No doubt you’ve heard the annual claims of a “war on Christmas” touted by the right wing punditocracy as a means to use hyperbolic rants to smear the left. But now there’s a real war against not just another holiday, but the entire movement for which it stands
To kick it off, back in 2009 former Massey Energy’s former CEO Don Blankenship hosted what he called his Labor Day rally to preserve American jobs in West Virginia’s southern coal fields. It wasn’t just a sick joke, it was his full out declaration of war against the UMW and all the families who happen to be squatting on top of his precious mineral rights.
Not too long prior to that, Massey Energy was publicly taken to task by United Mine Worker’s president Cecil Roberts for trying to get English language standards relaxed so that Mexican immigrants could pass mine certification. He was doing it to specifically keep his company’s wage expenses low. And apparently, it wasn’t the first time they’d tried it.
In 2001, a labor broker came to the mining board with a request to import 1,000 Mexican and Chilean workers for two unnamed coal companies. source
CEO Blankenship could very well be the most anti-labor person on the face of the planet. If being anti-Labor weren’t in his DNA, then why else would a man who reportedly rakes in just under $20 million per year have hired a team of corporate lawyers (Charles Woody, Eric Kinder and Jeffrey Foster, of Spilman Thomas and Battle in Charleston) to beat his ex-maid out of her well-deserved unemployment benefits?
Long ago, America’s most popular poet predicted where most all of us might be if it weren’t for the American Labor movement.
You live in a company house
You go to a company school
You work for this company,
according to the company rules.
You all drink company water
and all use company lights,
The company preacher teaches us
What the company thinks is right.
The U.S. Labor movement is so important that the first Monday of every September
is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. source
West Virginia has played a very important role in helping to establish the very roots of organized U.S. labor. Most significantly, our state’s impact in the development of the UMWA and the AFL-CIO is due to our coal, steel and the railroad. As America’s labor force has grown strong, so grew her middle class, as well as West Virginia’s economy. World famous labor leaders such as John L. Lewis, Mother Jones, and Joe Hill each came here to take part in a long and violent struggle which resulted in better pay and working conditions for most all American workers.
Despite the threat of physical harm and economic ruin, miners have constantly struggled against great odds to achieve their goals: the eight-hour day in 1898, collective bargaining rights in 1933, health and retirement benefits in 1946, and health and safety protections in 1969. source
Native West Virginian Bill Blizzard was indicted along with 52 other men for “treason against the State”, even though the mobilization of his “Red Neck Army” from Marmet, WV to the historic Battle of Blair Mountain wasn’t against the state at all, but the coal companies. Yet the state of West Virginia was so controlled by the mine operators that they actually paid for the lawyers that prosecuted the miners. In contrast, neither coal operator Quin Morton nor paid mercenary Bonner Hill was ever arrested for the murder of Cesco Estep by their bloody Bullmoose Special at Holly Grove, WV. And not one of Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin’s mercenaries, which had been hired by the Logan County Coal Operators Association were ever prosecuted for killing and maiming miners on Blair Mountain. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
During the war (WWI) some mine operators were making up to 600% profit from coal sales and all the while the federal government required a no-strike agreement for the duration of the war. The sudden change in economic conditions had to have been a shock to mine operators.
Coal operators laid off miners and attempted to reduce wages to pre-war levels. In response to the 1912-13 strike, coal operators’ associations in southern West Virginia had strengthened their system for combating labor. By 1919, the largest non-unionized coal region in the eastern United States consisted of Logan and Mingo Counties. source
President Eisenhower, the last decent elected Republican president recognized:
“Labor is the United States. The men and women, who with their minds, their hearts and hands, create the wealth that is shared in this country–they are America.”
SURFACE MINING KILLS JOBS
According to one prominent Appalachian Regional Commission report not too long ago, employment in the mining industry is one of the best predictors of poverty and other elements of “economic distress” in Central Appalachia. Here’s an excerpt from that study:
“Of all the regions in this analysis, Central Appalachia has been one of the poorest performers in relation to the ARC’s economic distress measure over time. Furthermore, and unlike all other regions in the U.S., current and persistent economic distress within the Central Appalachian Region has been associated with employment in the mining industry, particularly coal mining.”
The study perhaps most notably stated,
“The counties that have emerged from distress in the region have consistently had fewer jobs in mining and a greater number of jobs in manufacturing when compared to the counties that have remained persistently distressed.” source
According the WV State Journal, the Friends of America Rally held its Labor Day music festival on a reclaimed mining site in Mingo County, even though it had been touted on the rally planner’s website as being held near Holden, in Logan county WV. So just why would Donald Blankenship want to obscure that it was being held in Donald Blankenship’s birthplace county? Could it be because Blankenship doesn’t want any light shed on the fact that Mingo’s citizens have been petitioning for long-needed raises on behalf of their teachers in vain? It is certainly curious that Mingo county’s largest publication, the Williamson Daily News, recently eliminated that same article from its website (evidenced by the byline on the Gilbert article). And what about the fact that the Mingo County school board has been seized not once, but twice, “as a result of budget deficits“?
Someone should ask Don Blankenship why Mingo’s schools have been constantly underfunded for years when his nearby coal prep plant processes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coal mined yearly from that district.
Mingo County is one of the poorest counties in the United States.
“The median income for a household in the county was $21,347, and the median income for a family was $26,581. Males had a median income of $31,660 versus $18,038 for females. The per capita income for the county was $12,445. About 25.90% of families and 29.70% of the population were below the poverty line, including 38.90% of those under age 18 and 18.60% of those age 65 or over.”source
The U.S. average is $41,994.
They’re having a tough time keping qualified teachers even as the trains run on time to sending out massive amounts of coal.
One area resident has claimed on her website that Mingo County is the only place where the snow is black even as it comes down. The coal dust and truck traffic have made her ashamed of where she has lived her entire life. Recently, a sister she hadn’t seen for 38 years planned a visit but the reunion never happened because the road was too dangerous and the community too dirty. source
One might think that the connection between coal mining and poverty couldn’t be any clearer to our political leaders. Yet when confronted with the facts,, our most prominent politicians recently used some of the most eloquent weasel words ever uttered to defend the surface mining industry’s spectacularly poor labor record.
What you’ll likely never see mentioned in the local media is that by luring outsiders to his free music festival, Don Blankenship will have effectively given state lawmakers the political cover to continue falsely claiming that the coal industry is responsible for most, if not all, of West Virginia’s jobs, and continue justifying both under-taxing and under-regulating that industry.
Although prior to their rally Massey spokesman Jeff Gillenwater claimed that his Friends of Coal er (cough) “America” sponsors weren’t trying to compete with the 71st annual UMWA Labor Day rally which was just miles away in Boone county, he also claimed that there were as many as 100,000 that showed up for Massey’s doo-dah, and that Massey had hosted an earlier event at which 50,000 attended. None of KillinWater’s claims can be substantiated because none have ever been challenged by reporters, at least as far as I could tell.
For the record, Gillenwater’s “sponsors” have spent an average of $45 million per year to push the blatantly false claim that coal is clean, so I wouldn’t automatically trust anything that coal-hearted weasel has to say. Much of that was spent with the media, which could be why Jeff Gillenwater knows that he could get by with his outrageous claims unchallenged.
So instead of turning coal slurry into a resource, West Virginia politicians have let the coal industry create vast permanent toxic waste dumps called “slurry impoundments” similar to, and in some cases far larger than the ones spilled by the Tennessee Valley Authority and Massey Energy in Kentucky.
Poisoning the aquifer also effectively keeps rural property taxes and property values low so it’s far lest costly to purchase the surface rights as they run Appalachian Americans off their precious coal.
Fewer people here naturally means that coal industry lobbying dollars will have less competition when used to buy influence in the statehouse. Fewer families here means fewer students in our school system and fewer teachers to pay. Fewer families to deal with also means fewer whistle blowers, and far less spent towards maintaining or (God Forbid!) actually improving state infrastructure. This naturally means that a more tax revenues can be spent to directly subsidize the coal industry..
All this means is that the southern West Virginia coalfields are now on the verge of becoming completely uninhabitable, thanks to the coal industry’s multi-pronged assault. Aided and abetted, of course, by our extremely regressive anti-labor lawmakers.
Coaligarchy in Education
According to the WV Department of Commerce, we export more coal and coal powered electricity than any other state. Yet four out of five school districts which have been forcibly taken over by the state due to lack of funds have been in coal producing counties. When Lincoln county parents sued the state for not giving their kids a shot at a decent education due to lack of funds, the state Supreme Court was forced to wrest funding oversight from coal-fired legislators who couldn’t bring themselves to raising property taxes on coal.
Lest you begin to think that’s all past history or an isolated incident, Massey Energy’s full-time “public relations expert” Troy Andes (R-Putnam) was, at this writing, somehow able get himself appointed as House minority whip even though he’s one of the youngest lawmakers and a delegate for a relatively short time. Andes also just “happened” to be on the WV House Education Committee and Joint Standing Committee on Education, but I’d wager that it wasn’t “for the sake of the kids”. It’s far more probable that he’s been specifically positioned for his coal boss to make certain that none of his fellow lawmakers dares to suggest they increase coal property or severance taxes specifically to keep from properly pay teachers.
The coal industry has, for years, spent ever increasing amounts on WV political campaigns in addition to the $45 million per year to nationally push the myth of “clean coal”. So it’s not as if the coal industry can’t afford to pay higher taxes to properly fund WV schools. A major part of the coal industry strategy is that families will automatically migrate away from where they know the schools are severely underfunded. In effect it achieves a similar tactic of keeping small businesses from starting up where there’s no potable water and no families to serve.
For your convenience the permanent url to this piece is
"The Constitution guarantees protections to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation. The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man's making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being."