The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

727 Compensated, Tens of Thousands Dead

Sep 13, 2021

The following is a translation from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary group active in France.

On August 23, after eight years of finally successful proceedings brought by 727 still-living former miners of Charbonnages de Lorraine, the State paid them 10,000 euros for pain and suffering. Since the start of the proceedings in 2013, 320 have been recognized as victims of an occupational disease: cancer or silicosis.

The success of their action must not obscure the tragedy experienced by generations of coal miners, first exploited by private mining companies, then under the aegis of the State since what has been called the Liberation—because the State, which commanded Charbonnages de France, waged an incessant war on the miners to impose the most difficult working conditions.

The first occupational disease that decimated the miners, the one they called “the great killer,” was silicosis, caused by the absorption by underground miners of silica dust during the felling of coal without suitable protection. All the scientists who tried to establish a real census of deaths from silicosis between 1945 and the end of the 1980s came up against the code of silence imposed by Charbonnages de France and the State. Their only concern was to challenge the recognition of this occupational disease as much as possible. The rate of denial of claims has approached 40% at certain times.

Despite everything, the health professionals who carried out these multiple investigations estimate that since 1946 at least 40,000 miners, and undoubtedly many more, have died of silicosis, out of a total of 320,000 miners. That is the death rate! Moreover, requests for recognition of silicosis claims reached 7,876 in 1946, never to fall below 7,500 per year until 1958. 13% to 14% of miners were considered to have silicosis.

The anti-worker and odious behavior of the State and the Charbonnages was further illustrated when, with a view to the programmed closure of the coal mines, the French State teamed up with the Moroccan State to recruit tens of thousands of Moroccan workers and bring them down to the bottom of the wells instead of the other miners. Their working conditions were even worse than those of the comrades they replaced. Exploited, mistreated Moroccan miners, 78,000 for the wells of Nord-Pas-de-Calais alone, with their comrades from the wells of Lorraine, had to revolt and strike on several occasions to obtain a minimum of rights. But the French State, like the Moroccan State, refused the slightest recognition of the occupational diseases resulting from this overexploitation.

This is the way the great French republic treated these workers!