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  • authored by licatsplit
  • published Sat, Aug 3, 2002

True Solidarity

"Solidarity forever": The dramatic rescue of nine coal miners trapped 240 feet underground in Pennsylvania last weekend gives new meaning to the historic rallying cry of the American labor movement. Rescue crews used sophisticated machinery to pump out freezing water and pump in warm air to keep the men alive. They relied on huge drills to dig deep below the surface, and on medical helicopters to transport the rescued men to the hospital.

Ultimately, however, it was not modern technology but the miners' determination and teamwork that enabled them to endure cold, water and hunger during their 77-hour ordeal. The nine pressed against each other and sat back-to-back - "anything to produce body heat," according to one of the survivors. They shared what little food they had, agreed on a strategy (to seek higher ground rather than fight their way through the water) and buoyed each other's spirits. They even tethered themselves together with rope so that they would "live or die as a group," one of them said. Under the circumstances, individualism would have been deadly. (Registration required through New York Times)web page

They tethered themselves together so they would "live or die as a group". They shared, agreed on a strategy, and buoyed each others spirits. I don't know about the rest of you, but IMHO, this is a really dramatic portrayal of true solidarity. No frills, no bull, in the trenches solidarity. There are so many lessons to be learned from these nine brave, fortunate miners. Individualism would have been deadly! Incredible story!

  • posted by siggy
  • Sat, Aug 3, 2002 6:53pm

It's an amazing miracle and it was very heartwarming to have a happy, happy ending but I especially liked the part where some said they weren't going back. Life was too short. Something good always comes from something bad.

  • posted by lefkenny
  • Sat, Aug 3, 2002 7:15pm

Watching this story unfold actually brought tears to my eyes. I was as elated as all of ya, including my elderly mother as they brought up those men.

aboutunions

  • posted by licatsplit
  • Sun, Aug 4, 2002 2:18am

quote:


but I especially liked the part where some said they weren't going back.


I've had the honor of knowing a few coal miners. I was in the military with a couple of guys from West Virginia whose entire families (Dads, Uncles, cousins, brothers) had always been in the mines. I've visited them quite a few times since we went our separate ways. I've been a mile back into a mountain where it is cold, dark, wet, and gloomy. Back where they are retrieving what they call 18" coal. Where they crawl and drill and place charges. My hat is off to these guys for there is no way I could endure these job conditions. Especially for the pay they get these days! Anyway, my point is, I've heard these guys and many others say they weren't going back and they were going to move away and find something else to do for a living, but they Always Go Back! My two friends have tried numerous times to get away, but they are still there today crawling through that water one mile back with air being pumped in to sustain life. Both my friends Dads died with black lung, along with a couple of their uncles. Coal miners were among the first workers to unionize and set standards for a lot of other early unions, but today non-union is rampant among the mines and owners have forced such reductions that wages for working in these horrible conditions are probably less than most retail workers make up in the northern tier of the U.S.

I had to edit this post because my buddies would kick my butt if I didn't mention their state is called by the locals, "West By God Virginia"

  • posted by BillPearson
  • Sun, Aug 4, 2002 9:48am

The story you tell LCT is the story of life, the plight of organized labor. It's the manual of hard knocks for workers. Just this simple; One step forward, two steps back. About the time you think you are making a difference, someone or something comes along and slaps you upside the head and knocks you to the ground. Reality sets in, and you are faced with the ultimate test. Do you get up and fight back, or do you lay there broken and beaten? The first reaction is usually to run as as fast and as far as you can. But these miners, they aren't built that way. They realize that running doesn't fix anything, it only prolongs the problem. Makes it okay to for those that like to slap others, to continue to do so.

They've been predicting the labor movements demise in the US for near as long as it's been around. Damn near done it a couple of times. I'd like to believe, we are at a crossroads where those of us that are sick of the abuses, by both owners and union leaders, are about to raise a hellstorm of shit. There comes a point in everyone of our lives you gotta decide, WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? If you are one of those union leaders that has it so much better than the workers you represent, its time to get a clue. We can't afford the unmitigated greed that you are exhibiting. First, it's the wrong message to workers, but even more significant, you will be the reason the labor movement collapses. It ain't the reformers that are causing workers to stay away, it's those of you with your faces in the trough.
The miners story of solidarity is as good as it gets. Life is nothing more than an opportunity to learn how to do it better the next day.The riveting question always is, what did you learn? If the answer is, how to get more for me, you need to go back and revist the whole point of our existance on this planet. It never has been, never will be, about what i can get out of it. It's alway's been about what i can give back to it.
As i said somewhere before, Solidarity isn't a catchy song or a cute slogan, it's a way of life, so go live it.

  • posted by lefkenny
  • Sun, Aug 4, 2002 10:01am

quote:


There comes a point in everyone of our lives you gotta decide, WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? If you are one of those union leaders that has it so much better than the workers you represent, its time to get a clue. We can't afford the unmitigated greed that you are exhibiting. First, it's the wrong message to workers, but even more significant, you will be the reason the labor movement collapses. It ain't the reformers that are causing workers to stay away, it's those of you with your faces in the trough.


By Brother Bill Pearson

Very profound and well put BP. In my political opinion, this statement is right on the money, and worthy of further acclaim. I've mentioned somewhere we should have a special section on the trials and tribulations of Brother Bill Pearson. Despite he " is a president" he does have a lot to offer all of us.

BP damm you keep surprising me. Here's to your wisdom.

aboutunions

  • posted by remote viewer
  • Sun, Aug 4, 2002 1:02pm

Now these are true heroes from whom we can all draw inspiration. Condemned to an almost certain and horrible death by - geez, what caused this accident anyway? - corporate greed and regulatory indifference? - these workers survived by looking out for each other, doing what was best for the group, staying united.

What a remarkable story. We should all reflect on what these workers lived through whenever we have second thoughts about sticking our necks out for the community of workers.

  • posted by remote viewer
  • Tue, Aug 6, 2002 11:34am

This short article about the United Mine Workers provides some background on how the mining industry responds to its workers and what people in this industry have had to deal with.

The UMWA also had a reform movement at one time. It was also called MFD (Miners for Democracy).

  • posted by licatsplit
  • Mon, Aug 12, 2002 1:48am

The miners' union and the former head of a federal mine safety agency say public hearings are needed to determine what caused a flood that trapped nine coal miners underground for more than three days.

But the current head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration said a public hearing, which would give investigators power to subpoena witnesses and documents, wouldn't reveal any more information than the routine investigation already under way into the accident at the Quecreek mine.

In calling for hearings, Joe Main, national health and safety administrator for the United Mine Workers of America, said the number of U.S. coal miners killed on the job has risen each of the past three years.

Federal statistics show 29 U.S. coal miners were killed in 1998, 34 in 1999, 38 in 2000, 42 in 2001 and 17 so far this year.

Photo Gallery

A day down deep - 800 feet deep

  • posted by Blackcat
  • Wed, Aug 14, 2002 1:16pm

Heres an article on the story from a major East Coast magazine.

--------------

MINE SHAFT
by Hendrik Hertzberg

Issue of 2002-08-19 and 26
Posted 2002-08-12

In a season of dolor-when the news is mostly of economic ruin, climatic foreboding, the abduction of children, and, of course, terrorism, war, and rumors of war-the rescue of the Quecreek Nine was an interlude of gladness. Nine coal miners trapped deep beneath a cow pasture in southwestern Pennsylvania, the equivalent of twenty-four stories straight down; the miners scratching and crawling their way through pitch-black, four-foot-high tunnels fast filling with icy floodwater to find one another and a pocket of stale air; the rescue team aboveground, improvising a plan to pump in compressed air to push the water back, snapping a drill bit, almost losing hope; the miners, preparing for imminent death, sealing notes to their loved ones in a watertight bucket; time and air running out; and then, finally, as midnight approached on the fourth night, a breakthrough, joy and weeping, the miners lifted out one by one, all nine of them, haggard but whole.

It's a fine, uplifting story, full of terror and suspense, grit and determination-a story that shows, as did the story of September 11th and its aftermath, that a working-class hero is something to be. And this story has what that one did not: a happy ending. So Hollywood said: We're there. A week after the rescue, the nine miners, plus one of the lead rescuers, inked a Tinseltown pact, as Variety might put it. Or, as Variety actually did put it: "The Walt Disney Co. has locked up a nearly $1.5 million deal for the exclusive book and TV movie rights to the personal stories of the nine Pennsylvania miners. . . . Mouse web ABC will produce a two-hour telepic about the rescue operation, while Disney publishing unit Hyperion is expected to release a book about their ordeal." That's a hundred and fifty grand per miner, before taxes and lawyers' fees-which is either a lot or a little, depending on what you compare it with.

If you compare it with what the miners (who, among them, had more than two hundred man-years on the job) were making before, it's a lot. Their yearly wages, which are about forty per cent higher than the county average, come to around forty thousand dollars each, counting overtime. So the Disney deal will yield them upward of three years' pay. On the other hand, if you compare it with what their employers get, it's a little. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the Quecreek mine, "although portrayed during the rescue efforts as a tiny operation, is closely linked to a web of companies controlled by the venture-capital arm of Citigroup Inc." In 2001, Sanford Weill, the chairman of Citigroup, collected eighteen million dollars in salary and bonuses, which means it took him around five hours to rack up what one of those miners made all year. What about the miners' new boss? According to the calculations of Forbes magazine, Michael Eisner, the C.E.O. of Disney, received seven hundred and twenty-three million dollars in salary, bonuses, and stock options from 1996 to 2001, a yearly average of roughly a hundred and forty-five million. That could pay the yearly wages of more than three thousand coal miners (and, thanks to mechanization, there are only seventy thousand in the whole country). To be fair, on an hourly basis Disney paid Eisner only thirty-five times what it's paying the miners for each of the seventy-seven hours they were trapped (though once you throw in the hours they'll have to spend talking to the film producers and book writers, it'll be more like a hundred times). Such is the magic of the market.

The Quecreek Nine, like a majority of coal miners and unlike the firefighters, cops, and hardhats of September 11th, are nonunion. But this is not necessarily a mark of their devotion to rugged individualism. The complicated ownership and contracting arrangements under which mines like Quecreek operate are designed largely to keep union organizers at bay. For coal operators, and in the private sector generally, it's just sound business practice to fire people who might be thinking of joining a union and then maybe pay a small fine for it a year or two later. (Public-employee unions do better at organizing, despite the fact that strikes in the public sector are generally illegal, because it's politically awkward for the government to flout the law.) If the Quecreek Nine had been members of the United Mine Workers of America, the legendary union that, in its glory days under John L. Lewis, had more than half a million members and made Presidents quake, their pay and benefits would have been a little sweeter, and they would have had a tough workplace-safety committee to represent them. Still, it's due mainly to the union's efforts that even nonunion wages are as high as they are. And the federal agency that helped supervise the rescue, the Mine Health and Safety Administration, was founded, in 1969, partly as a result of pressure from the U.M.W.A.

Nonunion though they were, the Quecreek miners conspicuously displayed the noblest of all trade-union virtues: solidarity. They prayed together; they shared the single sandwich that was their only food; they lashed themselves together so that in death their bodies would not be separated. Once rescued, they shared with all and sundry the cases of beer that a local distributor had given them. And when it came time to negotiate with the folks from Hollywood they did so as a group, instead of trying to cut individual and possibly more lucrative deals at one another's expense.

A week after the rescue, President Bush dropped in for a photo op with the miners and told them that "it was their determination to stick together and to comfort each other that really defines kind of a new spirit that's prevalent in our country-that when one of us suffers, all of us suffer; that in order to succeed, we've got to be united; that by working together, we can achieve big objectives and big goals." A beautiful sentiment. But, although the Bush energy policy calls for the extraction and burning of more and more coal, the Bush budget calls for a six-per-cent cut in funding for the Mine Safety and Health Administration. It's hard to say which of these moves is the more unwise. According to Senator Jay Rockefeller, of West Virginia, the budget cut will result in a twenty-five-per-cent decline in the mine agency's inspection workforce, whose job it is to prevent accidents like the one at Quecreek from taking place at all. The Quecreek Nine were saved; but last year forty-two miners were killed digging coal, as against twenty-nine in 1998. Solidarity forever. Just not at this point in time.

- Hendrik Hertzberg

  • posted by Blackcat
  • Thu, Aug 15, 2002 2:10pm

Westray Miners Families Lose In Bid To Sue

The families of 26 miners killed in the Westray explosion a decade ago will not be able to sue the Nova Scotia government. The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear their case.

Relatives went to the high court after losing a $30 million lawsuit against the province last year.

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge told them he couldn't award the money because of the Workers' Compensation Act and its restrictions that prevent families from suing employers.

For years, the families have been fighting for compensation, claiming government inspectors failed to ensure the coal mine was safe.

Ray Wagner, a lawyer representing about 20 families, said Thursday the decision not to hear the appeal means the province will not have to answer for the tragedy.

"They will be very upset with this result," he said of the families. "It's been a long, hard battle for them and they've exhibited great resolve in bringing this matter to justice."

Wagner said the families still intend to sue the federal government.

Early on the morning of May 9, 1992, a spark deep in the mine ignited an invisible cloud of methane gas, triggering a massive explosion that trapped and killed the 26 miners.

The force of the blast was so strong it shattered windows in the village of Plymouth and shook homes in nearby Stellarton and New Glasgow.

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