I woke up to the news this morning that papers everywhere had printed that the miners in Sago, West Va. had survived the mine cave-in, despite earlier reports that the test of the air in the mine revealed that it contained almost four times the carbon monoxide that is safe to breathe. While the story of this false news bulletin reveals yet again the bad reporting skills of America's mainstream media, I still think that the issue we should be talking about is the failure of the MSHA and its connection to deregulation in general.
As the UMWA has pointed out previously, Bush appointees such as Davd G. Dye and Elaine Chao, seem to be ready to heavily regulate mine workers, who they want to test for drugs after mine accidents, rather than mine owners, who in this case, according to James Ridgeway, paid just about $24,000.00 in fines for their 200 violations of mine safety laws over the last two years.
"Confined Space" author Jonathan Barab is also writing about the disaster and notes,
The fact is that President Bush has not requested budgets for OSHA or MSHA that even keep up with the rate of inflation and mandatory pay increases over the past several years while penalties for OSHA or MSHA violations remain laughably low. The highest penalty of the more than 200 citations received last year by the Sago mine was $878. But that was the exception. Most of the others were $250 or $60. At that rate, it's hardly a good business decision to even bother fixing anything. And the administration has shut down any new worker protection standards in OSHA and MSHA.
Ridgeway also points out the ages of many of the now deceased miners, the oldest of whom was 61, and several of whom were over fifty years old. After all the pooh-poohing of the retirement age for transit work in NYC during the recent TWU strike, the ages of these men should ring some kind of bell. Why not let miners and others in dangerous work retire earlier than others, especially since these kinds of jobs often leave people with health problems that substantially reduce their life-spans?
Will the chant of the New Year be, "Jail to the Palace, Pensions to the Cottage, and Campouts in front of the homes of luxurious idleness?" and if so, is that the best that can be hoped for?