Justice in the Coalfields

1989 Pittston Coal Strike affected the rank-and-file miners and on the neighbors, shopkeepers, and sons and daughters, united and divided.

Premiere Date
April 1, 1996
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    1995 International Communication Film and Video Festival -Gold Plaque
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    1995 Nashville Independent Film Festival-Finalist
  • Producer

    Anne Lewis

    Anne Lewis is an independent documentary maker associated with Appalshop Films, a media arts and cultural center located in Whitesburg, Kentucky, in the heart of the Central Appalachian coalfields. Her work reveals working class people fighting for social change. Anne was associate director/assistant camera for Harlan County, U.S.A., the Academy Award-winning documentary about the Brookside strike. After the strike, she moved to the eastern Kentucky coalfields where she lived for 25 years. Documentaries she produced, directed, and edited include: To Save the Land and People, a history of a militant grassroots environmental movement; Justice in the Coalfields about the community impact of the Pittston strike; On Our Own Land (duPont-Columbia award for independent broadcast journalism) about the citizens’ movement to stop broad form deed strip mining; and Chemical Valley, co-directed with Mimi Pickering (P.O.V., American Film and Video Blue Ribbon) about environmental racism; and most recently, Shelter, about five West Virginia women as they try to find freedom, justice, and safety. Her documentary, Fast Food Women, about women struggling to raise families in minimum wage jobs with no benefits, aired on P.O.V. and was part of a Learning Channel series of films about women by women.

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    The Film

    Justice in the Coalfields demonstrates how current labor law 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 communitywide 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 more than 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.