There are many times I have been writing a post and stopped mid-thought to reflect on purpose and place. The majority of what I have stated on this blog and in public address is nothing original. My thoughts are simply reiterations precipitated from decades of struggle. Perhaps the only thing new is the time in which I speak them.
A few friends re-posted the article below on Facebook and it spurred my thoughts on a subject near and dear to my heart.
There are some miners who think only of themselves, who take the paychecks and say “I’m a proud coal miner, with a proud heritage,” then spit hatred towards anyone who says anything negative about their beloved coal industry. Of course, I should put much of the last statement in the past tense because that “beloved” coal industry has done exactly what I’ve expected, they’re pulling up stakes and leaving us with nothing—again. But hey, at least they have the common decency to ask for millions of dollars in bonuses for their CEOs while they strip their aging coal miners of their pensions and healthcare benefits. That last sentence was loaded with sarcasm if you couldn’t tell.
We didn’t have rail at Alpha Natural Resources’ Paramont Deep Mine 26, even though it was Southwest Virginia’s second largest mine at the time. Entry in and out of the mine was down an 2,500 ft. slope to reach a vertical depth of roughly 400 feet and access to the Lower Banner Seam. I recalled the rumors when DM 26 first opened in the early 2000s. A lot of the older miners kept talking about how “hot” it was. In mining terms, “hot” means there’s a lot of methane gas thereby increasing the risk of a mine explosion. The rumors were true, and at one point the mine was liberating seven million cubic feet of methane every 24 hours, more when low pressure systems would pass through. None of it was recovered.
I tend get flak from both sides of the argument surrounding coal. Environmentalists distance themselves from me because I am often critical of them, and some even hate me these days. Pro-coal folks tend to dislike me for my stance against coal companies. It only goes to show that telling the truth has never been popular, or easy.
So let’s get to it.
Right after Thanksgiving everyone at the mines would start getting into the Christmas spirit. Even though we knew it was a month away, we couldn’t wait for the days off to spend with our families. Some of us would bring in ornaments to hang on our equipment, and on some sections, someone would bring a cheap set of Christmas lights to hang around the power center. It seemed like all we’d ever talk about was giving our kids a good Christmas, and those who were lucky enough to still have a few vacation days, kept bragging on and on about how they were going to use them to extend their holiday.
There are many jobs out there that require the same skill levels in machine operation as coal mining. What makes coal mining different is the danger and long term health issues posed to coal miners.
When it comes to money and power, nothing is cut and dry, and it never seems to be in the interest of the working people. When I kept seeing signs and billboards pointing out specific politicians and agencies for the woes of the Appalachian coal miner, I felt as if someone was wanting me to think a certain way. One thing led to another, and I began to unravel the over simplified into a more complex understanding of the “War on Coal.”
Most Appalachians raised in coal country can easily describe what a “company town” is. They are littered throughout Appalachia, rows of identically built houses with a few larger homes built on the hillsides for the shift foremen and superintendents. Company towns existed during a time in our history when the coal companies ruled our lives. They paid our grandfathers in company scrip rather than U.S. dollars—building a system in which they could make money on both our family’s labors and their dependency on food and shelter. It was a life of misery for our people; long hours spent working at the mine with the threat of eviction from company owned housing held constantly over their heads. There was no place to go with only company money in their pockets. Continue reading