Mining today is no different from mining yesterday

This week we were to view the movie “The Mine Wars” (MW) and a web documentary “Journey To The End Of Coal”(JEC).

From the movie MW, we can see the struggles that the people of the Appalachia went through to receive proper compensations as well as basic human rights. Throughout the film, time and time again, they state how the capitalistic owners of the mines were taking advantage of the workers as well as mentally abusing their workers. First by enticing those with little to no money to come work in their mines, but then trapping those working by forcing the workers and their families live in shanty homes, only be able to buy from mine approved businesses, as well as segregating the workers and creating tensions amongst the different races. The northern states were able to create their own unions to help out the workers of the mines, and to do what is right for the general public. The United Mine Workers(UMW) were traveling all around the east coast, trying to do what was best for the people, but where skeptic as to if they could infiltrate into the Appalachian area, as the local mine owners made it difficult, if not impossible , for unions to form.

As stated by Doug Estepp, the local Historian in the film, ” Southern West Virginia was an industrial police state more or less. The operators or owners did not want anyone who had union sympathies or was interested in bringing the union into their camps to be there.”

Mother Jones was the one to plant the first seed on the idea of unionizing, although at first brushed aside, was able to not necessarily convince Frank Keeney to unionize, but to become a leader of the local West Virginian mining union in 1901. What caught Keeney’s attention wasn’t necessarily the idea of unionizing, but rather by her statement “Leave that pool hall alone. Take this book and go up on the hill and read it and, and educate yourself and learn how to lead your fellow miners.”

Fast forward to 1912 and 1913, and the West Virginia Coal Wars was well underway. Eventually, the governor, at the time William E Glasscock, enacted martial law in the hopes of subduing the rioting miners. Then Governor Henry Hatfield brought on the support of the State Marshals and the National Guard in the hopes of subduing the miners, which eventually earned the miners nickname “Red Necks” due to the red bandanas they wore on their marches. Federal troops were eventually called in to help ceasefire.

From JEC, we saw first hand as a free journalist in an interactive format  of the human rights that are often disparaged, rivers polluted and valleys disappearing and cities being swallowed up whole by the coal mining industry. We can see the shanty homes the house the “Black Faces”, the lifestyle that they live, as well as the government propaganda that the chinese government does not want reporters, let alone the world to see. We see that profits are a priority for the industry, as stated by Hao Laowu, a miner, describe the pay cut from 1000 Yuan, what is equivalent to 100 euros per month, to 500 Yuan (50 euros), as well as easily working eight hours before your first break. Although the working conditions may seem terrible, Laowu describes it as being nicer than the other mines as it is ran by the state and not by a corporation, even though he had already been stuck in the mines in his 20 years working as a miner.

Health is also of concern for the people, as their slum homes have no running water, as well as respiratory issues being prevalent amongst the people. The environmental bureau, as stated by Mrs Qi, does not inform the people the dangers of the coal toxicity, as the locals scavenge the streets for loose coals to not only heat their homes, but to also cook. As explained by Me Bao, the landscapes that were once beautiful with the ability to swim are no longer plentiful of river life as well as no longer safe to swim in.

Casualties and mining accidents are prevalent in China, which almost seems to unphase the locals. Even when they are reported and a mine is closed down, it can easily be reopened with bribery with the local government. Even if the mine is currently, workers still work through the night, with the local inspectors  turning the blind eye in the hopes of earning a little cash in their pockets.

With little foundation for worker safety, as well as underpaying the workers, the industry is able to exploit the workers. Workers originally coming to find jobs to help support their families are unable to leave the area, allowing the corporation to create a monopoly over the lives of their workers.

In both documentaries, we can see that the federal government is willing to help out with the corporate greed. punishing the workers that put in long hours, as well risking their lives of the very people that bring in profits for the corporations. You may think that if the people are willing coming to work for the coal industry, but these two documentary graphically depicts the impossibility of leaving. Even if the workers are able to earn higher wages after working a certain amount of time, the price of items at the corner store, which are controlled by the coal companies, raises their prices, which effectively makes it harder for the people to earn and save what they work for.

Though in the US, we were able to establish Unions, which in current day China, they are still prohibited from unionizing, which would hamper the progress of the ability to boost the standard of living. We can see that in both countries, that profits are a priority in the eyes of the government, with human life and happiness of the workers as an afterthought.



“American Experience: TV’s Most-watched History Series.” PBS. Ed. Randall MacLowry. PBS, 26 Jan. 2016. Web. 26 July 2016.

Dressen, Arnaud. “Journey To The End Of Coal.” Honkytonk Films –  Journey To The End Of Coal. Ed. Samuel Bollendorff and Abel Ségrétin. Honkytonk Films, 2016. Web. 26 July 2016.

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