Wednesday, January 4, 2006

West Virginia

The breaking story late last night was that 12 out of 13 of the miners had survived, so it just makes today's news even more difficult.

This Washington Post story reports the mine has had 273 safety violations over the past two years. There were 208 violations last year and over one third of them were "significant and substantial" which could lead to explosions. A former Mine Safety and Health Administration advisor stated, " 16 violations logged in the past eight months were listed as "unwarrantable failures," a designation reserved for serious safety infractions for which the operator had either already been warned, or which showed "indifference or extreme lack of care." Bloomberg reports that the largest fine levied for the serious violations was 440 dollars.

West Virginia is a lot of like southwestern Indiana as it is poor and dependent on coalmining. Most of the union mines in southwestern Indiana had closed by the 1980s. They did not close 25 years ago because there was no more coal in the ground, instead they closed to break the unions. Many of those same mines have reopened and as far as I know there is not a single union coal miner working in Indiana.

The Sago mine in West Virginia was a non-union workplace. I do not know its history, but I would not be surprised if the coal operators used the same methods to break the union as they did in Indiana. It makes me mad when people say "unions were necessary in the past, but we do not need them any more". This statement cannot be further from the truth. Someone needs to hold the coal operators accountable as the federal government is not doing its job. People are expendable assets to corporations and as long as maximum safety violations are a few hundred dollars, corporations will choose their profit over the safety of their workers. There have been many quotes from miners in the wake of this tragedy as to how dangerous their job was, but they did not have a way standing up to management in a unified manner. As long as companies show "extreme lack of care" for their workers, unions are very necessary.

Update: Sisyphus Shrugged notes prospective Justice, Mr. Alito is on the record as deciding that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act should protect miners less than it does.

Sisyphus Shrugged also notes President Bush cut MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) funds in real dollars, fired a whistleblower, put a mining company executive in charge, reduced staff by 170, tried to slash funding, and exempted the MSHA from the Freedom of Information Act.

We have the government we deserve, right?

Another Update: Read how the coal operators got rid of the United Mineworkers at Labor Blog

12 Comments:

Blogger Moulton said...

This episode reveals the power of news and wishful thinking to manipulate the emotional state of people caught up in a gripping life-and-death drama.

The emotions of the family members swung wildy between extremes of despair and euphoria, and then back to heartbreak and anger.

The analysis will eventually deconstruct the specific miscommunication in the mine, but the repercussions extend to other stories where erroneous intelligence reports and wishful thinking played a decisive role in grave political action.

Human emotions, it appears, are easily manipulated by incredulous news reports that concord with wishful thinking.

Sober skepticism is the domain of the conscientious scientific researcher, not the malleable and gullible public.

January 04, 2006  
Blogger torporific said...

You are correct, Moulton. I must admit I was surprised by the announcement after having heard so many bleak reports as to their chances.

January 04, 2006  
Blogger lemming said...

I'm not all that many generations removed from immigrant miners who worked in the coal mines, unaware that in the process they helped to break the unions. It only takes a little ignorance...

Yesterday NPR interviewed the representative from that district. She mentioned that one of the trapped miners had a son, employed by the same company, who continued to work during the waiting period. I cannot imagine what it must now be like for him to go to work.

January 04, 2006  
Anonymous lawgeekgurl said...

ah, how timely. Perhaps the Senate Judiciary Committee can use this opportunity to ask Alito about his reported opinion that the Mine Safety & Health Act should be less effective and less restrictive on the mining companies. (In dissent, natch.)

See more from the inestimable Julia at Sisyphus Shrugged - http://www.livejournal.com/users/jmhm/1535355.html?mode=reply

January 04, 2006  
Blogger torporific said...

Thanks, for the link LGG. I'll put that in my main post.

January 04, 2006  
Blogger torporific said...

Lemming, my great grandfathers worked in those southwestern Indiana coal mines. My uncle is a miner today. He is in the UMWA but he has to drive across the border into Illinois for his job.

January 04, 2006  
Blogger vper1 said...

When is enough, enough?

http://wakeupfromyourslumber.blogspot.com/2006/01/in-darkness-of-mines-of-west-virginia.html

January 04, 2006  
Blogger lemming said...

The last election demonstrated that people are more concerned about he bottom line than they are about other people. WV backed GWB in 200. Yes, we (and they) do have the government we (and they) deserve.

January 05, 2006  
Blogger Moulton said...

The abject failure of the regulatory infrastructure is hardly news, since that dysfunctionality applies across the board in all sectors of government.

What made this story stand out is the stark demonstration of the dramatic interplay of raw intelligence, strong emotions, and wishful thinking.

At one time, Americans were able to make sober assessments of reality, and craft wise and intelligent responses to emergent situations and systemic problems.

That's no longer the case, whether we are talking about international threats to American hegemony or internal weaknesses in our societal infrastructure.

January 05, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Indy. This morning I came across a syndicated column about mining by Dale McFeatters (Scripps-Howard news service, McFeattersD@SHNS.com).

McFeatters worked for a time in a mine "just south of Pittsburgh with shopping centers, subdivisions and roads overhead, the people oblivious to the clangorous violence we were doing beneath them".

The article describes what he did, and ends this way:

One day, we got our certificates and our red hats, and my classmates went back to the mines, and I went back to my office. Since then, patronizing coverage really grates on me, coverage that treats mining as the only thing miners can do.

Sometime after, I did some stories about section foremen. One described the subject as a middle manager in a major corporation, in charge of highly trained and well-paid specialists and responsible for more than $1 million worth of sophisticated equipment, and his neighbors thought of him as "just a coal miner."

The foreman later told me he had never thought of himself that way, and more importantly, neither had his mother-in-law.


--Trillium (I'm blocked from posting at ATI for some reason)

January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I seem to be blocked from worldcrossing altogether. Last time I tried to log off I noticed that someone logged in as "zoom" was appearing when I tried to log off. Apparently someone is messing around with my computer access.

I probably won't be around much because of family demands lately, and also I am starting back with school which doesn't leave any time. Note to the host: Please pass along to "Archos" on another forum that I can't access his website even if I try, but hello and best regards.--Trillium

January 12, 2006  
Blogger torporific said...

Hey, Trillium, thanks for visiting.

I am sorry about your worldcrossing access. I hope you get that fixed.

January 12, 2006  

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