Thursday, October 14, 2010

Death in the mines

News that the last of the 33 men trapped in the Chilean mine have been rescued is as welcome as it is unusual. Given that countless lives have been lost in mining's long and dark history, it is worth remebering the candid remark of one government appointed Inspector of Mines from 100 years ago:

"Practically every risk which exists could be eliminated if cost were no object."

On this day in 1913, hundreds of workers at the Sengenhydd colliery in Wales perished in a huge explosion. The related article below from the November Socialist Standard of that year remains relevant nearly a century later.

The Lancaster Pit of the Universal' Colliery at Senghenydd was again the scene of a fearful explosion, in which 435 of our fellow workers have perished - sacrificed to the greed of that butcher, King Capital. Although on the occasion of the last disaster (1901) in this mine the coroner's jury found that the mine was not sufficiently watered, and Professor Galloway, the Government Inspector of Mines, reported that the necessary precautions in watering the roadways had not been attended to, yet the mine owners allow conditions to prevail that send to their doom435 miners. '

Every time coal dust has caused a mine explosion the warning has been given, but it has passed unheeded. When the toilers were entornbed at West Stanley in 1909, the Government investigators reported that "unless the grave danger which exists at many collieries owing to the pressure of coal dust is attacked with much greater earnestness than it has been in the past, disasters of a similar nature will occur from time to time." At Whitehaven in 1910 the inspector proclaimed the precautions against the accumulation of coal dust were of a haphazard and unsystematic character," and he also stated that "the ventilation of the working face was inadequate for the needs of the mine having in view the gassy nature of the coal." Following upon this the same inspector made this sinister statement to a Press Agency representative:

"Practically every risk which exists could be eliminated if cost were no object."

These burning words could be backed up by plenty of other quotations from leading agents of capitalism, but let these suffice. The plain fact emerges from every disaster that the toilers' lives are sacrificed to dividends and interest. Mines Acts are passed, as that of 1911, with special provisions excluding mines which do not "pay" well from adopting precautions. As for the others, the owners please themselves. The Mines Inspectors are so few, and their powers so meagre, that the regulations are broken with impunity. Last August a fire occurred at the Carron Co's. pit at Cadder, and 22 miners who went down to earn their pittauce on Sunday perished. And notwithstanding that the Mines Act of two years previous enjoins every mine to have complete rescue apparatus, the rescue men had to travel forty miles to obtain live saving apparatus!

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