The above title is the only conceivable way I can think of to convey the essence of what transpired at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia last week. I just hope the headline changes to "Will Stand Trial for Murder" in the weeks to come.
Don Blankenship of Massey Energy, the owner of the West Virginia mine has the blood of those dead workers on his hands. Why? Because he has long valued profits over people’s lives. He has made it his mission to break the unions over the years, so he can bolster his bottom line.
In fact, since 2000, sixteen other people have lost their lives on Massey Energy properties. Blankenship has flouted safety over the years to the tune of millions of dollars in fines, and has settled suits with the families of dead miners for untold millions.
Last year there were more than 450 safety violations at the Upper Big Branch Mine alone. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited Massey more than 50 times last month at the site for safety violations, including seven times for failing to follow and maintain a mine-ventilation plan. Mining experts have been all over the news recently. When asked if these unsafe conditions and safety violations are the norm in the industry, each has said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Not on a union mine.”
A non-union mine operator flouts safety, resists unions and regulators at every turn, and in the process is simultaneously the most profitable and dangerous mine operator in the country. What is wrong with this picture? If you say “nothing,” you have no soul.
Union mines have virtually no safety violations, because with the protection of a union contract, miners aren’t afraid to speak up when safety is compromised, and union mines typically have active safety committees and a bonafide culture of safety to boot.
So when people try to criticize unions for ruining businesses, or characterize union leaders as only interested in collecting more dues money rather than serving their own members, it sickens me. Try telling that to the grieving families of those lost miners.
Many of those who proffer these criticisms do so as the lap dog of big corporate industry, often being used without even knowing it, citing statistics that are questionable at best in terms of unions impacts on businesses, or on thuggery taking place at the hands of “union bosses.” Most of the statistics that are used to deride unions come from places like the corporate sponsored Heritage Foundation, or Richard Berman’s slimy operation, unionfacts.com. Berman was exposed as “Dr. Evil” on 60 minutes a few years back with his attacks on unions, anti-tobacco groups, and even Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). He is financed by corporations he won’t name. He makes me puke.
The mining industry has been notorious over the years for their violent attacks using hired guns to kill striking workers: “the Battle of Blair Mountain,” “the Matewan Massacre,” “the Ludlow Massacre,” and “Bloody Mingo,” to name but a few. Corruption, violence and murder marked these events and from the ashes and the blood of patriots rose laws which nurtured the formation of a budding middle class and gave rise to safety protections we have all taken for granted over the years in our country.
And now, its like we are hitting the rewind button, turning back to a bitter page of our history because of a rampant culture of corporate welfare over the past few decades; threatening to make all the efforts of those miners who fought and died for justice at work, in vein.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has become a mockery with its inability to stand up for the rights of workers who seek protections under the law that was created to protect us from corporate thugs like Don Blankenship. I applaud President Obama’s bold appointment of labor friendly folks like Craig Becker to the NLRB and make no apologies in wanting to see an NLRB that works more for workers and less for corporations, which has become the sad but true reality.
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) rose to power partly because of their willingness to militantly take on the violent coal barons of their day. They didn’t always succeed against their well-financed and well-armed opposition. But they stood strong and gave their blood for generations of working Americans they would never know.
And today, there exists fear among the working class with a shaky economy, jobs hemorrhaged and lost overseas from the bidding of these same corporate overlords. The fear is real and the bosses of Fox News and their ilk are trying to redirect that anger and fear back at the Obama administration, in one of the most flagrant displays of hypocrisy in American history. And too many people are falling for it.
The irony is that the efforts of the Obama administration to take on big business, Wall Street, the health care industry, the banking industry and others is exactly what we need to restore more fairness and balance in what is truly a rigged game right now.
But the corporate spinsters, the root of this economic evil, don’t want the American people focusing their anger on them. Instead, they invest in a good looking woman, an Alaskan (I’m embarrassed to say) who is not the brightest bulb in the box, to do their dirty work for them. And the gullible among us fall for it hook, line, and sinker.
Don Blankenship of Massey Energy is the perfect example of corporate hypocrisy. He should be tried and convicted for these most recent 29 murders. When will enough be enough America?
It is high time the American people shake the cob webs off, look back at their history to help tighten that focus on who the real enemy is, and remember those immortal words of Mother Jones: “Mourn for the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”