The livelihoods of tens of thousands of retired miners and their dependents are under attack. The coal bosses are shutting down mines — especially union mines — throwing miners out of work and forcing those who remain to toil longer hours under worse conditions to keep up production and profits. They are using bankruptcy courts to get out of their obligations to miners’ health care and pensions.
This is a central front in the assault by the bosses and their government to make the working class pay for the growing crisis of their exploitative and oppressive capitalist system.
The Socialist Workers Party backs the miners and calls on working people to join the Sept. 8 rally by the United Mine Workers union in Washington, D.C. Both of us will be there to join in demanding that the U.S. government guarantee retirement funds and health benefits for coal miners.
Coal production in the U.S. in the first quarter this year dropped 17 percent compared to the previous quarter. But it’s not true that coal is on the verge of extinction.
Over the last 10 years coal output in the U.S. has leveled off, even as the capitalist bosses closed mines and slashed the workforce by about 50 percent over the past six years. In the early 1980s, “our normal workweek was basically 40 hours,” miner Howard Cook, 54, told WBUR radio in March. But in the last 10 years “it was more like a 60-hour week.” At the same time the mine bosses used more and more high-powered machinery that pulverizes rocks and increases silica dust in the air.
Through union battles, miners won and enforced safety and health on the job, including the right to withdraw from dangerous conditions. This virtually eliminated black lung disease. But as a result of the bosses’ offensive and attacks on the union, today it’s at the highest level since the early ’70s. We need to fight for workers control and the right of the union to shut down any mine that is unsafe.
As part of our campaign, we have been going door to door in West Virginia, Utah, Kentucky, Alabama and Illinois — and in towns small and large from coast to coast — talking to working people about the capitalist economic crisis. Working people face the same problems around the world and need solidarity.
Over the last several decades, unions won pensions and health care tied to the profits of their individual companies. The latest wave of mining bankruptcies underscores why we need to fight for something different — government-funded guaranteed health care and pensions for all, regardless of where you work.
The capitalist candidates and parties have no solution.
Hillary Clinton showed her scorn for working people, proclaiming, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners” out of work.
Donald Trump claims he will bring back coal jobs. But when he visits coal country he holds closed-door meetings with the same mine bosses who are closing mines, scuttling safety, pushing forced overtime, and using the bankruptcy scam to tear up union contracts.
It’s true that generating energy from fossil fuels in pursuit of profit is detrimental to both the health of the workers involved and to the natural environment in which we live and labor.
Today one-third of the world does not have electricity, a basic requirement for reading, culture and political struggle. Miners will lead the fight for safe energy that is cleaner to meet the needs of workers around the world, while assuring jobs for all that are productive and socially worthwhile.
Actions like the Sept. 8 rally are an example of the solidarity the labor movement needs to organize, fight and push back the bosses unrelenting offensive. As working people organize to stand up to defend our interests, we learn that we are capable of countering the dog-eat-dog system of capitalism. That we can build a powerful movement of workers and farmers to take political power out of the hands of the propertied rulers and open the road to organizing a society based on human needs, not profits.
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