The Spark

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

Tenacity, solidarity and skill of the miners faced with awful safety and rescue conditions

Aug 12, 2002

There was a huge sigh of relief throughout the country as the nine miners trapped in a flooded mine for three days were rescued in Somerset, Pennsylvania. Through television, we were all able to witness the tremendous human dramas both deep below and above the earth.

There were the nine trapped miners, who tied themselves together and shared their little bit of food, while they struggled to breathe and stay warm and affirmed their solidarity in sharing their uncertain fate, to either live together or die together. At the surface of the mine, there were their comrades, using all their ingenuity, skill and acumen, rushing to save them. They first drilled a small hole to provide warm air and air pressure to keep the water from completely flooding the small air pocket. Then they drilled a bigger hole to the spot at which they could only guess where the miners were trapped.

But what has been little discussed has been the circumstances behind the accident and the rescue operation.

Certainly, this accident never should have happened. The entire region is honeycombed with old, abandoned and flooded mines. Accurate maps, and modern seismic and geological techniques that oil companies use to find oil deep underground, are essential so the miners know where they are digging. But none of this was provided by the company – obviously so that they could save a lot of money. This left the miners operating blind. As a result, they accidentally broke through to a neighboring mine, abandoned for 50 years, that was flooded with ground water. The maps said that this mine should have been 300 feet away. But once the miners broke through, some 50 million gallons of water poured into their mine, sending the men running for an air pocket 240 feet below the surface.

Once the rescue operation began, it was obvious that there was no emergency digging equipment anywhere near the mine, obviously to save more money for the mine owners. A drill bit had to be trucked hundreds of miles from West Virginia. Of course, the mine owners or their managers tried to save a bit more money by not shipping two drill bits at the same time. So, after the first drill bit broke, there was another potentially critical 18 hour delay until a new drill was brought in.

Eight days after the rescue operation, President Bush had the miners sent over to the White House so that he could draw a little political capital for his own purposes. With the miners present, he gave a patriotic spin to the entire ordeal by claiming that the miners represent “the spirit of America”– as if the accident illustrated that everyone in this country is one big happy family and has the same interests.

In fact, the accident and rescue operation prove the exact opposite. It shows that the mine owners, who tried to save money at every turn at the expense of mine safety, have the exact opposite interests of the miners. The nine miners are alive today due to the actions they took underground and the actions of other miners in the rescue efforts, not because of state officials and the mining companies.