Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
George W Bush is constantly making dire pronouncements about the "terrorist threat". In fact, presumably on the advice of his retinue of spin doctors, desperate to find a way to polish his image, he has made championing the need to "wage war" against terrorism the leit-motiv of his Presidency (so much more acceptable than fraudulent voting, the other thing he's famous for). It's all a sort of sick joke, of course, considering the way Bush's Administration eagerly engages in terrorist actions against foreign countries from Colombia to Central Africa, and Cuba to the Middle East. In the name of countering terrorism and other "threats to democracy", the USA trains, funds and directs the most brutal and murderous elements of anti-popular regimes in Latin America, the Middle East and other parts of the world. Death squads and torturers trained at the US Army's School of the Americas are a key element in the state terrorism perpetrated by a whole raft of reactionary regimes. But deaths at the hands of terrorists are not the only mass killings the Bush White House is concerned about. Dear me, no. In the US itself, 1,000 coal miners are killed every year by black lung disease, the result of working in mines thick with unfiltered coal dust. In the richest country on Earth, you would think they would be able to create safer working conditions than that, wouldn't you? Back in 1969 they tried to, with the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, otherwise known as the Black Lung Bill. This mandated 34 coal dust tests per year per mine. But we are talking about coal mining, that means West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and Indiana where the private mine owners regard their employees as serfs and unionists as enemy troops. Strikes there have more than once developed into a type of civil war as the mine owners' unleashed hired gun-toting thugs against the miners, who not unnaturally armed themselves in self-defence. Notice the more or less identical tactics of the mine owners and the US government over the years: death squads and terrorism. Coincidence, do you think? Not that the Black Lung Bill could have seriously inconvenienced the miner owners: in the typical manner of "self regulating" US capitalism, the mine operators do the testing for dust themselves. According to the US Communist Party's newspaper People's Weekly World, "a 1998 Louisville Courier-Journal series exposed widespread fraud, scams and scandals in coal dust testing conducted by the mine owners. "After interviewing 255 working and retired miners and studying seven million government documents, the newspaper concluded that the tests were tainted and that enforcement of standards was lax. Inspections were botched, with 11 inspectors convicted of taking bribes." Significantly, "dust inspections were more accurate in union mines than non-union mines". People's Weekly World reported that "in an interview, the safety director of Shamrock Mining, one of the largest companies in the country, said, 'The health of the men never entered into it. Controlling the dust just wasn't part of the calculation. Production is number one.'" You can't say he wasn't being frank! But why bother with graft and corruption when you can get out of testing altogether? By sheer coincidence, the Bush administration, the bosses' friend, is proposing a Federal takeover of dust testing. In other hands that could be a good thing, but not under this administration. The miners' union, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), doctors and even some mine operators support the use of a new continuous dust sampling device developed by the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety. The Bush White House spurns such molly coddling and instead proposes to dramatically loosen the standards for conducting the tests, cutting the number of tests at some mines from the hitherto mandatory 34 tests per year to just six or even three! "Miners would breathe more dust under this rule", says Joseph Main, director of the UMWA's safety and health department. So men's lives are at stake? In a time of high unemployment, you can always get more miners. Bush's intention to do the right thing by mine owners at the expense of the miners was signalled last year when he appointed David Lauriski Assistant Labor Secretary for mine health and safety. Lauriski was a coal company executive for 30 years. He'd know all about working conditions at the coal face, eh? Probably never got coal dust on his hands let alone up his nose and into his lungs. The new regulations "show the complete disregard that David Lauriski and the Bush administration have for miners and working people in general", said Joe Carter, a UMWA official in Charleston, West Virginia. Or, to put it another way, workers in the USA today are expected to work harder and longer for less pay and at risk of their health and safety. To force them to accept this they are to be subjected to a form of corporate terrorism, carried out by the leader of the bogus "war on terrorism", George W Bush.