Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mining the Profit Motive

Since 1940, there have been more than 700 deaths from fire, explosions, or bumps in American coal mines, according to the US Mine Rescue Association.

Canada, too, has had its share of deadly coal mine tragedies. The mine in Springhill, Nova Sotia, alone, was responsible for the deaths of 287 miners in three separate disasters. The Westray Mine took 26 miners' lives and resulted in criminal charges (eventually stayed).

Each of these accidents has resulted in pledges to "get to the bottom of things;" to "leave no stone unturned;" to enact legislation and enforce it; to protect miners who resist unsafe conditions; to put the safety of miners first.

At the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, yesterday's explosion is generating the same tired old rhetoric that is trotted out after every coal mine disaster.

It's time to call foul and tell everyone involved to put up or shut up.

But will it ever end?

Governments enact legislation, but seemingly legislation with no teeth. Companies pay the fines and carry on. The mining lobby spends millions to persuade legislators not to restrict the industry too severely.

I used to wonder, like the words in the song, "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?" Now I'm much more cynical. They already know and they don't care. Profit is paramount.

My heart goes out to the families and friends of the miners of the Upper Big Branch Mine.

I hope that finally and forever the explosions that can be prevented will be prevented. But I'm not holding my breath.


Ciss B said...

And it has always been thus...Sadly men, and families are expendable.

ChrisJ said...


And I think, sadly, probably always will be.

Hels said...

Chris, without strong unions, labouring men will always be fodder for big industry. Especially newly arrived men who cannot speak English yet.

When the Snowy Mountains Scheme was being built here from 1949 on, migrants got off the ships and were taken into this rather inaccessible part of the nation. This hydroelectricity and irrigation complex employed 100,000 young men, all grateful for a paying job and a new passport. They didn't complain and even if they did, they wouldn't have been listened to.

Every time one of the 121 workers died (probably many more), the other workers were given the rest of the day off. Then back to work the next morning. The union movement demanded that the government pay its migrant workers at award rates and under award conditions. But who was going to set safety standards and assure the workers that those standards were met?

ChrisJ said...


The Ceo or owner of the company of the Upper Big Branch Mine is a union buster and quite proud of it. You're right - safety records of union mines are generally much better than those of non-union mines.

lifeshighway said...

My heart also goes out to the friends and families of the miners who were lost in one more senseless trajedy.

lifeshighway said...

My heart goes out to the friends and a families of the miners who lost their lives to this senseless and avoidable trajedy.

Owen Gray said...

The last thirty years have been very difficult for labour unions. The conventional wisdom has been what it was in John A. MacDonald's day -- unions are conspiracies.

But given the shift of wealth up the social ladder, one has to wonder just who is conspiring against whom.

ChrisJ said...


Absolutely right. What is so often literally criminal is that the shift costs so many lives.