|Ludlow, Colorado Union Tent Camp|
Today, coal companies across the nation are “honoring” coal miners. Alpha Natural Resources put up an image of three women coal miners on their Facebook page supporting National Miner’s Day. I posted the following comment which sums up how I feel about coal companies and National Miner’s Day…
“If they cared about their coal miners, they’d be giving them guaranteed pensions, 40 hour work weeks, wouldn’t hire subcontractors who are paid $15 an hour to work underground without benefits. If they cared about miners, they would sign a contract with their workers guaranteeing their jobs so their miners can say, “That’s unsafe, I’m not running that piece of equipment or going in that face until it’s made safe” without having to worry about getting “let go” on down the road for something the company makes up, or for no reason at all under the right to work laws they lobbied for.
If they cared about their miners, when bad storms come through the area, they would shut the mines down just as soon as it began affecting the ability of an ambulance or med flight to get a miner to the hospital if they get seriously injured. Like they didn’t do in Dickenson County December 18, 2009.
No, they like to show that they “support” their coal miners, but it’s only show. Ask miners who get hurt in the mines why the company sends a safety officer to the hospital with them. Ask why they push to have the miner take a drug test before anything else, why they try to convince the doctor to use glue instead of stitches so they don’t have to report a more serious accident to MSHA.
It’s one thing to use and abuse their coal miners for their own benefit, but it’s a wholly different thing to turn around and act like they give a damn about them when all the evidence points to what they care about most…profit. Nothing has changed in the last 100 years, only that coal companies have learned how to do some great media and public relations work and the people of Appalachia have become desperate enough to listen to it and clamber over one another for high wages and terrible long term benefits.
The counties where they operate are the poorest in their states and some of the poorest counties in the nation. If they are such wonderful benefactors to the communities, why are we amongst the poorest, unhealthiest people in the US?”
Over the past semester, I have been putting together a website as a final project for my Defining Appalachia class dealing with a contemporary Appalachian issues. Naturally, I went for something that is near and dear to my heart. Coal culture. I can’t tell you how deeply saddened I am to see what our coal mining “heritage” has become. I’ve alluded to it before in previous posts such as “Present Day Coal Mining: Dishonoring Our Heritage”, but having done this project, I find myself deeply depressed by what the coal industry has turned our heritage into.
Coal miners were some of the best people you could ever know. They were True Appalachians as I mentioned in the post. But what has become of them? What happened to those who cared so much for other people that they stood up and sacrificed their paychecks to do something right?
Coal mining used to be more than just producing coal-it was about fighting injustice in the face of the exploitative companies driven by first world greed. The lessons of justice came from our parents who fought back. I would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for being raised in a union family, by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who all fought for justice and fair treatment when the nation and it’s lust for cheap energy and steel threatened the kind and generous people of Appalachia.
Coal miners were more than just people who kept the lights on, they defended the rights of the working people. Now so many of them are fighting for themselves and only themselves to protect their jobs, they are listening and doing what the coal companies tell them to do, voting for who the companies tell them to vote for. Even the United Mine Workers leadership has been corrupted and does little to fight for the working people.
Today, I honor the miners who fought, who sacrificed, who shed their blood doing what was right for everyone, not just themselves. Today I honor the over 100,000 coal miners killed in this nation’s mines, whose lives were needlessly ended in the unsafe and torturous rigors of a coal industry bent on higher profits, people whose sacrifices fulfilled the needs of a nation built on a lust for power, wealth, convenience, and comfort. Today I honor the families who nearly starved in the tent camps of Matewan, WV, and Ludlow, CO, people who seem to have been forgotten by most of today’s coal miners. I honor the the many union families who suffered and gave so much to set the standards for today’s “safer” working conditions and higher wages.
Today I honor to true miners of the world, not the pro-coal company coal miners who, by supporting the coal companies and coal politicians, prove their morals are no different than the wealthy people who are damning our future generations into continued poor health and poverty.