A major element of the latest mining tragedy in West Virginia that at latest calculation finds 29 dead 4 missing is that there have been no lasting fundamental changes in this important and highly dangerous profession.
As a consequence we see steadily unfolding tragedies such as that we are currently witnessing along with the lingering deaths of so many miners through the years from black lung disease.
The mainstream media that I have frequently attacked should be given credit for some of the quality stories unfolding concerning this tragedy. One gripping interview I saw on CNN conducted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta last night on Anderson Cooper's program was truly unforgettable.
A widow told Dr. Gupta about how her husband had died a slow and painful death from black lung disease. She related how overwhelmed she was upon observing an x-ray of her husband's badly inflated lungs from the prolonged impact of black lung disease and years of breathing coal mine dust.
I have firsthand information on the cruelty of the profession and how ruthlessly management intimidated workers to secure the highest possible profits. My grandfather was an immigrant from Eastern Europe, like a lot of his fellow miners in the small Western Pennsylvania town of Sykesville.
These men who had emigrated to a new world in hopes of achieving fresh opportunities were intimidated by their bosses. When it came to voting these new Americans, many of whom could not barely read or write in English, were intimidated by their superiors to vote a consistent Republican ticket.
They were told that their superiors had a way of knowing how they voted and that, if they did not toe an undeviating line, that their employment would be immediately terminated.
In the manner of the songs of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger in the sixties revealing the tragedy and injustice of the Vietnam War, one of the biggest selling hit songs from the mid-fifties recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford captured the tragedy and injustice of what miners like my grandfather and numerous others extending to the present endured.
The song was called "Sixteen Tons" and the final enduring lines captured the pathos of the miners' continuing struggle:
"You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
"Another day older and deeper in debt.
"St. Peter don't you call me "cause I can't go.
"I owe my soul to the company store."
Miners lived in company towns and purchased food and other goods from company stores. These stores charged usurious rates and miners were forever behind, striving to catch up, hence the line from "Sixteen Tons" about miners' souls being owed to the company store.
There was one period during what the "Hell no!" Republicans, Tea Baggers, Milton Friedman free marketers and Ayn Rand Objectivists regard as the Dark Age, the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when a spirit of cooperation existed between United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis and the nation's chief executive where safety regulations were put in place.
Meanwhile Lewis worked hard to obtain living wages for his workers, battling tenaciously against the wealthy, entrenched mining interests.
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