March 30, 2009

Travelin' on down that coal town road

Osage, WV, circa 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia is in the midst of another coal controversy. Specifically, our ruling class is winding itself into hissy fit mode over the possibility that the Obama administration may actually regulate the coal industry.

It was the more or less official policy of the Bush administration to let it do whatever it wanted to whomever or whatever it wanted whenever it wanted.

I have no great love for my state's ruling class and even less of an inclination to fight its battles. They're pretty good at looking out for themselves. But I've always felt empathy for the people who mine the coal, and especially for the members and supporters of the United Mine Workers of America, who have written some of the most inspiring pages in labor history, often in their own blood.

One sad feature of today's coal controversies is that they sometimes understandably but tragically pit union members against others working to protect the environment or the health of coalfield communities. Although people here are pretty good at working on issues where there's agreement and parting company on others, I will leave it to the Gentle Reader to guess who the big winner is on such occasions.

It wasn't always that way. In fact, the first big struggle I got involved in as something other than a spectator was the Pittston coal strike of 1989-1990, in which labor and community groups rallied in support of workers and retirees. As such fights go, that was a good one, although there was no lasting happy ending. About which, more to come.

SPEAKING OF COAL, if you want to keep up on the latest developments in all such things, I highly recommend Coal Tattoo, which is written by award-winning Charleston Gazette environmental reporter Ken Ward. And here's an op-ed arguing that greater regulation won't be the end of the world.

SPEAKING OF GOOD FIGHTS, here's an op-ed by yours truly about one going on now. Short version: if WV modernizes its unemployment insurance policies so that more people can be protected during this recession, we can draw down $33 million more in stimulus money.

To get the first 1/3, we need to change the base period for calculating benefits and eligibility. To get the rest, we need to make at least two of the following four changes: include part-time workers, include people who can't work for family-related reasons such as domestic violence; include people in job training programs; and/or provide an allowance for dependents.

There's enough money from the stimulus package to fund these changes for seven years. If, after that period, the state can't afford to continue benefits, it can make changes then.

So what's the problem?

LEGALIZED GAMBLING. Here's Paul Krugman on the international financial crisis.

RELIGION. Here's a controversial article on the future of evangelicalism.

BUDGET PRIORITIES. A number of groups in WV, including AFSC, are supporting the main goals outlined in President Obama's proposed federal budget.

CRABS SAY "OUCH!" Well, maybe not literally, but the latest evidence shows that crustaceans can feel and remember pain. (El Cabrero has long abhorred the unsportsmanlike practice of boiling lobsters alive.)



Deborah said...

beautifully written with clarity of vision and providing history as you write

thank you

El Cabrero said...

Thanks, Deborah. It's a sad story however it ends.