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Safety is a union question! No miner has to die!
Answer bosses’ efforts to deflect blame for Utah mine cave-in
 
Utah miners, relatives speak out on unsafe conditions before cave-in
 
Minnesota meat packers fight drive against union
 
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 71/Supplement      August 2007

 
Safety is a union question!
No miner has to die!
Answer bosses’ efforts to
deflect blame for Utah mine cave-in
(lead article/editorial)
 
AP/Rick Bowmer
Rescue workers exit a mine shaft at the Crandall Canyon mine outside Huntington, Utah, August 8. Six miners have been trapped inside since a massive cave-in August 6.

With six coal miners trapped after a cave-in at the Crandall Canyon (Genwal) coal mine near Huntington, Utah, we join with other workers in saying: “No miner has to die!” The truth must be told about the unsafe conditions facing miners at Crandall Canyon and elsewhere, why such disasters are caused by bosses’ profit-driven disregard for safety, and why the only way to enforce safe conditions on the job is through workers organizing into unions.

To help get out the facts, we urge you to get this special four-page issue of the Militant into the hands of fellow workers and farmers as widely as possible.

Despite the statements by Murray Energy Corp. officials that the fate of the six miners trapped underground is “in the Lord’s hands,” responsibility for these men’s lives lies with the bosses. The Crandall Canyon mine was cited for more than 300 safety violations in the last three years.

Mine operators, however, routinely get just a slap on the wrist for violating even the most basic safety rules. The fine that Crandall Canyon owners had to pay for not having sufficient exits for the second time in two years was just $60, about as much as a parking ticket. No wonder that just weeks before the cave-in, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspectors found the same problem in the mine for the third time in two years.

As many of us know from experience, dangerous working conditions are the norm, not the exception, for coal miners and many other workers. In their cutthroat competition for greater productivity and profits, bosses are pushing us to work faster, for longer hours, and cutting corners on safety. Working people cannot rely on MSHA or other agencies of the government, which acts on behalf of the wealthy employing class. Having an effective union is the only way to push back the bosses from forcing us to do whatever they want to get out production.

Miners in Utah and around the world have a powerful example to follow in the struggle that unfolded in Huntington Canyon between 2003 and 2006. Workers at the Co-Op mine, less than 10 miles up the road from Crandall Canyon, fought a determined battle to organize into the United Mine Workers of America. Central to the demands of the miners was safer working conditions.

The miners at Co-Op, in their majority immigrants from Mexico, won broad solidarity in the labor movement. The impact of their struggle was felt throughout the region, including among nonunion miners, who began discussing how to change their job conditions. The miners defeated repeated attacks by the bosses, including a retaliatory lawsuit. While they did not win a union local, they demonstrated the power working people have when we organize and fight together. Today many former Co-Op miners are working in other mines in the region and some are part of the rescue operations at Crandall Canyon.

Many of the coal miners in the region, including three of those trapped in the Huntington mine, are immigrants from Mexico or Central America. This underscores the fact that the fight for unions is intertwined with the struggle to legalize all immigrant workers—immediately, without conditions. Bosses try to use workers’ legal status to intimidate them into accepting dangerous conditions, low wages, and abuse. Organizing immigrants into the unions and fighting for legal status for all will help strengthen the entire labor movement.

The struggle at Co-Op was similar in character to the fight that forged a union in 2000 at the Dakota Premium Foods slaughterhouse in South St. Paul, Minnesota. Workers put their stamp on both struggles from the start. Today meat packers at Dakota are resisting a campaign by the bosses to decertify their union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789. Before they had a union, bosses routinely forced them to work while injured. Conditions became increasingly dangerous as the bosses jacked up the line speed. Winning a union local there was a first step toward safer working conditions. Supporting their struggle to defend their union goes hand in hand with supporting miners in Utah in the fight for job safety today.

When workers have union safety committees in every mine and plant, they can use union power to walk off the job if bosses try to impose life-threatening conditions. Coal miners can refuse to work if roofs and ribs are inadequately secured. Packinghouse workers can stop the line if the speed endangers their lives and health.

The labor movement needs to act on the basis that not a single miner has to die. Help get out the truth about the bosses’ responsibility for the Huntington disaster. Build solidarity with the Dakota workers’ fight to defend their union! Support the struggles by miners, meat packers, and others to unionize!

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