July 23, 2009

Where the dangers are double

"I remember the ways in the bygone days
when we was in our prime
How us and John L. give the old man hell
down in the Blue Diamond Mine"

El Cabrero is basically a labor person. The issues that interest me and the ones that I've spent the most time working on are those that affect working and low income people. Unions have always important in that department and always should be.

In West Virginia, the union that has had the biggest impact historically has been the United Mine Workers of America. It has had good times and bad times but its high points were high indeed.

Founded in 1890, it was an early example of an industrial union, one which aimed to include everyone who worked in and around the mines, regardless of skill level. It was always racially integrated and reached out to immigrant labor, often having several different language committees working in the same big mines. And it fought titanic battles (sometimes literally) with companies to improve conditions for miners.

The UMWA helped give birth to the mass industrial unions of the CIO during the 1930s, which eventually enabled millions of workers to earn a living wage with benefits and enter the middle class. It has also often led the charge for workplace safety and for things like black lung benefits.

Unfortunately, the UMWA has been hit by all kinds of changes over the last several decades, starting with automation and the switch to less labor intensive (and, many would add, more destructive) kinds of mining.

It has also been the target of a major union busting campaign beginning in the 1980s, with Massey playing the key role.

Sometimes the UMWA is singled out for criticism by environmentalists, but their position is that their job is to represent their members, who don't get to decide under what conditions coal is to be mined. And they are caught in a bind over climate change and the future of coal, regardless of what happens with mountaintop removal.

It's a tough situation. But I think the position and interests of people who work in mining would be much stronger in all these controversies if the union itself was larger and stronger. It would be better positioned to take a stand independent of the coal companies who now claim to represent their interests.

It is really galling for me to see the same companies that have worked so hard to destroy the union to claim to be the protector and beneficiary of miners.

FORKED TONGUES. Opponents of health care reform are following a carefully crafted script.

GO TEAM! From the same source, the Episcopal Church passed a resolution supporting the Employee Free Choice Act.

USING THE T WORD. This item talks taxes.


1 comment:

hollowdweller said...

Unions are the key to solving our economic crisis.

WIC, Earned Incom Tax Credit, gov't health care and various other programs to help the working class would be unneeded if the workers simply had the power to get these things from their company.