Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

COAL MINERS NEED JUSTICE


I was drawn to the TV much of yesterday like a moth is drawn to a flame. I watched the broken hearted families of West Virginia coal miners react to the news that 12 of their loved ones had died deep in the Sago mine in Tallmansville, West Virginia. I was touched by the intense emotion recorded by the cameras as people learned of the deaths, three hours after they had been told that their prayers had been answered and a "miracle" had saved the trapped miners.

One woman screamed "they don't care about us," referring to the International Coal Group, Inc. who owns the mine. Another woman wailed that they had been abandoned by God.

I heard one man, whose father was killed in the mine, say that his dad did not like the working conditions but had to do the job so he could "put food on the table." Then just moments later, I saw one journalist say that the miners loved the work so much that "they'd work for half the pay" if they had to in order to stay in the mines. (Do they think we are that stupid - really!)

The Sago mine is a non-union operation that had 200 fines in 2005 for violations of the Mine Health and Safety Act. The Bush administration has cut 170 jobs from the mine safety program in recent years making enforcement of the act more difficult to administer. The man now in charge of the program is a former coal company manager who Bush appointed to monitor the very industry he worked for. The highest fine received in 2005 by the Sago mine was for $800, indicating that the mine safety program was quite lenient on their industry pals.

This was for me something personal. When I was a kid, living in England, we heated with coal. It was delivered to our home and we saw the blackened faced chimney sweeps go door to door in the neighborhood looking for work. It was my job to bring in the coal each day from the outdoor bin. I had tasted coal dust. For me the coal miners strike had some point of context. I've paid attention to the issue over the years.

In 1989 I went to Carbo, Virginia during the year-long Pittston coal strike by the United Mineworkers Union. Nestled in the mountain hollows (pronounced "hollars" by the locals), I sat on the picket line for two full days with the striking workers. At first they were a bit suspicious of me, but after I explained that I worked in the peace movement and had been an organizer for the United Farmworkers Union, they made me feel at home. The men displayed great dignity and fierce determination to protect what little gains they had made after many years of struggle. In that particular instance, they were striking because the Pittston coal company was planning to discontinue medical benefits for pensioners, widows and the disabled. Remembering that many miners suffer from black lung disease, the cut-off of medical benefits at the very time they most needed them would be devastating. I will never forget the sadness I felt when I left the picket line.

So America's eyes and many hearts turned to the coal miners in West Virginia the last couple of days. There are now calls for an investigation from the politicians in Washington. But until we deal with the fact that the coal corporations have unlimited power, and the workers have virtually none, then nothing much changes. Even with a mine safety program, as long as the industry runs the show the law is nothing but a cruel hoax.

Working people in America are being screwed left and right. The Sago coal tragedy is one more warning sign that we are returning to a feudal society. The haves are getting richer and the have-nots are getting poorer -- and dieing. We need more than prayers for the dead. We need to mourn for them, and in their memory, we need to organize like hell.

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