Unionize the mines!
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Build the UMWA! No miner has to die!
Right, Paris Thomas, 53, one of five miners killed May 20 in mine explosion at the Darby Mine No. 1 near Holmes Mill in Harlan County, Kentucky. Above, aerial view of mine.
There is only one effective tool coal miners can use to enforce safety: a local of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in every single mine, said the lead editorial in the February 6 Militant, responding to the Sago Mine disaster in January and the subsequent spate of deaths of U.S. miners on the job. Thats why the Militant is calling upon workers, farmers, and others to support union-organizing efforts by coal miners across the United States and Canada. And, it should be added, the world over.
Organizing the mines has become even more urgent now after the deaths of another six coal miners in Kentucky, and another one in West Virginiacasualties of the bosses profit drive. The fate of 57 miners in northern China, trapped by underground flooding, underscores the importance of this question worldwide.
As one of the workers put it at the Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1, where five men died May 20, We need a union, now.
Thats the necessary starting point. Not new and better government regulations or more federal and state mine safety inspectors, as many capitalist politicians propose after every major disaster, wagging their finger and promising improved laws.
There are already plenty of rules and regulations on the books. The coal barons routinely violate them with a slap on the wrist, at best.
No new laws, no additional government inspectors, have any meaningunless a movement of workers fights to unionize the mines.
Only such a movement can put in the hands of the miners themselves the ability to decide job safety questions.
As we said in the February 6 issue, 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 combustible gases are building up. They can insist on the repair of faulty conveyor 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.
Inspection of miners air packs should be in the hands of union miners, not company safety personnel. The same is true of ensuring, before anyone begins their shift, that there is an adequate oxygen supply, easily accessible underground in case of emergency. Workers must be able to stop production if the company insists on using less costly but unreliable materials and leaky sealants to block off unused portions of the mine, a key issue in the Kentucky disaster.
Left to their own profit greed, the coal bosses will never take such measures, we said in the earlier editorial. With coal prices at record levels, they are stretching out the workweek, cranking up output, and slashing costs. They couldnt care less about the limbs, lungsand livesof 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 smalla few hundred bucks for the most serious infractionsas to be contemptible.
In nonunion mines and other unorganized workplaces today, workers are often willing to speak out only on condition of anonymity in order to avoid firings or other retribution by the bosses. When writing an article to describe struggles on the job they are involved in, these workers often feel the need to use pen names. The union movement must unconditionally defend the right of these workers, so they can speak out about dangerous conditions before people die. And we must defend the right of pro-labor and other news media, to use these practices to shield workers from victimization by employers. This is one of the lessons of the Co-Op miners fight for a union in Utah, the magnificent accomplishments of which are outlined in a front-page article this week.
The stakes are high for all working people, as the February 6 Militant pointed out. As competition for profits intensifies worldwide, the health and safety of workers and farmers are on the capitalists 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 production in mines, mills, factories, and among rail and construction workers, truckers, and airline employees.
Capitalist politicians and the employers talk about the inherently unsafe nature of coal mining and other industries. Millions of working people know better. They see every day that they cannot rely on government inspectors, who are in fact beholden to the wealthy businesses they are supposedly regulating.
The labor movement needs to act on the basis that not a single miner has to die.
Support all struggles by miners to unionize!
We won battle at Co-Op mine due to strength of our fight and solidarity
Bosses profit greed kills six Kentucky miners
Your support for our struggle was critical
Another miner killed on the job in W. Virginia
Sell this issue widely! On to 3,000 subs!
Appeal to our readers
Trapped underground for 14 days, Australia gold miners are rescued
China: 57 miners trapped in underground flood