1978.02.10: Miners Fighting for Safety (News Record, University of Cincinnati)

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News Record [University of Cincinnati]
February 10, 1978

Miners Fighting for Safety
Michael Letwin

The UC administration has issued strict orders this week to cut down on energy use. The result has been a partially functioning university in which we are hard pressed to find an operating xerox machine, or a clearly lit hallway. And who, are we told, is responsible for this decreed tightening of the belt? Why, “the greedy miners,” of course.

It is this underlying assumption that has led the University administration to tell us to play a role in something larger than they readily admit to: the defeat of the coal miner’s strike.

It is hard to see how anyone familiar with the miner’s strike could be willing to help defeat it, for the issues of the strike amount to the right of miners, and indeed of all workers, to organize in defense of themselves. And it is hard to find a group of workers more in need of constant militant union protection than the miners.

First among the miner’s strike is their very right to strike. This is a right that is a life and death question for workers in an industry where systematic maiming and death of workers is a daily occurrence.

Between 1890 and 1970, 111,501 miners were killed on the job. Literally millions have been seriously injured. Hundreds of thousands of others have had their lives destroyed by the black lung disease, contracted from long years of work in the unsafe coal mines. This year, more than 100 more miners will die on their jobs.

The mines don’t have to be deathtraps. The technology exists to make mining relatively safe. The reason they’re not safe is because the major oil and utility companies who own the coal mines refuse to dip into their outrageously high profits to pay for safety.

Instead, they press for every ounce of coal they can get at the cheapest price possible which means little or no regard for the health and safety of the miners. Capitalism again demonstrates its concern for human life.

In the meantime, the miners are not prepared to watch their lives be destroyed. Their only defense is to refuse to work in mines they find to be unsafe; to strike, with or without the official consent of the union leadership.

It is this policy that has caused the mine bosses to demand that the new contract provide that any workers conducting a strike without union recognition, a wildcat strike, be allowed to be fired.

To give up this right to strike, official or unofficial, would mean the death of the United Mine Workers Union, the only instrument of protection that the miners hold between themselves and the coal bosses greed.

There are secondary issues in the strike which are also important. The miners [union] insists on full and guaranteed health and pension benefits for its members and retired miners. In addition, the miners have asked for higher wages.

The miners should fight for whatever they can get, without any apologies. They must to survive. It is the refusal of the coal bosses to provide the most basic semblance of a decent life for those who have made
them rich that is responsible for this strike, the miners have acted only in self defense.

If the coal bosses were interested in ending the strike, they would have settled when they had large supplies of coal stockpiled. But stockpiling bought them time to prolong the strike and to starve out and “discipline” the miners.

Now all of a sudden, they’re “concerned” about the public’s comfort and they have launched a campaign with the aid of government officials and the biased media to portray the miners as greedy and thoroughly unreasonable people who are making the rest of us suffer.

But the miners aren’t buying it; they have too rnuch at stake. There is every liklihood that the contract being advocated by the miners’ leadership will be rejected as inadequate by the miners themselves.

The miners deserve our support, not our opposition, particularly if the strike continues. Their defeat would set the defeat for workers everywhere. At UC, this means refusing to play a role in reducing energy use, a policy which only aids the coal bosses in holding out even longer. The policy of the UC administration isn’t neutrality in the strike, it`s strikebearing, better known as scabbing.

Let’s help end the strike in a victory for the miners. Put pressure on the coal bosses to settle by continuing to use energy at UC and through giving the miners our active support.

Lelwin is a member of the International Socialist Organization.

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