The West Virginia mine tragedy, in which 12 of 13 trapped miners are now confirmed dead, reminds us that throughout the nation, and throughout our history, it is an army of anonymous laborers — not highly paid and celebrated corporate executives — who daily put life and limb at risk to keep our economy running.
While much will be written (after the fact) about the long record of safety violations at the Sago Mine, workers at even the best run mines know that they put their health and safety at risk each time they descend the shaft. The same is true in dozens of other industries and professions, from police and firefighters to commercial fishing to the pesticide laden fields of America’s farm belt.
In recent years the right has stepped up its withering attacks on organized labor, even as the union movement has continued to decline in size and influence, but it should be remembered that workers are only as safe as they are today due to decades of management’s grudging concessions to union demands, and the state and federal regulation that has resulted from union lobbying. When Republicans attack organized labor they are attacking the welfare of workers like the 12 miners who died providing the fuel that runs our factories and power plants.
I don’t want to overly politicize this tragedy, but the next time the anti-union rhetoric flies I hope we all remember who these unions represent, and the sacrifices these workers make every day.