West Virginia mine disaster: All mines are dangerous

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Despite the frightening rhythm of explosions and collapses, and the resulting deaths and injuries to workers in China’s mines, it took an explosion at a mine in Sago, West Virginia, where a group of miners were trapped underground, slowly dying of carbon monoxide poisoning, for the British media to remember just how dangerous coal extraction can be.

For those who have followed the development of China’s ‘economic miracle’ this comes as no surprise. Yet an article in the Guardian (7/1/6), rather than laying the blame where it belongs, at the feet of the werewolf greed of capital, attributed the number of deaths in China to their reliance on deep-shaft mining, as opposed to open cast mining. It also pointed to the lack of modern safety equipment, comparing China’s poor safety record with that of its competitors, the world’s other major coal producers, America, Russia, South Africa and Poland.

But, as The Guardian glibly stated, and the deaths of the 12 Sago miners grimly illustrated, “there is no such thing as a safe mine”. In all mines, whether state or privately-run, the pursuit of increased productivity means a disregard for workers’ safety. In the case of Sago, just as in China, it has been suggested that not only did the mine’s owners ignore safety reports, but federal and state officials allowed the mine to continue to work despite doubts over its safety. The gap between American and Chinese mines seems to shorten further when it emerges that, because of budget cuts, rescue efforts to save the Sago miners may have been hampered by a lack of modern safety equipment.

While the media rediscovered the American working class it also tried to stress the ‘uniqueness’ of the West Virginian miners. But the American bourgeoisie showed itself just as hypocritical as the Chinese. The families of the trapped men were led to believe that all of them had survived the blast only to be told a few hours later that only one man had escaped alive. Ben Hatfield, the chief executive officer of the mine company blamed this heartless ‘mistake’ on a “lack of communication”.

When The Guardian talks about “how the world’s biggest producers juggle risk and reward”, it is clear that it’s workers who are ‘juggling’ all of the risks while the mine owners receive all the rewards. The grisly truth is that, whether you work in the capitalist heartlands or on the ‘underdeveloped’ periphery, decadent capitalism, in response to its deepening crisis, has nothing to offer workers, in all sectors, except more exploitation and quite possibly injury or even an early death.
William (02/02/06)