Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Columnist: Decline of union mines underplayed in mainstream reporting on W.Va. disaster

Union organizing in Appalachian coal mines had a long and bloody history, and its most recent (and final?) chapter may be linked to the explosion that killed 29 West Virginia miners at a nonunion Massey Energy mine week. "Union-busting's role in enabling such calamities to continue just isn't part of the official discourse in Washington now," Art Levine writes for the liberally leaning Truthout. "No matter that Massey's anti-union campaign in the 1980s helped lead to the weakening of the United Mine Workers, which once was one of the nation's strongest, most effective unions, representing nearly 90 percent of the nation's 400,000 mine workers in the 1960s, but now represents less than a third of the remaining 100,000 or so coal miners."

Levine points to the lack of unionized mines as one reason "unsafe, deadly conditions" continue. "What unions mean, particularly in dangerous profession like mining, is that they give workers protection and the leverage of a working group with management to vocalize and bring forward concerns about safety without fear of retribution," Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights at Work, told Levine. "In the absence of a union, in hard economic times, workers feel more vulnerable about losing their jobs and less confident about expressing their concerns about safety."

Despite clear evidence that union mines have better safety records than non-union ones, the national mainstream media hasn't picked up on this element of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster story, Levine complains. Instead, "Political leaders and media outlets that morbidly romanticize the courage of rural mine workers for working in an industry known for its risks are also in some ways promoting the view that mine disasters are as unavoidable as natural disasters," he writes. (Read more)

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