Whence Came Progress?

From the Unions, including the UMWA (United Mine Workers of America), once upon a time; and it’s out of the unions and the labor movement that we’ve developed the concepts of weekends, 40-hour weeks, safe work sites, and a number of other “socialist” values the TEA Party can’t stand — including keeping miners alive rather than keeping profits high. This week’s West Virginia mine disaster reinforces the damage done to the nation by Reagan’s destruction of PATCO and the many steps backwards we’ve made since he started the GOP’s onslaught on America.

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13 responses to “Whence Came Progress?

  1. grahamfirchlis

    Such a terrible thing, and it could have been prevented. From the owner on down to shift foremen, they should all be charged with some level of homocide. Between union-busting and de-regulation, this is exactly the Reagan Legacy, and if the TeaParty idiots have their way the future will be like this for everyone. It is so hard to understand why working people would cheer for this asshole, when they ought to string him up.

  2. The Other Sarah

    Not sure the shift foremen have survived to face charges … last word I had was it’s still too hazardous to send a rescue crew down after the missing four miners.

    A safety inspector was in the mine at the time of the explosion, working alone.

  3. Hi Graham,

    First thanks for your visit and comment at Politics Plus. I would have returned the visit sooner, but my computer was down. Great blog.

    On topic, if memory serves, the Bush/GOP response to the last corporate murder of coal miners was to put Big Coal on the honor system of self regulation.

    • grahamfirchlis

      Hey Tom, good to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by, and for the compliment.

      Believe your memory is correct. The response from BushCo every time something bad happened was to gut oversight agency funding and turn over inspection to the owners, a continuation and insane expansion of Reagan’s legacy. These policies have killed hundreds if not thousands of Americans and sickened hundreds of thousands if not millions more. Until the philosophy is reversed we’ll continue to suffer for Big Corporation profits, and that reversal won’t happen with this or any Congress dominated by Reactionaries and Conservatives.

  4. JAMES SCAMINACI III

    I am not sure how you apportion criminal blame, particularly down to shift supervisors.

    The New York Times link to experts suggested that deep mining is inherently dangerous and accidents and deaths are to be expected.

    That said, regulations do save lives. Much stiffer penalties on companies save lives. More inspectors for meaningful inspectors save lives.

    And, politicians not being bribed with corporate funds from the coal companies to write weak regulatory laws would save lives.

    Yes, the Tea Party folks would be opposed to all this and saving lives.

    • grahamfirchlis

      Hey James. I say arrest them all, and let the judicial system sort it out.

      Seriously, the problem is that labor and corporate law in the US offers far too much protection against culpability for corporate players. Criminal negligence standards are too strict, and so companies can get away with murder because the people running them and benefiting from the profits are protected. Other countries, the laws are more equitable and so the incentive to stay safe is affirmed by the threat of prison time for those who don’t.

      Lots of occupations are dangerous, that’s no excuse for ignoring basic safethy protocols, and I don’t pay much attention to MSM hand-picked “experts” as they are chosen primarily to support whatever narrative has already been settled on. “Tough Shit” is not an acceptable basis for public policy on worker safety and I don’t care what expert suggests otherwise.

      Some dangers are unforeseeable, or at least not reasonably foreseeable. In underground mining, faults and other geological weaknesses are endemic and not all of them can be fully anticipated or effectively mitigated. Miners know that, and accept those sorts of risks. But in this case, with the history of multiple ongoing violations of basic safety including inadequate ventilation and buildup of combustible materials, there is no way that this event is just Shit Happens.

      • hipparchia

        I say arrest them all, and let the judicial system sort it out.

        my sentiments exactly.

        i was a safety officer for several years. one of the tactics i sometimes found useful was to get in the site supervisor’s face and intone do you KNOW how much paperwork YOU PERSONALLY are going to have to fill out if you kill someone?

        but yeah, management has already figured out [or think they have] the $$ cost/benefit ratio of killing x number of people to get the job done and make money. it’s an uphill battle all the way.

  5. The Other Sarah

    I think the fact that this particular operation is identified as not merely non-union but anti-union (Blankenship is allegedly proud of his union-buster rep) and the evidence emerging that Massey Energy has done the Cost-Benefit Analysis and determined that it’ s cheaper to pay the fines than fix the violations pinpoints where the criminal blame should be apportioned.

    Shift supervisors, now … would they be considered management, or labor?

    • grahamfirchlis

      In every mining operation for which I have first-hand knowledge, and that is a quite a few, the shift supervisor is an exempted company man whether the workers are union or not. The super’s job is to get as much production out of the workers as possible and that puts him at odds with safety priorities. It is a constant tug-of-war and unions plus decent outside inspectors help keep the balance, but in a non-union shop like this one if the super says “drill” or “blast” or “don’t waste time cleaning that up” the workers have no choice but to comply or lose their job. In this operation, complying cost them their lives.

      Everyone in the chain of command can claim they were just doing their job, doing what they were told to do, but that is never an excuse for willful criminal negligence. Someone should be held responsible for these deaths and in other countries they would be, from the owner on down to the last company man in the corporate ladder. We are fools to not do the same.

      Assuming authority, at any level, should mean assuming responsibility for your decisions and bearing some consequence when you screw up. In this event, for 25 counts of negligent homicide at the very least.

  6. blacksheepone

    Can’t speak to the corporate structure here.
    Can speak to what I know of oilfield operations (grew up at the edge of the Permian Basin).

    The driller on a workover rig or a drilling rig,
    either one, is the guy in charge on site. His orders
    are The Word of God. The exceptions are two:
    an active fire at a wellhead (blowout) and the
    tower falling (I’ve seen two do this due to wind,
    one due to a lightning strike, and one because some total dumb@$$ set a critical guy line … in the slush pit dike, where the bulldozer then hit
    the spike and drug the whole outfit over sideways…). I’ve never actually seen anybody killed in one of these wrecks, but I’ve seen the
    ambulances take away workers who, later, did die. (Working for a newspaper in an oilfield is
    sometimes not a pleasant job.)

  7. grahamfirchlis

    OK, that was good. Read the “guy line spike in the slush pit dike” three times and can’t stop laughing, even though I know it shouldn’t be funny.

    I’ve hung around a few drilling sites, water not oil and long backstory but yeah, not at all pleasant and between the independent contractor drillers and the site owners screaming and contradicting themselves and each other and roughnecks looking like the Missing Link, it is a wonder there aren’t more deaths.

  8. The Other Sarah

    Yeah, it gets wild, out in the mud and the outflow …

    note: when they make a movie about this mine disaster, they need to get Anthony LaPaglia to play the WVa governor. Guy could be his brother.

    Late news: they’re pumping nitrogen downhole to try to suppress explosive / toxic gas mixtures in the mine. Hope for the 4 missing men continues, but admittedly, the 4 days’ supplies in the rescue chambers are perhaps beginning to dwindle…

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