In April of this year, I wrote the following which I posted on my blog at OurStory.com. I wrote an addition to it in October, after the rescue of 33 miners in Chile.
Put Blackenship in jail! · 4/17/2010
The recent mining accident that killed 29 miners underscores what can happen when a company flagrantly ignores safety regulations, preferring to pay fines for lawsuits than to fix a problem that would benefit the health and safety of their workers.
The Supreme Court recently affirmed the equation of a corporation with a person. If a corporation has the same rights as a person, then it has the same responsibilities. And when you voluntarily or involuntarily murder someone, you go to jail. That’s why I believe the CEO of Massey Mining ought to be put into jail for murder. He may have not made every decision that led to the accident, but he was in charge of whoever did. And Massey’s safety record is not pretty. This company has for a long time put profits ahead of the needs of their workers. Not only did miners die from the recent explosion of methane gas, but others are breathing in toxic gases and coal dust every day. Many that are not reported in the media are suffering, and will eventually die, from black lung disease.
Yes, black lung disease is on the rise again. It is easy to understand why. Companies facing expensive safety upgrades would rather pay the hefty fines than do what is necessary to protect their workers. In other words, profits before people.
This kind of irresponsible behavior is rampant among corporate execs today. Look at Wall Street!
I say, treat the CEO of Massey and the other execs like the criminals they are: Put Blackenship in jail as a common criminal (yes, among all the other unsavory prison types, not some “cushy” jail for the rich and powerful). Then seize the company and put it into a holding company’s hands until new, more responsible ownership can be found – ownership that will obey the law and put safety of the workers first. The U.S. government CAN and SHOULD do this!!!!!
This is effectively putting a corporation in jail, but without jeopardizing the jobs of the other miners – why should they suffer for Massey’s mistakes? By putting a virtual “fence” (comparable to a jail cell) around the company with temporary owners beholden to strict governmental regulation, the miners can continue to go to work but without having to worry as much about safety. Of course, mining is by its nature a dangerous job, but safety regulations can do a lot to ease the minds and heal the bodies battered by unsafe working conditions.
Meanwhile, let’s get serious about finding cleaner sources of energy than coal. I heard on the radio that a lot of the huge reservoirs of coal have already been tapped out, and they are now mining very thin threads of coal, which are more dangerous to extract. Pres. Obama, there is NO SUCH THING as clean coal! We need to put serious effort into finding alternate sources of energy for our insatiable appetites.
And of course, perhaps find a way to reduce our appetites!
Now it is October and this past week we have all rejoiced at the spectacular rescue of 33 miners in Chile after they had been trapped underground in a mining accident 69 days ago.
I think a comparison of the accident at the Massey mine in West Virginia last April and this more recent one in Chile is useful. The outcome, for one thing, is completely the opposite. Yes, being trapped underground for 2 months was harrowing and probably psychologically terrifying. However, they are now all out, alive, safe and home with their families. The 29 miners at Massey are dead.
I read in the newspaper that the company in Chile did not have the means to rescue the miners, so they turned to the GOVERNMENT-OWNED mining agency to combine resources and technology to find a solution. Part of the difference, I am sure, was just luck. Another part was the ability for the Chilean miners to organize themselves around a leader who kept control and kept them alive.
But there is more to this as well: The mine in Copiapo, Chile, whatever its safety record (the miners are now speaking out about the insufficient safety standards in the mine), had underground “safe” pockets stocked with food in different parts of the mine. This was an essential factor in allowing the miners to stay alive. Dale informed me that UNION mines in the U.S. also require these safe pockets as part of the miners’ contract. The Massey mine was not unionized and in fact had kept the union out.
Could the Massey mine accident have had a different outcome if safety standards and union standards had been employed? I confess that I don’t know enough details about the Massey accident to know whether it would have been possible to rescue the 25 miners. However, I cannot help but compare and contrast these two accidents. I see that some essential facts are:
- The Copiapo mine was had required safety pockets underground for disasters such as this, even though other aspects of their safety standards were substandard.
- UNIONIZED American mines have this same safety standard in place in their mines.
- The Copiapo mine turned to the GOVERNMENT which was able to rally the expertise required to save the miners, including the recruitment of drilling experts from the United States.
The Tea Party/Republican right wing wants to turn back the clock on regulations and the “influence” of unions. Such policies have not worked in the past and they will be equally disastrous now. Yet, money talks – due to their lies and attack ads, and the influx of unprecedented amounts of money from who-knows-where (since they are not required to reveal where it comes from), as well as the rising influence of Fox “News” people are now believing this crap and want to throw out the incumbents and elect these people to Congress.
What is the future? I am beginning to believe that a new civil war – a cultural civil war – may be brewing in this country. With the threat of such regressive policies being put into place again, and the rich being even richer and more powerful than before, the anger that we see now will seem like a minor temper tantrum when people finally wise up and realize the officials they voted for do not – and never intended to – represent their interests. But by that time it will be too late – the stranglehold the oligarchy will have on our democracy may lead to more drastic, and perhaps violent, means.
Our democracy has become a travesty – whoever has the most money gets heard; those without do not. Is this really what the Founding Fathers wanted??