The Spark

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

Black lung widows march for benefits won in strikes decades ago

Apr 1, 2002

Widows of coal miners who have died from black lung disease are marching from West Virginia, through Pennsylvania and then to Washington. They are demanding that miners and their widows’ receive black lung benefits that miners fought for and won over 30 years ago.

Black lung disease is caused by breathing coal dust. It reduces lung functioning and eventually can cause death. It is estimated that 1,500 miners die every year from the disease. There are now about 80,000 miners or widows who receive black lung benefits.

There is no cure for black lung, but it can be prevented by proper use of methods to limit the amount of coal dust in the air in mines. But this is what the mine owners don’t do.

In a series of strikes starting in 1969, coal miners forced the government and the coal bosses to recognize black lung as an occupational disease. A government fund, financed by taxes on the coal companies, was set up to pay miners’ retirement benefits if they were disabled by black lung disease. These benefits were also extended to the widows of miners who died from black lung. But almost as soon as the miners’ movement receded, the government began to add new regulations for qualifying. Today only seven out of every 100 who apply qualify.

Some small improvements in the regulations were scheduled to go into effect on January 19, 2001. This would have increased the number qualifying for benefits up to an estimated... 12 of every 100. However, the bosses’ National Mining Association with the support of the U.S. Department of Labor went to court and got an order stopping the implementation of even these measly improvements.

This was the final straw that convinced the miners’ widows that they must march. They are planning to rally in Washington on April 15.

The National Black Lung Association is asking supporters to help by joining the march or contributing money for the expenses of the walkers. Donations for the walk can be sent to the NBLA, c/o Tom Ellis, Box 632, Royalton, Illinois 62983. A web page with reports on the walkers is also available at www.knowareland.com.