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EcoUnionist News #79: Don Blankenship found guilty! ... sort of ... well, not really...

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, December 8, 2015

On December 3, 2015, the New York Times Reported:

Donald L. Blankenship, whose leadership of the Massey Energy Company was widely criticized after 29 workers were killed in the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010, was convicted Thursday of conspiring to violate federal safety standards, becoming the most prominent American coal executive ever convicted of a crime related to mining deaths.

But in a substantial defeat for the Justice Department, the verdict, announced in Federal District Court here, exonerated Mr. Blankenship, Massey’s former chief executive, of three felony charges that could have led to a prison term of 30 years. Instead, after a long and complex trial that began on Oct. 1, jurors convicted Mr. Blankenship only of a single misdemeanor charge that carried a maximum of a year in prison.

Far from a victory, this case, once again, represents an example of the "presumed innocence of capitalism". The death of these 29 workers and the destruction to the environment of Appalachia (and elsewhere) is considered "part of the cost of doing business" in which private capitalists appropriate the wealth extracted from the Earth by the working class. The costs of that appropriation are outsourced to the Earth and the working classes, and if workers die in the process and communities have to suffer the consequences, such things are dismissed as "externalities". That Blankenship was convicted of minor charges at all is simply a result of him being just a bit too arrogant in the process (the capitalist class knows full well that if a few of the more roguish elements among their class push the envelope it could stoke the fires of resistance among the non-capitalist class, and so token laws are passed to provide the illusion of law and order and to pacify those that are exploited).  

The reaction among workers, their families, and environmentalists who haven't given into the typical "hopium" of inside-the-beltway NGO compromise is one of anger and frustration, but the results are what they more-or-less expected.

A measure of justice has been served through the conviction of Don Blankenship on federal charges of conspiring to violate mine safety standards. The truth that was common knowledge in the coalfields – that Don Blankenship cared little for the safety and health of miners working for his company and even less for the laws enforcing their rights – has finally been proven in court.

This decision will not bring back the 52 people killed on Massey Energy property during Blankenship’s reign as the head of that company, including the 29 killed at the Upper Big Branch disaster in 2010. Their families still must live without their loved ones, holding their grief in their hearts the rest of their lives.

But a message has gone out today to every coal operator in America who is willing to skirt mine safety and health laws: you do so at your own personal risk. I thank the jury for having the courage to send this message and establish a clear deterrent to this kind of activity. Hopefully that deterrent will keep more miners alive and intact in the years to come.”

--Official UMWA statement on the verdict, December 3, 2015

No, justice was not served today. I don't care how many press releases I see...Unfortunately, this was about 29 people who are dead because the law was not followed. MTR has killed many more, but never came up in the trial. Blankenship has pocketed billions of dollars by breaking unions, violating environmental and health laws, buying judges and punching reporters. He will serve at most 12 months, probably less. He is tough and can do his time standing on his head, and fly to Monaco with his girlfriend when he gets out. Calling this justice is a disservice to the families of those who are in their graves because of this man...The problem is that the punishment for evading safety laws should be more severe than the punishment for lying to your shareholders. I fully expect that a wrongful death civil lawsuit will follow this. I do expect that he will serve some time. But I am very disappointed in how this is playing out, and how some groups are spinning this as justice. Would they come here to the Coal River and say that to the families?

--Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle on the "conviction" of Don Blankenship, December 3, 2015

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