From the July-August 2014 issue of News & Letters
by Gerry Emmett
“Johnny Miner, you were born / Never to see the rising dawn…” —Ed Pickford
On May 13, an explosion in a coal mine in Soma, Turkey, claimed the lives of 301 miners. That’s the official figure, although some think the number of dead may have been even higher. In any case, there is good reason to distrust the Turkish government.
Turkey is the most dangerous place on earth in which to be a coal miner. Last year, miners had protested poor safety conditions across the country. In 2012, 78 miners died in accidents; in 2013, 95 died. The Soma disaster is the country’s worst so far.
PROFIT IS A CRUEL GOD
The mine lacked a usable safe area, of the kind that allowed 33 Chilean miners to survive in the 2010 San Jose Mine collapse. Executives of Soma Mining have provisionally been charged with “causing multiple deaths through negligence.” The formerly publicly-owned mine had been privatized a decade ago, and its management has cut production costs from $140 to $24 per ton. This has been made easier for these capitalists by a lack of safety rules and inspections.
The free-market ideology masked as religion represented by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan showed itself in his outrageous statement that “What happened, happened. It is from God.” He added, “If you boo the Prime Minister, you get slapped.” His security guards were then filmed beating a protesting miner to the ground. Other protestors were met with tear gas and water cannons, with an unknown number being arrested—the government refused to give figures. Protests did spread to Istanbul and Ankara, connecting to the Gezi Park freedom movement.
‘FREE MARKET’ KILLS WORLDWIDE
On May 12, meanwhile, in Brody Mine No. 1 in Wharton, West Virginia, two miners were killed when the roof of the mine collapsed on them. Brody Mine had over 180 safety violations cited in the last year. The Labor Department could have taken out an injunction against the operators, but that has only ever happened once—against Massey Energy in 2010, after the Big Branch disaster that killed 29.
That is a telling example of how the ruling class will sometimes enforce public safety regulations only in order to avoid them later. While capitalism continues to exist, it will continue to destroy both workers’ lives and the earth’s environment.