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February, 2006

Coal miners' deaths: It doesn't have to be this way

By Lew Rosenbaum

Randal McCloy was trapped, along with 12 other miners, when an explosion ripped through a mine shaft at 6:30 a.m. on January 2, 2006. Forty-one hours later, rescue workers found 12 of them dead. They found Randal McCloy still alive, but in a coma.

"Randal McCloy Sr. has no way of being sure, but he believes in his heart that his son's older colleagues shared their dwindling oxygen supplies to help him get home to his two young ones," reported the Associated Press.

"He says the men were like brothers. They took care of each other."

As this is written, the younger McCloy remains in a coma.

This happened in a mine noted for its safety violations. Ken Ward, in the Charleston (W. Virginia) Gazette, wrote, "In 2004, the Sago Mine reported an injury rate that was three times that of similar-size underground mines across the country." He also reported that "last year, the Anker West Virginia Mining Co. operation was fined more than $24,000 for about 200 alleged violations, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data.

"During the last six months of 2005, the Sago Mine reported a dozen accidental roof falls, according to MSHA records."

Mining is one of the most dangerous jobs. When corporations like ICG (International Coal Group, which bought the Sago mine in November, 2005) stress how safety conditions have improved in the last six months, they cover up how dangerous it remains, throughout the coal fields and in this mine in particular. Their claim makes it appear as though adequate safety precautions are not necessary. Even so, the workers know about the danger. Their pay is good, sometimes the only thing available. Some families are miners for generations. Some, like Terry Helms, send their children away rather than see them toil and die in the mines.

Once underground, though, "two miles inside the mountain, it was like family." They took care of each other.

There's a lesson to be learned here. With so many people without health insurance, without jobs, without recourse to decent housing or education, our whole society mirrors what it's like underground, two miles inside the mountain, explosions going off every day.

It doesn't have to be this way. Not if our "family" gets together to "take care of each other." Our family includes all the unemployed, underemployed, and fearing to be downsized out of employment. Our family includes all those for whom our lack of health care provides no solution to illness or accident. If our family works together, we can force our reluctant government to accept its responsibility for the welfare of its people. We can make a safe, healthy and just world a reality.


This article originated in the People's Tribune
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