Chilean miners: exploitation kills

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The San José mine in the Atacama Desert where 33 miners have been trapped since an explosion in the Chilean mine on 5 August has seen dozens of previous accidents. In 2007 it was actually closed down because of health and safety considerations. When it was reopened there was supposed to be a ladder from the emergency shelter to the surface – this was never finished.

When it was discovered that the miners were still alive there were jubilant scenes on Chilean streets. But the media frenzy that followed obscures the reality: across the world the conditions of miners are of no concern to their employers, whether in state enterprises or private mining companies. In China, in particular, where it is estimated that 80% of the world’s mining accidents occur, death and injuries from explosions, floods and other accidents are widespread.

Official figures for deaths in Chinese mining accidents run from 2009’s 2631 to 2002’s 6995. Serious analysts of the industry suggest that a typical annual figure of 20,000 deaths is probably more accurate, and this is without estimates of injuries or lung afflictions. One guess for the number of Chinese miners suffering from pneumoconiosis gives a figure of 600,000.

Productivity in the Chinese coal mining industry is very low. That is to say, it is very labour intensive: this accounts for the 5 million workers employed in it. The accident rates per 100 tons of coal are 100 times greater in China than the US, 30 times greater than in South Africa.

While the world’s media turns its attention to the prospects of the Chilean miners it’s worth remembering that, looking world-wide across all industries in a typical year, and only taking the official statistics, more than 2 million workers are fatally injured as the result of a work-related accident – the equivalent of 6000 a day. People make jokes about the absurdities of the health and safety industry, but the fact that capitalist exploitation kills on such a scale is deadly serious.   Car 4/9/10

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