Union Busting Kills Miners

I had resolved to take on more international subjects this year, but I'm going to start with one that is close to home in both the geographic and human sense.

After late night reports that 12 of the 13 trapped miners were alive, this morning finds the town of Tallmansville, West Virginia morning the death of 12 miners and praying for the recovery of the one miner rescued, Randal McCloy, as he lays in critical condition at a local hospital. The stunning reversal has cut loved ones to the bone. Church bells had been ringing and the Governor had spoken last night of a "West Virginia Miracle." Worst of all, Mine officials knew within 30 minutes that the information being circulated was false, but made no moves to correct that information for hours.

The thirteen miners had been trapped 260 feet below the surface of the Sago Mine for over 40 hours.

My family left Wales to escape the mines. My grandfather told me stories of his father leaving for the mines before sun up and returning after sundown six days a week. Sunday really was 'sun-day' for my great-grandfather. Work stoppages and seeing miners walking back from the mines during the day could only mean one thing. Wives waited for their husbands, hopping they wouldn't be the one whose husband had been killed in a collapse. Conditions in the mines were terrible. My great-grandfather drank his tea and ate his lunch on his side, the mines were only 3 feet high.

Conditions for American miners of the same period weren't any better. All through the mountains of Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Kentucky, men labored and died in despicable conditions until some successful strikes signaled a shift from the pro-management stance that the US government had always taken.

After this point, Unions were able to work for better hours, better wages, safer working conditions and eventually better health care. The mine in Tallmansville, West Virginia, however, had successfully busted the Union there, leaving no one watching and protecting the safety of the miners it employed. In almost all ways, the conditions at the Sago Mine were those described by George Baer in 1902 when he sought to defeat the unions, stating that the "rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for - not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country." Sago Mine's safety record certainly left some room for

In 2005 the mine was cited by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) 208 times for violating regulations, up from 68 in 2004. Of those, 96 were considered significant and substantial. Similarly, West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training issued 144 citations over that year, up from 74 the previous year.

Some of those were for violations that could have had been factors in the accident, such as failure to control methane and coal-dust accumulation, failure to properly shore up shafts against collapse and overall deficiencies in emergency planning.

MSHA records also showed miners at Sago had suffered 42 injuries that resulted in lost work time since 2000. In 2004 the mine's injury rate for hours worked was nearly three times the national average. A neighbor of one of the trapped miners told the media that the man had recently expressed concern that he could be killed "because of the idiots at the mine."

As anti-Union sentiment and wildly pro-business policies in this country approach their crest, we can expect to see more safety violations and the corresponding injuries and deaths. This particular tragedy received widespread media attention because of the inherent drama of having a dozen men trapped in a mine. Other industrial tragedies, while no less terrible, will not enter the conciseness of many Americans because one death in a factory won't be news anywhere but in the town where it occurred.

Politics is a pendulum and events like these will begin the swing back to the left - if Americans stop to notice and to think about how the policies of their government and their own thoughts and feelings lead directly to the appalling events in West Virginia.

No comments: