Thursday, January 05, 2006

This West Virginia tragedy underlines a sad fact: miners are killed every year in accidents. Republicans wonder why we insist so strongly on corporate regulation and workplace safety. And there can be no doubt that mining -- like many blue collar, hard hat industries -- could be done more safely. It would just cost more.

Corporate profits are passed up the executive chain every day in this country; profits made on the backs of the hard-working who give up their bodies, and virtually all of their waking hours. They risk their health and their very lives doing work that seems to most of us unimaginably demanding. And all for a paycheck that just gets their families by in some of the poorest areas of the country.

So, in a sane world, those workers and their families would find a concerned protecting partner in the corporation that squeezes so much out of them and gives them so little in return. But of course that's not the case in ours. And so who do we count on to hold their feet to the fire? Who has the power to require the kind of corporate responsibility that is worthy of the dedicated workers, the calloused hands, and the grizzled faces whose anguish is now all over our TV screens? The damned federal government, that's who. (that's right, I'm pissed)

And here's the kind of government you get when you elect Republicans to control congress and the White House for most of the last ten years (my emph.):
Sago Mine was cited for repeated safety violations over the past two years, including multiple citations for inadequate ventilation and failure to fully secure the mine against a roof collapse. The Mine Safety and Health Administration issued a total of 208 citations for alleged violations at the site last year, up from 68 in 2004.

Most of the citations were issued before the current owners took over the mine in November, but International Coal Group Inc. was cited by the federal government three times in five days in December for allowing flammable coal dust to collect in a work area. Those citations were among 17 issued last year at the mine for "accumulation of combustible materials." Anker West Virginia was the former owner.

The violations last year have drawn total fines of $24,000, with scores of penalties for the minimum of $60.
Under Bush, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has worked more closely with mine owners than under previous presidents, according to union officials. The government has formed formal "partnerships" between companies and agency officials and is shying away from imposing heavy fines and sanctions, said Phil Smith, a spokesman for United Mine Workers of America.

"They've gone from being an agency that enforces the regulations and puts penalties in, to something that's a lot more almost touchy-feely," Smith said.
J. Davitt McAteer, a mine safety specialist who was President Clinton's assistant labor secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said there has been a major shift from enforcement to cooperation under the Bush's administration.

"I'm not opposed to cooperation, but I'd suggest to you that -- much like the need for highway patrols -- you have to have enforcement for the laws to be followed," McAteer said.
Of course there's no way to eliminate all danger from work like that. But those that risk their butts for a company should be better paid, better supported and better protected. And while companies like this one are great at endearing themselves to the community that keeps them afloat, their true mission is making money, and no amount is too much to make.

The balance we have for this unhealthy system is called regulation. Republicans have not only run away from that responsibilty, they've made it a dirty word. And they've convinced an entire generation of the white working poor that love of God and country binds them to the GOP. They've convinced them that expecting the government to have as a priority their protection from corporate exploitation is a sign of personal weakness and lack of character. Meanwhile, our government cuddles up to another industry; a heavily cited, but lightly fined company continues practically unchecked, and another handful of hard-working, soot-stained faces streak with tears, huddled in their community church, clutching the families of fallen colleagues, asking God -- of all people -- why.

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