Friday, July 29, 2011

Guess who wants your kids to work in a coal mine?

© Photo R. L. Mullins
There are two resources in Appalachia that make men wealthy. Fossil Fuels and people. After all, no one has been able to design fully autonomous machines to produce coal. Without coal miners the coal industry has no way of retrieving their billions of tons of reserves. When they look to the long term future of their business they realize they must have an ample supply of young men (and in some cases women) willing to work in their mines.
Several months ago I read a quote on the Friends of Coal website that perturbed me and I have been preaching it to people ever since. For those of you who are just now tuning in, Friends of Coal is an organization developed and funded by the West Virginia Coal Association and other coal associations. Coal associations are groups of coal companies who combine their resources to campaign for and lobby politicians with the goal of gaining better legislation to help their profits. See my previous post, “Still a Friend of Coal?”
Friends of Coal isn’t just about gaining support from coal miners to help force their issues in Washington. It’s also about building a pride amongst Appalachian people to help insure they have a continued supply of coal miners. Here is the Friends of Coal Mission Statement. Pay particular attention to the last sentence, the quote I have preached about….
The Friends of Coal is dedicated to inform and educate West Virginia citizens about the coal industry and its vital role in the state's future. Our goal is to provide a united voice for an industry that has been and remains a critical economic contributor to West Virginia. By working together, we can provide good jobs and benefits for future generations, which will keep our children and grandchildren close to home.

When I first read this my jaw dropped. Could the coal associations really be saying what they are saying? It’s smooth, I’ll give them that. The coal industry is asking us to ally with them as constituents to force their agenda, so they can "provide good jobs", mining jobs, "for your children and grandchildren so they can stay close to home."
I began asking all of the older generation coal miners I could find what they thought about their kids going to work in the mines. The responses were often that of utter disappointment. “We wanted you kids to do well in school so you could go to college and avoid having to work in the mines,” my uncle told me when I read him the quote, “that way you could’ve had a chance at a better life.”
I tried pondering the notion that the coal industry really does care about the people living within their coalfields. Perhaps I was just letting my personal experiences and those of people I know overshadow the true ideologies and mission of the coal industry. Could it be the coal industry and energy industry are saying these things because they truly mean it? Is their primary concern our national security through energy independence? Do they really want to provide the impoverished people of Appalachia with good jobs? Maybe the profits they make are simply a bonus and nothing else. Is that why they spend the bulk of their profits helping people besides themselves?
I couldn't help but think about how little the coal industry actually does help us outside of providing jobs. How much money do they spend to fix the roads  which become broken down from coal trucks hauling their coal. How many truck washes have been installed to keep down the filth and dust being propagated by those same coal trucks, dust that people living beside the highways end up breathing.

The haunting image of Jeremy Davis' bedroom with a large boulder laying beside his toddler bed lingers in my mind. I did not know him, or his family, but I have little ones of my own. I could not imagine the thought of a boulder crashing through the wall and crushing one of my children as they slept peacefully. Was A&G Coal Company thinking about our national security and “Keeping the Lights On!” when they took it upon themselves to mine without a permit above Jeremy Davis' house? Were they rushed by the worry of our local economy collapsing when they failed to warn everyone living down below, including Jeremy's family, that they were about to start mining above them? 
I began thinking about the twelve men who slowly smothered to death in a cold smoke filled entry of the Sago mine. Why did they have to die and their families suffer before coal companies started spending a little more of their profits on additional self-recuers?

Upper Big Branch mine memorial in Mt Hope, WV. (Photo by Flickr user jamiev_03.)
What of the twenty-nine men at Upper Big Branch who lost their lives producing coal for Massey? If those men could speak, would they speak well of the industry they worked for? Would they forgive men like Don Blankenship and the company officials who pleaded the fifth amendment when asked to testify about the cause of the explosion? If those men could have said goodbye to their children would they have said, “It was a fluke. There is nothing wrong with working in a coal mine. It’s a good paying job to be proud of and I want you kids to seriously think about working in a coal mine yourself. Coal is your future.”

I thought about all of the people who are living in the coalfields right now who are faced with a grim future, a future of working for the coal industry and hoping it doesn’t bust again. I thought about how many of them think they are doing the right thing by supporting coal. I see “Friends of Coal” stickers on cars and trucks, license plates purchased that donates money to the coal associations, rallies and protests held to support the coal industry. Why? Why have we become so worried about the here and now and not the future of our children?
I can’t help but get built into a rage. For the love of God people, wake up and realize coal isn’t our friend. Coal companies have never been our friend. Ask everyone who’s been disabled in a coal mine, who can’t breathe from black lung. Ask the old timers who remember standing in front of machine guns to get better safety and to be paid in something other than script. Look at how little the coal corporations give back to our communities.

The coal operators want all we can give them and more. Just how many more lives will they take, how many more children’s future’s will they ruin before we realize the truth? I heard someone say, “If the people of Appalachia are stupid enough to let the coal industry do these things to them and even help them do it, then perhaps the people of Appalachia deserve exactly what they get.”
I’ll be honest. Sometimes I wonder the same. I wish sometimes I could just let it go and let natural selection take place, but there is a problem. The people of Appalachia are my family and neighbors, fellow mountaineers who share generations upon generations of history,  good history.  We are a people who can still harbor the true spirit of humanity. If only it could be rekindled within this and future generations.  We have been bought out time and time again by the silver tongues of land agents, "natural resource" companies, and other Wall Street giants. First it was a few dollars or a hog for our mineral rights, then it was our lungs and our backs, now we are selling our children's future for their wages and their "economy". Screw those bastards and let us look towards our OWN future. We lived without coal for damn near two centuries; we can do it again and we can do it better.

10 comments:

  1. Wow. I think I <3 you. In a totally platonic way.

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  2. this man is right i know from personal experience in the coal industry a man is just another piece of machinery when he's worn out he's replaced and left with nothing they could care less

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  3. I'm going to try this one more time. I like this blog and glad to support. I'm having trouble getting my comment on. You blog has knocked all the romantic , meaning exotic visions, of what a miner does. I used to think they were hail and hardy good time fellows , now I know they come out so tired sore and dirty or how toxic the coal dust remaining in their work clothes could be. I join in innocence Friends of Coal last summer. I thought it'd be about supporting the miner. I mean they can't every well get along without men down there yet .But at least one good thing when those tired sore and dirty men come out and drive away they are in one ofthe most beautiful parts of this country.

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  4. Thank you for your comments. I'm not sure why they haven't come through until now. Blogger does tend to be glitchy from time to time.

    There was certainly a time when coal mining wasn't so bad, when it could actually be fun to do. It wasn't uncommon for men to look forward to the next shift. If that mentality still exists it is only within a few mines.

    You've also hit on a key point. Most people do think Friends of Coal is to support the miner. Even the miners themselves believe it. Nothing could be further from the truth when looking at the bigger picture. Friends of Coal tells miners they are fighting for their job security, but in truth they are fighting for the security of coal company profits.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Nick

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  5. I know many coal miners who love their jobs AND take pride in what they do. Many people aren't cut out for college and going away to work on wall street. Do you really thing being a truck driver, or many other jobs are that much better? The whole boulder image thing has bothered me for years also. It is awful and I feel for the family. But why is it that local workers can cut safety and do stupid things...but it's the INDUSTRY's fault? You sound like you just want to be philosophically and morally superior to something so you're picking on this industry.

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    1. I apologize for getting to this so late. I am not the best at keeping up with comments to older posts. I find it sad that you place blame on the local workers for the tragedy, when it was the company ordering them to cut that road. Second, I do blame the entirety of the industry for such a tragedy. I blame the greed stricken mindsets of company owners and investors and their willingness to wield their wealth in a way that influences local, state, and even federal politics to limit regulations, or reduce funding for regulatory agencies, that are meant to protect people like the Davis family. How was it that A&G started building that road without a permit?

      I also blame the industry for taking away workers rights to stand up for themselves and their neighbors. The coal industry as a whole has put great effort into seeing "At Will" work laws put into place which they can wield over workers to get more production. Had the man operating the piece of equipment that set that boulder into motion had the ability to refuse the task without fear of job loss while considering the dangers it posed for those living below, then Jeremy Davis may not have left us. But instead for speaking up, he could have been let go for "any reason or for no reason at all" and thus he had to make a choice--his family or do the job. But then again, he may not have even known the risks he was posing to others, only that he had to do the job. Why didn't those involved with planning the mine purchase the properties below that could be in harms way? I'm sure not just one company was involved in the planning of the mine.

      I tend to look at a much bigger picture, analyzing the many ways that the coal industry has used their combined political power through trade associations to affect public policies that affect everyone from their workers to the people living near mining sites. It's not about wanting to be anything, it's about seeking justice for those who are being oppressed by a system designed to benefit an industry rather than a people.

      I also hate to hear the whole, "Cut out for college" argument. I believe anyone can go to college if they put their mind to it, but that's a different story all its own. I do subscribe to the idea that not all people would be happy going to college or working for Wall Street. I believe firmly in local rural culture and an honest days work. I believe a lot of happiness can come from it and that someone doesn't have to have a college education to do it. What I disagree with is people working for and promoting industries that harm other people. I don't agree with people who use the "aren't cut out for college" excuse so they can then drink the company kool aid rather than think for themselves and see the bigger picture. There is a hell of a difference between a farmer who didn't go to college but doesn't use pesticides because they know it hurts people, and some "Friend of Coal" yahoo working at a mine supply company who dumps barrels of waste oil into local streams to make his job easier. There is a difference between someone who works as a carpenter, building strong, long lasting homes that are energy efficient, knowing it will help future generations, than some equipment operator who changes his oil by pulling the plug and letting it drain onto the ground.

      I suppose what I'm saying is, you don't have to have a college education to know the job you are doing is hurting other people, but it does take a world class asshole to turn a blind eye when it means making a bigger paycheck.

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  6. By the way when the company profits everyone does. Don't fall for the communism philosopy that profit is bad. Please. America depends on you not being brainwashed into that bullshit.

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    1. Well, the coal industry has done pretty damn good over the past 100 years, and the coal producing counties of Appalachian remain some of the most impoverished in the nation. Here's is map by the Appalachian Region Commission detailing poverty rates from 2007 - 2011 when most coal companies were doing very well..

      http://www.arc.gov/research/MapsofAppalachia.asp?MAP_ID=76

      I fail to see your logic. When the company profits, the company executives and shareholders profit. The rest of us is left with the waste, the poor health from years spent working in the mine, and drug addictions when battling pain.

      Here's another link you might find interesting about who benefits when companies profit....


      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM

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  7. i worked as a coal miner for 10 years. I saw some of the safety abuses first hand, and had a good friend killed because of lax safety policies. I now live in a dying coal camp. Most of the houses are collapsing in on themselves . I think of all the millions of tons of coal ,that were removed from the area in which I live, and the few that all the labor of the miners benefitted. It is a damn shame, that the whole damn country : politicians, corporate America and the like have done to their citizens.. We are no more than slaves to a bunch of greedy selfish people who their only purpose in this life , is to make others lives miserable. We are the richest nation on Earth, but corporate greed is gutting the very soul of this country. We export our jobs. We invite illegal aliens into our country because they will work cheap for the elite 1% of our citizens. We are literally taxed to death,, and have the leadership of no more than children running this country. I never thought that,I would become so cynical in my life, but the American dream , as it was once called is a complete farce. I am glad that I'm old, and will not live much longer. I am worried more about our childrens' future. I know that some will say , get an education and the like, but who the Hell can afford an education? Graduate with almost 100,000 dollars worth of student debt. on average. Wow Education sures pays. It is only for the elite children, that way they will continue to get the jobs that will ensure that the 1% maintains control.

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    1. I appreciate your comment and additions. You are most certainly right, the working man is more or less screwed these days. The old saying "The rich get richer while the poor get poorer" holds as true today as it did when it was first said many many years ago. Like you I am afraid for our children's future. The best thing I think we can do is teach them some of the old ways of self-reliance.

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