The Spark

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

Families revolt as Chinese miners drown

Sep 10, 2007

In August, 181 miners drowned underground following torrential rains in eastern China. TV images showed the failed rescue attempt launched with pumps that couldn’t handle removing thousands of gallons of water from the mine.

Anger exploded when the local authorities refused to give the families of the miners information and a rumor spread that rescue operations would be stopped. Family and friends of the trapped miners attacked the buildings of the mine company, armed only with sticks and stones. They also clashed with local police forces called in against them.

A few hours before the catastrophe, miners had warned management that water was rising and that some tunnels were already inundated. But management did not want to stop production.

The Chinese government, showing which side it took, spoke about a “natural disaster,” and refused to pay any compensation to the victims.

Mine accidents in China have been a daily occurrence for a number of years. In the first quarter of 2007, according to official statistics that probably underestimate the reality, at least 1792 people died in coal mining accidents.

Most of these accidents took place in small private mines employing between 10 and 30 miners.

These mines, given to private owners by the government in the 1990s, often hired workers from the poorest part of rural areas. They work 10 hours a day, without health coverage or any kind of pension. If they refuse to go into a dangerous situation, they can be fired. Unions are still trying to gain a foothold in these mines.

The Chinese government turns a blind eye to work and safety violations. Tens of thousands of these small mines were supposed to have been shut down over the last two years. Instead many stayed open and others opened, even clandestinely. Their unscrupulous owners bribe the authorities and the local politicians, who are often stockholders of the mines in their region.

In the West there is much talk about the development of capitalism in China. This development has profited, above all, the large corporations of the imperialist countries. Meanwhile the Chinese workers live and work under conditions as bad as those suffered by miners in the 19th century American West.