From The WarZone
Sunday Janary 22, 2006
AS A NATION, WE were saddened by the disaster at the Sago mine in Tallmansville W.Va. One could not help but feel the anguish and suffering of the victims' families as the story changed from a "Miracle in West Virginia" to a devastating loss that will take a toll on hundreds of family and community members for generations to come. Immediate family members will never fully recover from this senseless tragedy and nothing can restore to those working class families that which has been violently and needlessly taken from them.
Few can dispute the accidental nature of the report of 12 survivors even though sloppy journalism was a contributing factor. There is more to that issue however, than mainstream media is typically refusing to confront. Early in the disaster, Ben Hatfield, CEO of International Coal Group [ICG], often referred to the trapped miners as miners. When the media, CNN in particular, began questioning ICG's safety record and possible liability, Hatfield's position changed from miners to, "our employees", the corporate doublespeak indicating ownership. Was this an intentional change placing remedy into the Department of Labor [DOL] framework with no real justice or resolution, or just an innocent choice of words from a wealthy owner who has no real connection to those that create his wealth? In America, it is legal to kill employees with near impunity because it is a "Labor Violation", compared to a civil liability case not work related. I believe the question will be thoroughly answered by the facts leading up to this disaster.
Another question centers on the time frame in notifying the victims' families that all but one miner had perished, a question none in the media are asking. Why did it take three hours? Officials knew within twenty minutes. You can believe the "choked up Hatfield", "in the process of being cautious, we allowed the jubilation to go on longer than we should have", or look at the facts. During those three hours a SWAT team and West Virginia troopers were moved into position near the church where miner's families gathered. Why would it be necessary to stage a SWAT team and how would they have responded should violence erupt against mine officials? Would they have fired on other miners and their families? West Virginia law enforcement, and don't take that term too seriously, has a history of violence against miners in labor struggles. Who ordered the SWAT team and troopers and why and in particular, with State Governor Joe Manchin on site? These are the hard questions not even CNN is asking.
In "The Story of John McCoy" written by Jerry White, Labor Publications Inc, unarmed miners wounded in the assault tell of the ambush by company thugs armed with assault weapons. "Before daybreak, the Reverend James Chapman, who runs a mission near the site of the shooting, noticed three men hiding in the rocks on a hillside across from his house. When he stepped outside for a closer look, the men opened fire, forcing him and his wife back inside". Union miners picketing a mine that changed owners and refused to hire back union members, moved up Indian Hollow Road in McDowell County toward the Rolfe No 6 mine. The valley erupted into a hail of gunfire from company thugs, murdering John McCoy and seriously wounding Darrell and Steve Morgan while a West Virginia State Trooper sat 75 yards away from pickup loads of armed thugs. "The trooper remained in his car ignoring the miners' pleas to help the wounded". A contingent of police dispatched to the site immediately searched the miners but no weapons were found. It was more than two hours before police went to the mine and recovered 30 weapons including semi- automatic rifles from hired thugs, but no arrests were made. This didn't happen in 1934 but Jan 16, 1990 under Democrat Governor, Gasper Caperton. There were many violent incidents in the mid-eighties struggles against AT Massey and other coal companies where law enforcement in West Virginia and Kentucky abetted mine owners. The haughty power of employers is unmistakable in the United States and it's undeniable that the rights of ownership by Corporate America extend to those they employ. How would West Virginia authorities have responded?
Was the Sago mine disaster just an unfortunate event or are there those who bear responsibility who are not stepping up to the plate? We've certainly heard the rhetoric from ICG officials, CEO Ben Hatfield and Executive VP Gene Kitts, about how safe they operate. The media has added a few sound bites raising the question of safety violations, but not even CNN has dug deeply enough. Suspicion should have been raised when ICG coal officials ordered mineworkers not to talk to the press. The Sago mine had 208 safety violations in the past year, but in 2004, 68 violations. In spite of tripling ICG safety violations, IGC has issued this statement, "We have maintained and plan to continue to maintain an excellent safety and environmental performance record". In Illinois at the Viper mine near Williamsville, ICG had 109 violations for last year and paid $12,536 in fines, a tiny slap on the wrist. In Kentucky last year, miner Earnie Williams was killed as a result of a safety violation, but the mine owned by ICG was fined a mere $440 for a "significant and substantial" violation, according to a Knight Ridder Newspaper investigation. To date, ICG has not even bothered to pay the fine. In addition to 208 violations in 2005, ICG had twelve roof collapses. "This would indicate some other problems", a government mine safety official said. Like Illinois, many coal-producing states have their own agencies that inspect mines. It is the responsibility of state and federal government to enforce safety standards and that raises more questions. At this point, the explosion at the Sago mine has not been linked to safety violations, but the pattern of safety violations throughout ICG suggests they are not operating safely.
There was an unmistakable sadness on the face of Governor Joe Manchin and genuine compassion for the victims, but where was Manchin's state government when it came to enforcing mine safety and taking action that may have prevented this accident? Was economics in West Virginia where Coal is King, more important than the lives of twelve workers? If measured by Kentucky standards, at $440 dollars a head, most certainly. There should have been red flags all over the place for Manchin's government when safety violations skyrocketed, from 68 to 208 in one year, but the simple fact is, nobody is looking and nobody in government cares. They are cost units and their deaths are simply the cost of doing business. The Knight Ridder investigation, written by Seth Borenstein, Linda J Johnson, and Lee Mueller, had some other disturbing but not surprising revelations. The article titled, "Mine safety enforcement less stringent under Bush" concluded that the number of fines had dropped, their dollar amounts had plummeted, and less that half of them from 2001-2003 had been paid. The Mine Safety and Health Administration [MSHA] enforcement office budget and staff had been cut with 100 fewer enforcement personnel available. In serious criminal cases guilty pleas and convictions fell 54.8%.
Nearly two weeks after the Sago tragedy, US Senator, Dick Durbin [Dem IL] called for an investigation into the safety violations at the Viper mine owned by ICG in Illinois. Why did it take twelve deaths and a national focus on the Sago tragedy to get so-called "friends of labor" on their political stump when both sides of the aisle have openly undermined worker's rights for decades? Again, a question the media is not asking.
One issue aired by CNN, but abandoned much too quickly, was whether or not union representation at the mine would have made a difference. There is no question that union workers at a local level would have challenged ICG safety violations. This is a critical issue considering the mining industry has broken laws countless times in efforts to deny workers their legal right to be represented. Mining companies have a long history of bribery, armed violence and murder against unarmed mineworkers and their families, including children. All those who have aided corporate America in their efforts to destroy worker safety, the right to organize, freedom of association, and the same constitutional rights once guaranteed by the constitution to every citizen, have blood on their hands. Come on, Anderson Cooper, dig a little deeper! While ICG officials have assured a gullible media that "employees" have a hotline to air concerns, they didn't bother to mention workers without union representation who expose corporate lawlessness, might just lose their jobs and be blacklisted. For miners, particularly non-union miners in Appalachia, that amounts to an economic death sentence. From an Internet website ICG makes this boast, "As of September 30,2004, ICG, Inc acquired certain key assets of Horizon through a bankruptcy auction. These assets are high quality reserves strategically located in Appalachia and the Illinois Basin, are union free, have limited reclamation liabilities and are substantially free of other legacy liabilities".
The names of those miners were chiseled in stone long ago. A corrupt court gave corporations "citizens rights" in the late 1800s, effectively undermining the will of the framers of our Constitution and signaling the beginning of the end for real democracy for average Americans. Those who crafted our Constitution, fearing the rise of corporate power that created such tyranny in Europe, included Charter Rights where corporations had to seek state authority to operate. Corporations are required to operate in a manner for the good of the citizens and state legislatures were empowered to revoke those rights when a corporation acted illegally. Those rights exist today but I've never heard of an instance where legislators used those rights and why would they? The same system corrupting federal lawmakers has just as much foothold at state level. The mighty power of "the corporation" negates the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and all the branches of government, both state and federal, because they're corporate owned. The current lobbying scandal is far more disastrous than the media is willing to tell and extends far beyond Indian casinos. Lobbying is media doublespeak for bribery, the system reducing democracy to an illusion for every citizen except those who can afford to buy it. There is an "Axis of Evil" as King George proclaims, but it's not the Middle East. It is every corporate boardroom, the National Chamber of Commerce, Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable and all the other corporate associations. It is the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Wall Street, and financial institutions worldwide. This system and those who promote and use it have turned our nation's capitol into a corporate whorehouse. Never in our history has America strayed so close to fascism than under the current administration. And never with more culpability from mainstream media, who themselves are corporations who pander responsible journalism and the public's right to know for advertising dollars from other corporations.
The great sit-down strikes and labor uprisings in the 30s and 40s brought our nation close to real democracy when the voices of the majority, American workers, was heard loud and clear. Corporate thugs, police agencies, and federal troops openly murdered workers and their families. The corporate media supported those actions, even calling for hanging of labor organizers. Unfortunately, labor leaders mistakenly accepted the passing of the National Labor Relations Act [NLRA] as remedy. Nothing more than deception, the Act reaffirmed the Corporation's superiority over the Constitution and made the criminal behavior by employers, labor violations, effectively undermining rights our founders sought to give. Each time labor stood up and mobilized, the Corporation, with the aid of congressional pimps and the corporate media, passed new labor acts to beat down the rights of workers. A prime example was the passage of Taft-Hartley.
There are many dark days in American history but few that give us a better picture of what life will be like for most Americans after the Corporation has completed its journey, than the infamous days of McCarthyism. While waving the American flag, this corporate pit bull set out on a fascist witch-hunt destroying the lives of thousands of fellow Americans who refused to wear the same white sheet. Suddenly, the right to dissent, to think outside the corporate box, and work to lift up the disenfranchised and struggle for social and economic justice, became un-American activities. Sadly, mindless labor bureaucrats joined the frenzy and drove many of labor's most talented and dedicated organizers out of the union movement. Disagreeing with government and those who owned it in 1950 would cost you your career, your reputation and in many cases, your freedom. The media was key in building that fascist movement. If this era seems remarkably similar to present day where the Bush administration and his Republican henchmen bullied the media in to supporting an illegal war based on lies and deceit, on profits for the oil industry, it should come as no surprise. We have returned once again to illegal domestic spying of Orwellian proportions, tens of thousands of innocent civilians dead, and the lives of thousands of working class sons and daughters sacrificed, not for freedom, but profit. This awesome power and the ungodly use of it, forces American workers to toil even to the point of death with no hope of change.
The sixties and seventies offered glimmers of hope with the passage Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] act and the Mine Safety and Health Act [MSHA]. During the first decade of MSHA operation, annual mining fatalities dropped from 272 to 86. Miners gained Black Lung benefits for those who suffered from that horrible and deadly disease after years of mine work. But before the ink was dry, Corporate America and their organizations had a scheme to undermine every protection workers mistakenly thought they had. All these protections fell under the authority of the Department of Labor and were subject to the political whims of whoever controlled the White House, which in turn, appointed the majority of seats on the National Labor Relations Board. More frightening, the same system taints our Supreme Court that now appoints the President of the United States. Nearly all the protections American workers gained came under Democratic leadership but that does not give an accurate picture of who corporations control. The gains would be little more than crumbs from the bosses' table; crumbs that can be easily swept away by the next generation of corrupt politicians. There are few greater examples of government's betrayal of the working majority in America than the administration of Ronald Reagan.
Reagan's tenure was not only rampant with corruption and scandals, but his contempt for working Americans and hatred of organized labor was only surpassed by his inability to govern. The first installment in blood money from the powerful energy lobby, bought the effort to dismantle the Black Lung benefits for coal miners. Mining companies began unraveling those benefits by forcing recipients to appear before "company doctors" who eagerly reversed their rights to benefits. In a small hospital in Christian County Illinois, my wife, myself, and several brothers and sisters took round the clock shifts at my father's bedside for several weeks as he gasped for every breath in horrible agony. He died from black lung just days before the hearing to strip his benefits. My father entered the mines at the age of thirteen, like his father and grandfather, working for pennies under horrible conditions and was forced to retire due to illness after nearly 50 years with a little over $260 dollars a month.
Reagan went on to greater glory by firing more than forty thousand Air Traffic Controllers while the Captains of the good ship Labor sat on the sidelines. Reagan coined new phrases like the "New World Order", "Privatization", "Deregulation", "The Welfare Cadillac", "Trickle Down Economics" [the ultimate golden shower for workers] and most deceptive, "Downsizing Government". During Reagan's years of tyranny for working Americans, I never once remember any national reporter ask for an explanation of those phrases except for the mysterious Welfare Cadillac Reagan could not remember any details about. Downsizing government, according to Reagan, "would get the government off peoples backs". Well almost! What he really meant and what the media never, ever, asked about in depth, was cutting the funding and staff of regulatory agencies that protected public safety and health and agencies within the Department of Labor. He was getting the government off corporations' backs and onto ours. He could not openly phase out the agencies, but he could render them ineffective. After dumping billions of tax dollars into corporate coffers [apparently he remembered where that welfare Cadillac was headed], he turned the focus of the IRS to working Americans and away from his thieving millionaire playmates. So obsessed with destroying organized labor and worker's rights, at the request of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Reagan ordered the CIA to work with Britain's super secret MI5 to break the British mineworkers strike led by Arthur Scargill.
The assault on organized labor continued throughout George Bush's rein with the same old themes, privatization, downsizing government, and New World Order economics. The harshest blow to American workers came from democrats with unparalleled support from Republicans. The Passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] by Clinton was the ultimate blow to workers in every sector of our economy and to every American who believed in the sovereignty of our nation. NAFTA threatens nearly every manufacturing and technical jobs and forces workers to compete against foreign slave labor, prison labor, child slave labor and massive influxes of illegal immigrant labor right in our own communities. How could American workers compete against slave labor at thirteen cents an hour with no safety or environmental protections under communist rule? They can't. The same corporations that profited from wars fought by American workers have now taken our jobs and our economy to enemies who tortured and brutalized members of our armed forces. These events are designed to destroy organized labor and force American workers into servitude, poverty, and powerlessness while maximizing profits for the wealthy. The media hailed Clinton's success and none asked the hard questions.
While the media, with the aid of their corporate allies, focused on the shock and awe of Clinton's sexual conduct, not one Republican criticized the passage of NAFTA nor Welfare Reform, both of which were long term republican priorities and both of which would be key in driving working Americans deeper into poverty and debt. Clinton, a pig in his personal life, really bellied up to the corporate trough. Nothing can demonstrate his sexual prowess more vividly than screwing hundreds of millions of workers world wide, mobilizing his corporate thieves to exploit foreign labor and threaten the sovereignty of America through globalization. Now we know what Chinese campaign contributions bought.
The assault on working Americans picked up speed with the Supreme Court anointment of King George Bush. According to "The Corporation" by Joel Bakan, Bush's first budget, defeated by democrats, sought to reduce staffing levels at MSHA. Then in 2003, he sought to cut $4.7 million from the agency's coal enforcement budget by reducing 65 fulltime employees, termination of the chest x-ray program to detect Black Lung. The cuts would reduce inspections, technical investigations, compliance follow-ups, education and technical assistance. The budget cuts were clearly aimed at making MSHA ineffective. Bush's 2004 budget proposed $6.3 million in cuts to coal mine safety enforcement. MSHA's Inspector General stated in 2002, "even if no cuts end up being made [due to earlier cuts], the MSHA is unable to complete mandatory inspections". The facts clearly show that events at the Sago mine go straight to the White House and to the floor of the legislature. Who bought Bush's loyalty and how? Unquestionably the Abramoff scandal and lobbying by corporate interests are directly linked to the Sago disaster. To believe that Bush and every other administration made the effort to render regulatory agencies powerless out of good conscience is just ludicrous. To believe this administration, laced with morons, fools and frauds, cares about worker safety, is naive. Where is CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, [nobody cares about FOX] and why are they not asking the critical questions?
On Jan 14, a local paper here in Illinois ran a story about a rescue team from the Viper mine who had returned home on Jan 5 traumatized by their rescue efforts at the Sago mine. Members of the team, employed by ICG have refused comments on those efforts. It appears silence by ICG miners is universal. They were scheduled to return to the Sago mine on Jan 14 to "rehabilitate the site" for reopening, even though the mine has not been deemed safe for investigators to determine the cause of the explosion. Since the tragedy at Sago, two more disasters have occurred in West Virginia coalmines. In the second, just days ago, two miners were missing but have since been found dead. An angry Governor Joe Manchin has vowed to seek legislation, but what good will it do, when enforcement agencies cannot operate and punishment is non-existent?
In this article, we have attempted to take you down that long, treacherous road from a courtroom in the 1880's to the floor of the Sago mine in West Virginia. We have overturned only a few of the stones to expose the horrors the corporation has heaped on working Americans. Make no mistake, that pathway has carried every American to tyranny and far from real democracy and freedom. Far from American values envisioned by the framers of our constitution who sought a nation conceived in liberty. The cameras are fading away like the ring of the Sago church bell amid the snowflakes that gently fell in that Appalachian valley a few weeks ago. The media has moved on leaving so many unanswered questions and little hope that coal operators will be held accountable.
Each year in America, more than 100,000 workers die from occupational injuries and diseases, yet there is no outcry, no media focus, and very little remedy. Millions of Americans go to work in fear of losing their jobs, in fear of speaking up, are spied on in and out of work, in fear of becoming injured, and fear of losing their pensions. Americans fear losing Social Security, health benefits and mounting debt. Workers fear losing jobs to immigrant labor, moving production overseas and fear government reprisal for speaking out. When fear motivates a society; that is terrorism! What can we expect when our government has become a government of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation.