The Spark

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

China's miners:
More than 200 dead in a methane explosion

Feb 21, 2005

On February 14, a deadly accident in a Chinese mine officially counted 213 dead. The Sunjiawan coal mine where the explosion occurred is in one of the oldest mining regions in northeastern China. Many more miners were burnt in the explosion or poisoned by carbon monoxide.

The government says the precise cause of the catastrophe hasn't been determined. But mining conditions in China are so bad that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao officially intervened after two previous mining catastrophes. In October 2004, 148 miners were killed in an accident in Henan province, and the next month another 166 miners were killed in a mine in Shaanxi province. In January, the prime minister felt obliged to say he supported better safety conditions in the mines.

Government statistics say that 6,027 miners were killed last year. But China Labor Watch, an organization based in Hong Kong, says the true number is 20,000 deaths a year. China gets 80% of its electricity from coal. The growing demand for energy has led to a brutal exploitation of miners. Several times the government promised to shut down dangerous mines, but thousands of private mines continue to produce coal under extremely dangerous conditions. And the government-controlled mines are no safer. The recent explosion in Fuxin was in a state mine! Labor regulations in China are fictions on a piece of paper. Mine owners push speed-up on their poorly paid laborers. And the Chinese government pretends to take responsibility ... while setting a goal to reduce the number of mine deaths by ... 3%!

This is the reality behind the famous 9% a year economic growth admired by economists and envied by the western world. Just like previous centuries in industrial Europe and the U.S., it is built on hunger and blood.