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Organize the mines!
New safety laws have no meaning without a UMWA local at every mine
Senate passes mine safety bill after deaths of Kentucky miners
Get ‘Militant’ around to miners, other workers! On to 3,000 subscriptions!
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 70/No. 23June 19, 2006


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(lead article/editorial)
Organize the mines!
New safety laws have no meaning
without a UMWA local at every mine
Militant/Argiris Malapanis
Darby Creek mine, owned by Lone Mountain Processing, in Harlan County, Kentucky, near Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1, where five miners (pictured below) were killed May 20. A sixth miner was rescued by team that included workers from Lone Mountain.

Amon Brock

Jimmy Lee

Roy Middleton

George Petra

Paris Thomas

The new mine safety bill the U.S. Senate just passed, and any other improved version of such legislation that may be put into effect, will have zero meaning for workers. It will not stop the death toll among coal miners from rising. Unless a movement of working people fights to organize the mines, putting into the hands of the miners themselves the ability to decide all job safety questions. Unless miners get the only effective tool they can use to enforce safety: a local of the United Mine of Workers of America (UMWA) in every single mine.

We made the same point in last week’s lead editorial. It has only become more urgent as capitalist politicians wag their finger at the mine owners while promising better rules, as they do after every disaster, until it disappears from the headlines. Their aim is to disorient working people. Lean on federal and state “regulatory” agencies, we are told, and go to the polls in November, instead of relying on workers’ collective power and organization.

There are plenty of rules and regulations on the books. Companies like the International Coal Group or Kentucky Darby LLC violate them all the time, getting a wink from agencies such as the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for doing so, or tiny fines they often don’t even bother to pay.

With a UMWA safety committee in every mine, coal miners can use union power to stop production if mine roofs are inadequately secured, explosive coal dust levels are high, flammable gases are building up, or defective equipment is not fixed. They can walk off the job if supervisors insist on bypassing safety devices on machinery, like spotters that warn of high methane levels, or using substandard material to seal off unused sections of the mine. They can organize to inspect their own air safety packs and make sure they work properly, and ensure there is an adequate oxygen supply easily accessible underground, before any coal is cut.

“Left to their own profit greed, the coal bosses will never take such measures,” as last week’s editorial said. “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 this applies to most employers and is true worldwide, underscoring the stakes for the labor movement and the working class as a whole.

Many working people know that the admonitions by employers and capitalist politicians about the “inherent dangers” of coal mining or other industrial occupations are a self-serving lie. Let’s act on the basis that not a single miner, or any other worker, has to die. Support all struggles by miners to unionize!
Related articles:
Senate passes mine safety bill after deaths of Kentucky miners
Get ‘Militant’ around to miners, other workers! On to 3,000 subscriptions!

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