RACINE, W.Va. — For several members of the United Mine Workers of America in West Virginia and other unions, the Labor Day walk from Marmet in Kanawha County to Racine in Boone County was personal.
The 11-mile walk to the 81st annual UMWA Labor Day Picnic at Racine was done Monday morning to commemorate the March to Blair Mountain, which has its 100th anniversary in 2021.
UMWA President Cecil Roberts and UMWA Secretary-Treasurer Levi Allen led the walk. In 1921, Roberts’ great uncle Bill Blizzard was the frontman for the charge.
“We want to make sure people don’t forget it,” Roberts told MetroNews. “We march to remind people that we are still here. We march to bring attention to our pension plan. We march to make sure people know that coal miners are still the hardest working people in this country and they deserve respect.”
More than a hundred union workers joined Roberts and the starters for the final mile at the intersection of US Route 94 and 3 in Boone County. From there, the crowds gathered at John Slack Memorial Park for the picnic that featured many speakers headlined by Roberts.
He told the crowd that union workers brought important benefits including paid time off, social security, Medicaid, workers compensation, and more to the average worker.
“This is a day where we remember those who have gone on,” Roberts told MetroNews. “This is a day we are thankful for being in a union and this is a day where we talk about what we need to do and where we need to go.”
Roberts elaborated about where the group needs to go into the 2020 election cycle including the fight for miners pensions in the American Miners Act and protecting coal miners’ job.
Supporters of the bill include U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-, W.Va.). Manchin is expected to announce whether he will run for Governor of West Virginia around Labor Day and the feel at the picnic was he will.
“Yes,” Bolts Willis, UMWA member from Pratt answered MetroNews when asked if he thinks Manchin will run.
“I think he will probably announce tomorrow (Tuesday).”
Willis said he spoke with Manchin a couple of weeks ago about issues facing miners and knows Manchin would have strong support from the UMWA if he decided to run. The group has supported him in his time in the U.S. Senate and past term as governor.
“You feel like he listens to you, he will talk to you about what is going on and he knows you,” Willis said of Manchin. “If he was here today (Monday) you’d see he probably knows as many people here as anybody does.
“He has been a great senator for coal throughout his time in the U.S. Senate and governor as well.”
The picnic featured live music and entertainment from local artists, a pig roast and picnic, activities for the kids to celebrate the 129 years of organized labor in the United States.
Boone County Delegate Rodney Miller, who also went on the walk, told MetroNews on Monday that members in the House are working on a resolution to build a “Redneck Roadway” trail to commemorate the March to Blair Mountain and the Matewan Massacre in Boone, Mingo and Logan counties.
“This was the beginning of the modern labor movement in the United States and it happens to cross Coal River where coal was found,” Miller said.
“There is so much here we haven’t done anything with and I think we have a good coalition of individuals and groups that are willing to work on this.”