Then I began realizing I was risking my life and destroying my health to make someone else very rich. Of course I was benefiting in many ways, but mostly I was just able to buy more stuff, nice stuff, bigger stuff. In the end would it be worth it? How much food did we really need to eat? How nice did our clothes have to be?
When our house caught fire in the middle of the night and my family lost all of our worldy possessions, I realized I was being an idiot. Life isn't about THINGS. As my grandfather would say, "Needs won't get you in trouble. Wants will." My kids are happy just being kids. Sure they would love nice big expensive toys and the latest video games, but what if they didn’t have those? What else could I give them that would make them happy? Both my kids tell me every day they want to play with me and when we do, we have more fun than a thousand toys could ever bring. They didn't want things as much as they wanted time with their father. That's what life is about....family and most of what I felt I needed to supply for my family was in my head and my wife agreed.
Then I began wondering, what if I were killed? What would my family do then? Would it have been worth a nice house, a big truck, or all the toys in the world? I would be gone, and if they were lucky they might get a settlement from the company which I seriously doubt it. When has a company not done everything possible to blame a work related accident on the employee and screw them out of compensation? More than likely my death would have been proven to be my fault in some way, clearing the company from any legal obligations to my survivors. Their only hope to ease the financial burden would be the life insurance policy I pay into through the company. Even then I have no doubt my family would fight tooth and nail before recieving a pay out, if they receive a pay out. The insurance company would probably try to rule my death as a suicide. After all, mining is perfectly safe in the eyes of upper management and if I were killed it was my own damn fault. They didn’t hold a gun to my head and make me get on that mantrip. I suppose that’s how men like Don Blankenship sleep at night with the blood of coal miners on his hands.
In the end I was another pawn, convinced in my own mind and by my community that I was doing a job to be proud of. The coal company executives keep playing their game, convincing us we are doing a noble deed for our families. Friends of Coal, Coal Hearted, FACES of Coal, all organizations funded by the coal industry associations to lobby in Washington full time on behalf of the "miners". The only problem is their idea of helping coal miners is by gaining more profit so "we can provide good jobs and benefits for future generations, which will keep our children and grandchildren close to home." To receive more profit they lobby for and help get politicians elected who will water down safety laws, lower their taxes, sway the balance of justice in their favor in the courts, and take away more and more labor rights from common working men, rights which could increase their overhead. For a time they fought against the existence of black lung when our grandparents and great grandparents started gasping for breath.
Why don’t miners think about what else they are giving for those high wages? It’s not just 40+ hours a week of labor. What about the health they are giving up? A retirement in which they can still breath and move around without being in total pain? Health isn’t the only thing being sacrificed…You knew it was coming…. Miners are sacrificing their mountains, and their children’s mountains, and their children’s children’s children’s mountains.