and Video Festival – Finalist
Southern Sociological Society Conference – Screening
West Virginia Film Festival – Screening
Women in Film – Screening