The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 2           January 16, 2006  
Safety v. profits in the mines
Bosses and government officials alike would like to hide what’s really behind the deaths of 12 workers at the Sago Mine in West Virginia. What killed these miners was the ravenous drive for profits and the antiunion offensive by the coal bosses, in this case the International Coal Group (ICG). This is what capitalism promises working people in the New Year and years to come.

Despite all the bogus “work safe” policies the profit-makers use to blame workers for job injuries and fatalities, our lives and limbs are the last thing bosses are concerned about. Workers who have sat through a company “safety talk” know this.

Mine fatalities are not due to “accidents.” Dangerous conditions are created by cold-blooded employer decisions to maximize productivity and profits. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) had cited the Sago mine for 273 safety violations in two years; in the last eight months, 16 of these had been deemed “unwarrantable failures,” meaning serious safety infractions the company was warned about fixing but flat out ignored. Similar conditions exist in mines across the United States. Coal companies routinely take the fines, cover up the violations with cosmetic measures, and get back to mining coal.

Mine roofs can be secured. Gunpowder-like coal dust and explosive gases can be neutralized. Worn and exposed electrical wires can be replaced. But such life-saving measures—the lack of which is a major factor in this and other mine explosions—takes time away from the coal bosses’ production and costs money. So they do as little of it as possible. Then they try to pressure workers into accepting a false tradeoff—jobs or safety—to let the company slide on safe conditions. Whether a mine, a meatpacking plant, or a subway track, the questions are the same.

Meanwhile, ICG coal barons brag to their investors about their “union-free” mines in the East. This underscores the heart of the matter: the need for unions to fight for workers’ interests. All improvements in safety conditions and protective legislation over the years have been due to one thing alone—workers organizing unions and using them. Today, for example, the fight against hazardous conditions is at the center of the battle by workers in Huntington, Utah, to win recognition for the United Mine Workers of America at the Co-Op coal mine.

Despite all the vaunted MSHA citations at Sago, government officials refused to do what was needed to protect workers—shut down the mine and force compliance with basic safety norms. This is because the government is not a “neutral” body. It is designed to serve the interests of a tiny class of billionaire families that rules the country through its ownership of the mines, factories, banks, and real estate. The employers have two main parties, the Democrats and Republicans; workers have none.

To confront the increasingly brutal conditions the bosses have in store for our class, at home and abroad, we need to organize a party of our own—a labor party based on the trade unions, a political organization that will fight for the interests of all working people.
Related articles:
Bosses’ profit drive killed coal miners in W. Virginia
Trapped after explosion, 12 of 13 miners die
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