Amid a spreading mine safety crisis and the bosses brutal drive to boost output and profits, employerswith the help of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and other federal agenciesare pointing the finger at workers. To hear it from them, alcohol and drug abuse are the biggest cause of deadly accidents! To hear it from the big-business media, its immigrant workers who drive down wages!
But its the intensifying competition for markets worldwide thats putting the health and safety of workers and farmers on the capitalists chopping block, along with our wages, pensions, medical care, and simple dignity on the job.
Massey is no pioneer on this antilabor course. C.W. Mining, which owns the Co-Op mine in Utah, has been in the vanguard of the coal barons efforts both to superexploit immigrant labor and at the same time attempt to undermine working-class solidarity and forestall unionization. The company fired its entire workforce, mostly workers from Mexico, in September 2003 after the miners demanded safe job conditions, livable wages, dignity, and representation by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
But the Co-Op miners, whose highly productive labor had enabled the bosses to pile up profits year after year, fought back. They waged a 10-month strike that won widespread solidarity in the West and beyond, forcing the bosses to offer to reinstate them. The coal bosses aim in doing so was baldly stated by Mark Hansen, attorney for C.W. Mining and its affiliated union, at a February 17 court hearing in Salt Lake City on a harassment lawsuit filed by the coal operator against the Co-Op miners, the UMWA, and others, including the Militant. Hansen told the judge that the company agreed to the labor-board-brokered settlement because it expected most strikers to not return and thus lose their right to vote.
But the bosses miscalculated. Many workers did go back and forced the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to organize a union representation election. C.W. Mining fired most of the miners on the eve of that union vote on the pretext they did not have proper work papers. And it tried to intimidate them from exercising their right to pick the union of their choice by serving miners with defamation and other charges literally on their way to the voting booth!
The Co-Op miners persistedbecoming an example for the entire labor movementby demanding the NLRB count the ballots from that vote and order their reinstatement. And they have fought, along with the UMWA, the Militant, and others to defeat the bosses harassment lawsuit. (It should come as no surprise that Massey has filed a similar defamation suit against the UMWA.)
Hansen also told the court the Co-Op miners had enlisted the UMWA to muscle the company to give them higher wages and benefits they knew they were not entitled to since they were illegals. The point is unmistakable: undocumented workers can be paid unlivable wages, treated like dirt, and subjected to death-trap conditions so long as they dont make a fuss about it. So long as they dont organize a union.
What better argument for working-class solidarity! Just like the Massey bosses false and degrading depiction of Appalachian miners as lazy drunks and drug addicts.
But the coal barons are digging their own graves. They are helping to build an alliance of miners and other working peoplefrom different origins, white and Black, men and womenfrom Appalachia to the Rockies and beyond.
Solidarity is the foundation of success in any labor struggle. When workers strike or fight to organize a union, they appeal for support, and the employers and their government try to block such support and whip up opposition. They do so in large part by trying to play on competition among workers for jobspitting one group against another.
The need for working-class solidarity transcends borders, as shown by the mine disaster in Mexico. Workers in the U.S. and our brothers and sisters south of the Rio Grande have a common enemythe employing classesand common interests as working people. Grupo Mexico, whose profit greed may claim the lives of 65 miners in San Juan de Sabinas, also owns Asarco, a U.S. copper giant that forced 1,500 miners in Arizona and Texas on a four-month strike last year.
Crucial to organizing working-class solidarity in the United Statesand key to reversing the continued weakening of the union movementis recognizing undocumented immigrants as fellow workers in every sense and reaching out to organize them into the ranks of labor.
Working people have no interest in making demands on the employers to stop hiring immigrants. To the contrary. The internationalization of the working class in the United States and other imperialist countries strengthens our class. By organizing all coal miners and other working peoplenative- and foreign-bornworkers can draw everyone into enforcing safety on the job. The unions can take the lead in overcoming language hurdles by organizing safety classes in Spanish and other tongues, as well as producing leaflets in various languages and providing oral translation as needed.
Thats how the UMWA and many other unions were built in the United States. By workers from many lands.
This is the road to defend the working class and its allies in the United States and the world over from assaults by the employersbe it Massey, C.W. Mining, or Grupo Mexico.
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