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Appalachia Rising

By Grant Mincy - Counterpunch, January 17-19, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On Thursday, January 9 a dangerous toxin, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, leaked from a busted tank and into the Elk River in West Virginia. It is believed that nearly 7,500 gallons of the toxin made its way from the 40,000-gallon tank into the river. It’s unclear how much actually entered the public water supply.

The busted tank is owned by Freedom Industries, which uses the chemical for coal processing. Some 300,000 people have been directly impacted by the disaster, forced to wait in long lines at fire stations to receive potable water. There’s been a constant run on stores for the precious resource as well.

This is a story to often told in Appalachia. The Massey Energy coal slurry spill in Martin County, Kentucky (where 306,000,000 gallons of toxic slurry hit the town) and the TVA coal ash disaster in Kingston, Tennessee, are also part of the history of industrial disaster in the region. This history is wrought with class struggle, environmental degradation and corporatism. From the expulsion of Native Americans to the rise of King Coal, the Hawks Nest incident, the labor struggle, the Battle of Blair Mountain and the wholesale destruction of mountain ecosystems via Mountaintop Removal, Appalachia is on the front lines of the war with the politically connected.

The coalfields of Appalachia have long been home to impoverished people, overlooked by the affluent in the United States. Still, the “War on Poverty” has made its way into the Appalachian hills several times. Most famously, US president Lyndon Johnson singled out the region for his “Great Society” programs, and presidents 42, 43 and 44 have all tried to help the region as well. Instead of offering a new way forward, their programs further damage the area.

Much of the “War On Poverty” has been fought via economic engineering, centralizing the economies of West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky (along with parts of Tennessee and Virginia) into the hands of extractive fossil resource industries — notably coal and natural gas. The mechanization of these industries, however, has reduced the labor force. Specialized labor moving to the region has caused short-term booms and long-term busts. Once an extractive resource is exploited and gone,  communities are left to deal with mono economies and irreversible ecological destruction.

They Poisoned the River for a “Clean Coal” Lie

By Trish Kahle - Socialist Worker, January 13, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

IMAGINE YOURSELF in the rugged countryside of the Appalachian Mountains, where you and your neighbors have lived with a history of poverty and lack of economic development–and you learn that the water piped into your home has been poisoned and can’t be used, even after it is boiled, until further notice.

Imagine trying to run a hospital when the city’s water is unusable–even for hand washing. Imagine having to ration drinking water to school-age children in the fourth most water-rich country on earth.

All of these nightmares and more came true in West Virginia on January 9 after residents reported that their tap water tasted like licorice. The contaminant turned out to be 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCMH–a chemical used to produce misleadingly named “clean coal” through a froth flotation process that “scrubs” the coal prior to burning it in power plants.

The chemical spilled into the Elk River from a 48,000-gallon tank owned by Freedom Industries. The full extent of the leak remained unclear over the weekend. West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin claimed the spill didn’t exceed 5,000 gallons, but Freedom Industries President Gary Southern could only say for certain that less than 35,000 gallons leaked out.

Tom Aluise of the West Virginia Environmental Protection Association noted that MCMH cannot be removed from the water–and residents will simply have to wait for thousands of miles of pipelines to be flushed before water safety can be reassessed. “This material pretty much floats on the water, and it’s floating downstream, and eventually it will dissipate, but you can’t actually get in there and remove it,” Aluise said.

That begs the question of why a hazardous chemical that is impossible to clean up if spilled was being stored near a river only one mile upstream from a treatment plant providing water to West Virginia’s capital of Charleston and nine counties that span the surrounding area.

South Africa’s Untold Tragedy of Neoliberal Apartheid

By Jérôme Roos - Notes toward an International Libertarian Eco-Socialism, November 12, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Author's Introduction: In light of the recent death of Nelson Mandela, the “father” of post-Apartheid South Africa, I am reposting this excellent reflection by Jérôme E. Roos on a recent trip to the country.  The essay was originally published in Reflections on a Revolution (ROAR) on 12 November 2013.

Twenty years after apartheid, the old freedom fighters of the ANC have come to reproduce the same structures of oppression against which they once arose.

We were driving down the N3 highway on our way back home from the Eastern port city of Durban, passing by the endless lines of improvised shacks that constitute the Katlehong township just outside Johannesburg, when we saw the flashing blue lights of a police car in the distance. As we approached, a horrific scene revealed itself. A local slumdweller, probably somewhere in his thirties, lay dead on the side of the road, his body awkwardly twisted into an impossible position, his eyes still wide open. Some two hundred meters ahead, a car had pulled over on the curb, its driver casually leaning on the vehicle while talking to a policeman. No one had even bothered to cover up the body. This man just lay there like a dead animal — another road kill in endless wave of needlessly extinguished lives.

Every year, more than 14.000 people are killed on the road in South Africa, an average of 38 per day — nearly half of whom are pedestrians. Of the other half, many die as overloaded buses, micro-vans or so-called bakkies crash during the daily commute from the townships to the city to work as waiters, clerks or house maids. Just today, a bus full of commuters slammed into a truck on a narrow and potholed road to Pretoria, killing 29. But in the aggregate, tragedies like these are only numbers in a cold statistical series. The front pages of the country’s newspapers remain splattered with horror stories and graphic photos of brutal killings, as fifty people are murdered daily. Another 770 people die from AIDS every day. A total of 5.7 million, or 18% of South Africans, is HIV/AID infected, the highest infection rate in the world. Needless to say, one of the bloody red lines that runs through the broken social fabric of this heartbreakingly beautiful country is that human life is accorded shockingly little value.

Re-remembering the Mexican IWW

By Jefferson Pierce - Industrial Worker, November 2013

The history we tell ourselves about the Mexican IWW is quite brief. Two events are most often repeated that carry the IWW banner: the Insurrectos that invaded Baja, Calif., and proclaimed the Tijuana Commune in 1911, which included amongst them Joe Hill; and the “Tampico General Strike,” of which most of us know very little.

Additionally, we hold up Ricardo Flores Magon, his brother Enrique and the Partido Liberal Mexicana (PLM) as somewhat of a stand-in for the Mexican IWW. “Well, the IWW and the PLM had many dual members and they were anarchists so they were like the IWW in Mexico, basically,” we say to those who inquire.

However, it was only while I was reading Norman Caulfield’s book, “Mexican Workers and the State: From the Porfiriato to NAFTA,” did this general sketch of the Mexican IWW come into full view as wholly inadequate. This book has been sold by the IWW’s Literature Department for nigh on 10 years, yet I suspect that many of us have never read it. “Mexican Workers” is a treasure trove of research into the extensive IWW organizing and fighting all over Mexico and the borderlands from the 1900s to the 1920s.

It is true that the IWW in Mexico and the American Southwest was intimately linked with our allies, the PLM and the Casa del Obrero Munidal (COM), as well as with the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) and the communists at times. However, it is not necessary to conflate these organizations; Los Trabajadores Industriales del Mundo (the Spanish translation of “Industrial Workers of the World”) has its own wealth of history in Mexico. In particular, I would like to highlight the names of individual Mexican Wobblies so that we can research them and induct them into our IWW hall of fame, so to speak.

Jobs Beyond Coal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, 2012

This manual is intended for anyone—communities, unions, environmentalists, native tribes, public officials, and others—involved with or affected by the retirement of coal-fired power plants. It is designed as a guide for those who wish to make the transition away from coal in a way that is most beneficial and least threatening to ordinary workers, consumers, and community members.

In the past decade, a broad-based campaign has formed to move America beyond coal and power the nation with clean energy. The movement includes people from all walks of life—medical professionals, faith leaders, environmentalists, business people, workers, decision makers, and local residents—who are working to address the serious pollution problems caused by coal and to seize the economic opportunity offered by clean, safe, renewable energy.

This campaign has been remarkably successful, preventing the construction of more than 165 new coal-fired power plants, and thereby keeping energy markets open for clean energy. In state after state, as newcoal proposals have stalled, advocates have launched campaigns to retire existing coal plants and replace them with clean energy, securing the retirement of more than 110 existing coal plants to date.The coal industry and their allies regularly claim that jobs, workers, and unions benefit from coal plants and that transitioning away from coal will harm them. Industry claims about creating or protecting jobs have often proved fallacious or hugely exaggerated. Still, this message resonates powerfully in tough economic times and presents a real challenge to coal retirement efforts.

Several recent campaigns have demonstrated that coal retirements can be structured in ways that take care of affected workers and the area economy, and even win the support of organized labor and local decision makers. As the case studies described in this manual show, addressing these economic challenges is most effective when the concerns of workers and the local economy are built into the campaign objectives, messaging, proposals, action, and interventions in policy arenas.

Read the report (PDF).

Coal’s Assault on Human Health

By Alan H Lockwood, Kristen Welker-Hood, Molly Rauch, and Barbara Gottlieb - Physicians for Social Responsibility, November 2009

Coal pollutants affect all major body organ systems and contribute to four of the five leading causes of mortality in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. This conclusion emerges from our reassessment of the widely recognized health threats from coal. Each step of the coal lifecycle—mining, transportation, washing, combustion, and disposing of postcombustion wastes—impacts human health. Coal combustion in particular contributes to diseases affecting large portions of the U.S. population, including asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke, compounding the major public health challenges of our time. It interferes with lung development, increases the risk of heart attacks, and compromises intellectual capacity.

Oxidative stress and inflammation are indicated as possible mechanisms in the exacerbation and development of many of the diseases under review. In addition, the report addresses another, less widely recognized health threat from coal: the contribution of coal combustion to global warming, and the current and predicted health effects of global warming.

Read the report (PDF).

Notes on the miners strike, 1984-1985

By Steven - LibCom, January 11, 2007

The miners strike of 1984-85 will always be remembered in British working class history as the most significant turning point in the power relationship between the working class organisations of the trade unions, and the state representing the interests of the privileged minority in the late twentieth century. The losses endured by the working class and their organisations as a whole with the defeat of the miners are still to this day attempting to be rebuilt, as are the shattered communities of the ex-pit towns. Understanding the struggle and the lessons that can be drawn from it during the months of 1984-85 are of utmost importance if these organisations are to be rebuilt, as well as the working class movements as a whole.

In 1974 the then Conservative government had been replaced with a Labour one, brought down by the miners strike of the same year. The Labour government realised that the working class, particularly the miners, had political power to exercise, and that if exercised correctly could force change in even the leadership of the country. Obviously wanting to avoid this in future, Labour set up think tank groups to decide the best course of action to stop this happening again, bringing an end to their term of power. The think tanks set up pinpointed the idea of national pay bargaining (a centralised structure where issues on pay and conditions could be discussed by miners across the country, which had ended area disputes over wages and other such inequalities) as a main factor in the power that the miners wielded. Their power was in their unified strength behind the organisation and the unifying nature of this structure was recognised as the reason for the successful strikes of 1969, 1972 and 1974. Labour introduced 'Area Incentive Schemes' alongside the structure of national pay bargaining and against national ballots in an attempt to split the miners. This meant now that wages and conditions would be decided locally, and the area was given the higher degree of importance than the national. The scheme was most well received in Nottinghamshire and the Midlands (against national ballot decisions), where as we will see, sought to consolidate its own interests ahead of that of the majority of miners on strike during 1984-85. However, Labour lost the next general election, and the Conservatives again came to power in 1979 with Margaret Thatcher at the helm and the Area Incentive Schemes carried on as the Labour government had initiated them.

The events of 1984 were a culmination of many years of struggle by the miners to raise wages and conditions, and in the years immediately previously to the great strike to prevent earlier attempts of pit closures, the most obvious attempt being in 1981 by the still new Thatcher government. The threat of strike action had however, caused the Thatcher government to abandon this and led to the Yorkshire miners to pass a resolution declaring that if a pit was to be closed for any reason other than exhaustion or geological difficulties, then a strike would take place to defend it.

France ends coal mining with tears but not a single protest

By John Lichfield - Indypendent, April 24, 2004

The French coal miner, a powerful symbol of social revolt and industrial strength for more than a century, passed into extinction yesterday.

The French coal miner, a powerful symbol of social revolt and industrial strength for more than a century, passed into extinction yesterday.

The last lump of coal was ceremonially carved last night from the La Houve mine near Creutzwald in Lorraine. An industry that produced 60 million tons of coal and employed 150,000 people as recently as 40 years ago has ceased to exist.

Although several smaller European countries have already stopped coal mining, France is the first of the world's large industrial powers to abandon production of what remains the world's second largest energy source.

Paris decided10 years ago to close its remaining mines, rather than compete with cheap, open-cast coal from other countries. The last shipments of French coal cost €130 (£86) a tonne to extract. Coal imported from Australia costs €40 (£26) a ton, including transport costs.

French coal miners, once numbering 300,000, built a fearsome reputation as the spearhead of social revolt and the champion of workers' rights - illustrated by Emile Zola's novel Germinal, based on the strikes in the northern coal fields in the 1880s. The last pit closed yesterday with nostalgic ceremonies but not a single protest.

By agreement with the unions, all redundant miners are paid 85 per cent of their salary until they are 45 and then 80 per cent until they reach normal retirement age. They keep their free homes and generous health and other social benefits.

Although the end of the industry has been a cause for mourning in the once great coalfield near the German border, there has been none of the social unrest about the sudden destruction of communities that accompanied the demise of Britain's coal industry. Britain still has 16 pits and 4,000 miners, compared with 170 pits and 180,000 miners at the time of the 1984-5 strike, according to the National Union of Mineworkers.

The subsidised inactivity of tens of thousands of men in France's former mining regions has brought other social problems, such as alcoholism, suicide and higher rates of divorce. In the north, where the last mines closed in 1990, and in central France and the Marseille area, which ceased mining last year, former pit workers have found it hard to live without the companionship and almost military discipline of the mines.

Under the 1994 redundancy agreement, men as young as 35 can draw almost full salaries for life, provided they do not take another job. Other work in the ex-mining areas remains hard to find. Some have taken up hobbies; others voluntary work, but many find themselves slumped in front of the television all day. Although the active coal miner has ceased to exist, there are more than 380,000 former coal miners or their widows who have rights to benefits up to 2050.

The last few coal miners, who ceased work yesterday, had mixed feelings. Bernard Starck, 50, said: "When you're down there, you're useless as an individual. You live for, and through, your work mates."

"The redundancy terms are fair but the past few months have been a time of great suffering. It was as if we were working for nothing."

The Bisbee deportation of 1917

By Sheila Bonnand - University of Arizona, 1997

"How it could have happened in a civilized country I'll never know. This is the only country it could have happened in. As far as we're concerned, we're still on strike!" ~ Fred Watson*

The Bisbee Deportation was still fresh in Fred Watson's mind when interviewed 60 years later. This is not surprising, because on July 12, 1917, Watson and 1,185 other men were herded into filthy boxcars by an armed vigilante force in Bisbee, Arizona, and abandoned across the New Mexico border. The Bisbee Deportation of 1917 was not only a pivotal event in Arizona's labor history, but one that had an effect on labor activities throughout the country. What led to this course of action by the Bisbee authorities?

Arizona in the early 1900s was home to huge copper mining operations. The managers and engineers controlling these mines answered primarily to eastern stockholders. During World War I, the price of copper reached unprecedented heights and the companies reaped enormous profits. By March of 1917, copper sold for $.37 a pound; it had been $.13 1/2 at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. With five thousand miners working around the clock, Bisbee was booming.

To maintain high production levels, the pool of miners was increased from an influx of southern European immigrants. Although the mining companies paid relatively high wages, working conditions for miners were no better than before the copper market crash in 1907-1908. Furthermore, the inflation caused by World War I increased living expenses and eroded any gains the miners had realized in salaries.

The mining companies controlled Bisbee, not only because they were the primary employers but because local businesses depended heavily on the mines and miners to survive. Even the local newspaper was owned by one of the major mining companies, Phelps Dodge.

The 1916 Minnesota miners' strike against U.S. Steel

By Robert M. Eleff - Minnesota History, Summer 1988

An article by Robert M. Eleff detailing a 1916 strike which involved the IWW, in the Iron Range of Minnesota. Originally appeared in Minnesota History (Summer 1988)

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