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Vol. 80/No. 36      September 26, 2016

(front page)

Coal miners demand gov’t protect health care, retirement benefits

WASHINGTON — More than 5,000 retired and working miners rallied in front of the Capitol here Sept. 8 in a national action demanding Congress pass legislation to maintain pensions and health care won in 1946 for retired miners. Tens of thousands stand to lose their benefits in coming months as dozens of mine bosses, including at the five largest companies, have declared bankruptcy.

Tens of millions of workers across the country face similar problems. As the world crisis of capitalism deepens, bosses cut workers and attack wages, working conditions, pensions and medical care.

Recent struggles by Teamsters, Chicago teachers, and Verizon telecom workers have protested the rulers’ attacks on workers’ pensions.

Most workers have no private pensions. Those who have 401(k) accounts and are able to put money into them are vulnerable to stock market downturns as well as drops in the value of securities the funds are invested in. Social Security retirement benefits, which have never been adequate to cover basic living costs, are being eroded. The government raised the age of eligibility and has threatened further raises, while claiming funds are running out.

Socialist Workers Party presidential candidate Alyson Kennedy, a former coal miner and member of the United Mine Workers of America, and her running mate Osborne Hart joined the rally to extend solidarity.

“The fight for retirement pay and health care is a social question, it can’t be solved boss to boss,” Kennedy told miners. “Working people, organized and unorganized, need to come together to fight for fully government-funded pensions and medical coverage for all.”

‘It’s not just coal miners’

“It’s not just the coal miners, it’s every industry,” retired miner Dave LaPorte, 58, told the Militant. “They’re trying to go after all unions and tear them apart piece by piece.”

LaPorte and his wife Nancy Faust, a housekeeper, rode the bus from Connellsville, Pennsylvania. LaPorte was forced into retirement when the mine where he worked shut down. He has black lung. The debilitating disease is caused by breathing coal dust and is on the rise as the percentage of union members in coal mining declines. He receives no black lung benefits.

LaPorte thinks a rise in labor resistance is inevitable. “It’s got to come, with all that’s happened to millions of workers,” he said.

Nearly one-third of the 90,000 retired miners in the U.S. live in West Virginia and receive an average monthly pension of $587.

UMWA officials supported passing laws to temporarily divert unused funds from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund to prop up the pension fund. They urged miners to refrain from wearing symbols of support for Democratic or Republican presidential candidates at the rally to better chances of influencing politicians from both capitalist parties.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton — hated by many workers in the coalfields for her March statement that in the name of helping the environment she was “going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” — issued a statement the day of the rally pledging support for the bill.

But the next day her husband, former President Bill Clinton, mocked workers in West Virginia and Kentucky for supporting Republican candidate Donald Trump. “The coal people don’t like any of us [Democrats] any more,” he said. “They blame the president when the sun doesn’t come up in the morning now.”

“The mines in our area are all closed down,” said Terry Shipley, a retired miner from Rivesville, West Virginia. “There’s no work for the young people. A lot of them are on pills or the hard stuff.” Shipley was a miner for 40 years and now has black lung.
Related articles:
On the Picket Line
Fight for health care, retirement for all
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