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The Militant this week
El Militante
Unionize the mines! Build the UMWA!
No miner has to die! Workers need a union to enforce safety
Coal boss greed kills two more miners in West Virginia
Toll: 15 in three weeks
Join effort to win 1,000 ‘Militant’ sub renewals
Letter from the editor
Transit workers in New York reject contract
Washington, Paris threaten Iran with military action
Build support for Militant Fighting Fund  
Deaths on the job, racism sparked 1968 Memphis strike

A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 70/No. 5February 6, 2006


Late breaking news

Coal miner killed on job at Utah mine

PRICE, Utah, January 30—A coal miner was killed at the Aberdeen mine near here yesterday, Sunday, around 11 p.m. The miner, Shane Jacobson, was working at the longwall face of the mine when a piece of coal blew out and struck him, the company told the Salt Lake Tribune. Andalex Resources Inc. owns the mine, which is nonunion. Operation of the mine has been temporarily suspended. In 2004-2005 the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited the Aberdeen mine for 327 safety violations. MSHA classified 184 of these infractions as “significant and substantial.” The next issue of the Militant will feature first-hand coverage of this incident, which brings the death toll in U.S. coal mines to 16 in the first month of this year.

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Unionize the mines!
Build the UMWA!
No miner has to die!
Workers need a union to enforce safety
(lead article/editorial)
AP photos by Jeff Gentner (left); Jerry Fekete (right)
Conveyor belt runs coal into the Rum Creek Coal Plant (above), the tipple for Alma No. 1 mine in Melville, West Virginia. Two miners died underground there after a conveyor belt caught fire January 19. Alma miner Billy Mayhorn (right) hugs his wife Sharon, after emerging from the mine. Mayhorn was one of 19 miners who escaped the fire. The mine is owned by Massey Energy, the fourth-largest U.S. coal company. It was cited for more than 200 safety violations in 2004-05 by the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

There is only one effective tool coal miners can use to ensure mine safety: a local of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in every single mine. That’s why the Militant is calling upon workers, farmers, and others to sup-port union-organizing efforts by coal miners across the United States and Canada.

“Being in the UMWA is very important,” says Derek Bragg, a 25-year-old roof bolter at the Robinson Run mine in West Virginia. Robinson Run is the nearest union mine to the nonunion Sago operation where 12 miners were killed after be-ing trapped for nearly two days fol-lowing a January 2 explosion.

“If we see something not safe, the union backs us up,” Bragg told the Militant. “At nonunion mines, I know from experience you do what the boss says or lose your job.”

That is the growing conviction of both union and nonunion miners throughout the coalfields. A convic-tion bolstered by the deaths of 15 workers at two West Virginia mines and a third in Kentucky the first three weeks of 2006.

The stakes are high for all working people, not just miners. As competition for profits intensifies worldwide, the health and safety of workers and farmers are on the capi-talists’ chopping block, along with our wages, pensions, medical care, and simple dignity on the job. With utter disregard for the human toll, employers are speeding up pro-duction in mines, mills, factories, and among rail workers, truckers, and air-lines employees. Deaths and maimings are mounting among farmers strug-gling to cover rising costs and meet interest payments to the banks.

Many daily papers carrying news of the miners who just died in Melville also reported a study showing that 20 percent of day laborers in the United States suffered injuries last year requiring medical attention—in six out of 10 cases causing them to miss more than a week of work.

Class conscious workers “must be able to assert with complete confidence and integrity that the stronger and more militant the union, the safer the operations of the industry, whatever it may be,” Socialist Workers Party national secretary Jack Barnes explained in a 1995 talk printed in Capitalism’s World Disorder (see ad on page 6). “This is a fundamental matter of class pride, of self-respect, of the morale of the working class. It is a question of the working class taking the moral high ground in the battle against the exploiting class and for human solidarity.”

With UMWA safety committees in every mine, coal miners can use union power to walk off the job if mine roofs are inadequately secured. They can refuse to work if explosive coal dust levels are high or very com-bustible gases are building up. They can insist on the repair of faulty con-veyor belts, exposed wiring, or other defective equipment before any coal is cut. They can say no to the bypassing of safety devices on mine machinery.

Left to their own profit greed, the coal bosses will never take such measures. With coal prices at record levels, they are stretching out the workweek, cranking up output, and slashing costs. They couldn’t care less about the limbs, lungs—and lives—of workers. And as recent events show, government “regulatory” agencies such as the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) either wink at violations or levy fines so small—a few hundred bucks for the most serious infractions—as to be contemptible.

The coal barons, their Wall Street underwriters, and their kept Democratic and Republican politicians cannot state these callous profit calculations outright. So, they come up with rationalizations. “Coal mining, by its nature, is extremely dangerous,” a so-called analyst for the Morgan Stanley brokerage house told the Wall Street Journal January 21. And Sago Mine owner Wilbur Ross said his “fervent hope” is to “reduce the risk the next time a miner is underground.”

But these are self-serving lies. There is nothing “inherently unsafe” about coal mining or other jobs. Not a single worker has to be killed or injured in a mine or any other workplace. It’s possi-ble to eliminate risks, not just “reduce” them. That needs to be labor’s goal.

That’s not the goal of Wilbur Ross or other big-business owners, however. Ross’s goal, as he told the Journal, is to make his International Coal Group “the low-cost producer” in the industry. The company’s plan for Sago, where miners produced 350,000 tons of coal last year, is to mine 900,000 tons in 2006!

As Democratic and Republican politicians always do for a week or two after mine disasters, West Virginia governor Joseph Manchin and U.S. senator John Rockefeller have wagged their fingers and pledged new state and federal mine safety laws. While additional such measures are certainly called for, it was not inadequate legislation that led to the 15 deaths over the last three weeks. MSHA, for example, had cited the Sago Mine 208 times last year for violations of already-existing regulations. “Yes,” Wilbur Ross told Fortune magazine, “they found violations, but not enough to close it down.”

Working people cannot rely on MSHA or other agencies of local, state, and federal governments, all of which speak and act on behalf of the employing class. In fact, the mine agency’s most vigorous effort in 2005-06 has been to point the finger at workers. To hear it from MSHA and the coal bosses, alcohol and drug use among miners is the biggest safety issue in the mines!

Tens of millions of working people know better. We know the bosses’ profit drive is responsi-ble for unsafe and unhealthy condi-tions on the job. We know government inspectors officially mandated to pro-tect workers and the public are in fact beholden to the wealthy businesses they are supposedly regulating.

Progress by coal miners in or-ganizing the mines can set an example and be a source of inspiration, practi-cal lessons, and solidarity for workers in other industries seeking to use un-ion power to counter the bosses’ attacks. That’s the road to defending life and limb of working people and our allies, not only in the United States but the world over. Support all struggles by miners to unionize!
Related articles:
Coal boss greed kills two more miners in West Virginia
Toll: 15 in three weeks
Join effort to win 1,000 ‘Militant’ sub renewals
Letter from the editor
Build support for Militant Fighting Fund
Safety violations rampant in western coal mines
Deaths on the job, racism sparked 1968 Memphis strike
Marxism, or why join the communist movement
New York event takes up contradictory development of labor vanguard

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