Sunday, August 07, 2005


By Elaine Meinel Supkis

When large number of people die in the two Chinas as well as India, it makes barely a ripple over here. Not one but two typhoons have slammed directly into Taiwan and then China. Tremendous rain fall in India killed many, too.

But this isn't the only deaths we ignore. Every week, there is some coal mining disaster or another that gets dutifully reported in Xinhuanet, for example. The need for coal is intense and just like 100 years ago in America, the death toll mining this precious fossil fuel mounts ever higher.

From Xinhuanet:
Top Chinese leaders have showed enormous concern over the coal mine flood which trapped 102 miners at the Daxing Coal Mine in southern China's Guangdong Province on Sunday afternoon, according to official sources.

Shortly after the accident occurred, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao gave important instructions to urge the local government and departments concerned to "take substantial steps and spare no efforts" to save the trapped miners.

Zhang Dejiang, secretary of Guangdong provincial committee of the Communist Party of China and Hua Jianmin State Councilor and Secretary-General of the State Council, also ordered rescuers to try every means to minimize the number of casualties.

The accident occurred at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in a private coal mine named of Daxing, which is located at the Wanghuai Town of Meizhou City.
There is rising anxiety and rage over these privately owned mines and the lack of safety. This matter has finally come to the collective attention of the Ruling Party High Rank Officers, even Hu and Wen are pausing in their games with the American capitalists and their bag men, the Republican Party. This is serious enough to stir sentiment at the highest levels, for worry over what the restive workers might do such as organize, causes real fear.

From US Department of Labor:

Fatalities and Injuries for All Mining (Coal & Noncoal)

Year Average Annual
Deaths Average Annual
1936-1940 1,546 81,342
1941-1945 1,592 82,825
1946-1950 1,054 63,367
1951-1955 690 38,510
1956-1960 550 28,805
1961-1965 449 23,204
1966-1970 426 22,435
1971-1975 322 33,963
1976-1980 254 41,220
1981-1985 174 24,290
1986-1990 122 27,524
1991-1999 93 21,351
Thanks to Joe Hill" and a host of miners defying the powers that be and the political structure to build real unions that changed mining so that it is now much safer. But this change also comes with a high price tag.

For example, now that miners are "expensive," they are being dropped rapidly. The methods used to mine for coal in America now mirror copper mining, namely, removal of the hills and valleys and extracting the coal from the mass of earth which is vastly redesigning the mountain ranges were most of the coal is found in folds in the earth.

Coal mining has been dropping in developed lands and rising in places like China where conditions are very similar to here at the turn of the 19th century.

fFrom Coal Mining in Perryopolis
The history of Perryopolis wouldn't be complete without a reference to coal mining. Although Perryopolis itself is not a “company town” -- a town built and owned by a coal company to house miners and their families close to the mines -- there were coal mines in and around town, and Perryopolis is surrounded by coal mining towns and patches. Star Junction, Victoria, Sweetcake, Panicktown, Whitsett, and Wickhaven were all coal mining towns or patches.

The coal companies owned the stores in which miners shopped, and these stores sold just about everything the miners needed, from food to clothing to coal itself to heat the miner’s houses. The miners also liked to shop elsewhere when they could, and Perryopolis businesses benefited considerably from the local coal industry from the middle of the 19th century until the 1950’s.

Many Perryopolis residents are retired miners, and many more are the sons and daughters of coal miners. All of the photographs on this page were made at Southwestern Pennsylvania mines. Although it is not known at which mines most of the photographs were made, the first photo shows Colonial 3 mine at Rowes Run, near Gridstone, in 1937. The enormous slate dump from this mine still stands alongside the Grindstone-Brownsville road. Your webmaster’s father, Louis Earl Illig, and many other Perry-area men worked in this mine. Colonial 3 closed in the late 1950’s.

The dramatically successful rescue of nine miners who were trapped underground by a flood in Somerset County in July, 2002, serves as a reminder that coal mining is still very much a part of life in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and that the men who go into the mines to bring out the coal are still brave men, though they would never say so.
I remember that mine accident. The men managed to stay alive until rescued. Their lives have been very difficult since then because this sort of thing plus the media attention can be very difficult to handle (one committed suicide, I believe).

What does all this have to do with us?

Take a good look at many things we now buy so cheaply. Just consider things made out of steel. The wrench in my photograph is a 24" adjustable made in China. The steel had to be either smelted or reshaped after being heated and the chances of this process being accomplished by burning coal is extremely high. The reason why, up until recently, our steel mills were mostly in places like Pittsburgh, for example, was due entirely to the proximity of coal. I believe that virtually no other fuel is used to smelt ores or melt steel. Aluminum is made using electricity which is why it is close to hydrolic dams, for example.

When we buy our cheap steel products, we are playing a time warp game. Spending modern money for Victorian era goods, namely, the working conditions of the labor is way out of whack with our own conditions. We benefit from the oppression and suffering of the Chinese people as they toil in dangerous, dark conditions while we gobble up energy creating comfort zones of vast proportions. We buy airconditioners made in China as well as many tools and other necessities. We rejoice in the cheap cost of that microwave but the steel case was made at a dear price, literally, in blood.

The fiction that America has nothing to do with the dire working conditions of all the Dickensinian Free Trade Flat Earth New World Order is something we created because we really don't want to change anything at all since this would cut into the profits of many people who want to live in a comfort zone. The Victorians, perforce, had to live cheek to jowl with their workers because of transportation difficulties and primative communication systems. So the Steel Lords of Pittburgh lived within a spitting distance of the steel mills that belched pollution and kiled workers. They couldn't hide so they created other means of hiding like thick curtains, literally, shutting out the mess outside.

The heavy hangings over the windows of the rich during this era is rather amusing. Today, they can park their asses where ever they want and breathe clean air and be bissfully ignorant of the mess they stand upon for it is banished, far, far away.

It doesn't even rate a small headline in the New York Times which prefers, just like the Victorians, to fulimate about tribal warfare in Africa and egg on imperial troops invading far lands. Some day, troops of workers might invade. This happens, you know.

The Maoist victory in China wasn't spearheaded by workers.

The next wave just might be that.

UPDATE: Looks like this is the straw breaking the Chinese laborer's back. Not only is the entire government taking measures now, the news is big news in China and for the first time, they are allowing pictures of the disaster to appear in public. This seems to me to be a signal from the ruling committee that it is time to fix the problems.

Pictures here

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