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Dead Peasants

April 11, 2010

29 lives.

That was the cost for Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, to keep running coal. Coal pays the bills at Massey, not coal miners. They’re just cogs in the machine. When the machine blows the cogs out, you replace them and turn the machine back on. It really is that simple. When Don Blankenship looks at his workers, he does not see human beings, he sees peasants that are only there to run coal and are nothing more than a cost to be cut.

29 lives at Upper Big Branch.

12 lives at Sago.

2 lives at Aracoma.

“If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e., build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever), you need to ignore them and run coal,” said the memo, a copy of which was obtained from Bruce E. Stanley, a lawyer who represented the widows of the victims of the Aracoma mine fire. “This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills“.

Actual memo (PDF)

Coal miners cost money, coal pays the bills.  Bills for the $2.2 million in fines for over 3000 safety violations at Upper Big Branch since 1995.  Bills for the legal costs of contesting $1,128,833.00 of safety violation fines. Bills for the $3 million spent to buy Don’s own personal Judge on the West Virginia Supreme Court.  Bills for a trip to the Monte Carlo with the state’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliott “Spike” Maynard while a $77 million lawsuit was pending before the court.  Bills for over $6 million trying to buy the West Virgina state government for the Republican party.  I guess you have to have priorities when you’re running a business.

Non-union miners are playing russian roulette with their own lives, and any miner who votes for a conservative is cutting his own throat.  Union mines are safer mines, period.  The anti-union actions taken by conservative politicians and big business have directly contributed to hundreds, if not thousands of deaths over the last three decades.  Without strong labor organizations and regulation enforcement conducted on-site by union officials, these mines are death traps.  How many will die in the next catastrophe, or the next?  How many will it take before action is taken.  Organize and Unionize, that’s the only way to push back, or just wait in line to die for company profits.

Don Blankenship has run his coal empire like a feudal lord, and in that spirit he has treated those brave men in his employ like serfs working for his own enrichment and power.  The Blankenships of the world see our laws and regulations as quaint at best, and as a threat to their power and profit if they require even the barest of expenditures on safety and environmental protection.  Men like Don Blankenship will spend millions to fight against safety and environmental regulations, millions paid for in blood by his workers and the surrounding communities, without even a second thought.  Until we hold these criminals accountable for their crimes they will continue, and lives will be lost.

But hey, what’s a few hundred more dead peasants?

P. S.

Mine War on Blackberry Creek

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