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Coal Mining Deaths, 1900-2012

[ 23 ] December 31, 2013 |

In yesterday’s post on the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, Joe B in comments pointed us out to the official MSHA statistics on mine deaths between 1900 and 2012. It’s remarkable. In 1907, 3,242 people died in coal mine accidents. That doesn’t include black lung or other occupational disease. And it is almost certainly underreported. The numbers begin falling in the 30s and collapse in the 60s and 70s. Although the job is still quite dangerous today, it’s nothing like the bad old days.

What changed? First, the success of the UMWA gave workers some voice on the job, although as we have seen in the labor history series, the leadership did not always care that much. Second was mechanization and moving people out of underground mining. Third was an activist federal government getting involved in workplace safety and working conditions.

And this gets us back to my utter contempt for those who think Rand Paul or any kind of libertarianism has anything positive to offer as a solution to our problems. If you think libertarianism is good, you either don’t care about dead coal miners or have never thought about dead coal miners (or loggers or ship workers or farm workers or whatever). The latter is forgivable ignorance at first, but once you aren’t ignorant, it isn’t forgivable. Big government is the best thing to happen to this country and if it were up to me, I’d make it a lot bigger and much more intrusive into the conditions of work.

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  1. oldster says:

    “but once you aren’t ignorance, it isn’t forgivable.”

    Even if I am ignorance of spelling? Surely I can be forgave for that?

  2. Government?!?!?!

    SOCIALISM!
    FASCISM!!
    COMMUNISM!!!
    Or, some other kind of “ism!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  3. (Shakezula) says:

    In case anyone isn’t familiar with Rand Paul on the topic of mining accidents and wants to throw up in their mouths a little.

    Dotiki (Western KY):

    “We had a mining accident that was very tragic,” he told Good Morning America. “But then we come in and it’s always someone’s fault. Maybe sometimes accidents happen.”

    He was ignorant of Dotiki’s rotten safety record, one supposes.

    Upper Big Branch (West Virginia):

    “The bottom line is: I’m not an expert, so don’t give me the power in Washington to be making rules,” Paul said at a recent campaign stop in response to questions about April’s deadly mining explosion in West Virginia…“You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You’d try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don’t, I’m thinking that no one will apply for those jobs.” “I know that doesn’t sound…I want to be compassionate, and I’m sorry for what happened, but I wonder: Was it just an accident?”

    Because at the end of the day, the gibbertarian doesn’t give a fuck what happens to anyone who isn’t the president or CEO. It is fitting that people should work in horrible conditions, be mistreated, harassed, cheated of their wages and die in stupid, preventable accidents because to Paul, an employee is a bipedal rat that happens to be able to vote.

    They’re there to make the most money for their masters and if safety regulations cut into profits, safety regulations must go. If they were real people, they wouldn’t be working for someone, they’d be in charge, right?

    • N__B says:

      My experience with construction accidents is that maybe one percent can be called “accidental”. The rest are foreseeable results of human idiocy.

      • (Shakezula) says:

        What I’ve seen is this perversion of logic which states that since everyone knows Job X is Dangerous we really shouldn’t get too worked up when people die doing Job X because they knew it was dangerous.

        You wouldn’t want to interfere with a worker’s choice to take those risks would you, commie?

        Rand of the Rug kicks it up a level by suggesting that it is up to the worker to evaluate the safety of a workplace and if he determines it is too dangerous, stay away. And … live off moonbeams and pixie dust until the local mine owner cleans up its act because he sure as hell can’t rely on unemployment benefits.

    • DrDick says:

      This is the heart of libertarianism. They hate all workers and deify capital.

      • (Shakezula) says:

        And deify really is the right word because they do seem to be banking on a miraculous economy that allows companies to see steadily increasing profit margins each quarter even when only a tiny percentage of people is buying things.

        The cashier at the grocery store is supposed to work his ass off, possibly taking a second job if need be, just to afford the bare essentials. No, he doesn’t need an iPod or TV. His kids don’t need new clothes for school and if the fridge stops working, well better hope it can be repaired.

        What? The cost of living has gone up while wages have stayed stagnant? Of course, the Job Makers need that money and they must not be questioned.

        Repeat narrative for anyone whose income doesn’t include enough spare cash for anything beyond the bare essentials. If you’re unemployed, you really shouldn’t be buying anything at all, so please starve quietly in a ditch.

        Ignore the fact that the number of people who have enough spare cash keeps shrinking because the Job Makers really needed an extra billion this year so the job got cut or the wages didn’t rise and sorry about that little snafu with your mortgage, say you didn’t really need that pension did you?

        Never, ever ask “If we make our money from people buying things, what will happen when people stop buying.” Because the invisible hand will provide!

    • Linnaeus says:

      It’s funny: if a person needs public assistance, the Rand Pauls of the world will carry on endlessly about “personal responsibility”. If a coal mine owned by a 1-percenter is unsafe, well, “accidents happen” and it’s no one’s responsibility.

      • Anna in PDX says:

        Yes it seems so obvious to me that personal responsibility is something to bash the poor with but it does not seem to apply to the rich, or their kids who hit people with cars, or anyone with money.

      • shabadoo says:

        Obviously, the miners should have exercised some personal responsibility and not been in that mineshaft at the time it collapsed.

        • SV says:

          Or have tougher skeletons, or something. (After an earthquake here a couple of years ago killed about 200 people, my mate met some dick who said he would never have gotten killed if he’d been there because he was so tough. Apparently those people crushed by tonnes of bricks, or the baby killed by a large TV falling onto it, were just pussies who needed to toughen up, maybe fight back and punch the bricks a bit more I suppose?)

  4. Nobdy says:

    Does government need to be bigger or just better focused? I think there needs to be better safety regulations and, of course, better enforcement for a lot of occupations, but do we need licensing of florists? What are the risks of an unlicensed florist?

    In terms of funds, more needs to be spent on the poor and the dispossessed, but there is a ton of waste, and I’m not talking about waste in the way Paul Ryan is but rather subsidies to wealthy corporations, graft, money poured into government contractors who do completely substandard work (See Obamacare website. See ALL of Iraq reconstruction where we spent almost a trillion dollars for nothing.)

    If we took away farm subsidies and put them into food stamps would that be enough?

    If we slashed military spending and spent that money on infrastructure upgrades (which would probably net increase employment because there would be much less profiteering) would that be enough?

    If we stopped buying massively expensive public sports stadiums and put that money into public transportation, how would that change things?

    I think conservaties are right that government spending in a vacuum is a bad thing. Now the good that government spending can do can easily outweigh the bad of the spending if the money is well-directed, but the Republicans have perverted the way government money is spent to the point where Washington D.C. is full of people getting rich off useless contracts while essential functions of government go underfunded.

    We don’t need MORE government spending right now. We need BETTER government spending.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Please, we need much, much more government spending. Funded by taxing rich people at levels of the 1950s.

      • Nobdy says:

        The graph in this article shows overall government spending over time as a percentage of GDP . We’re pretty high now. Now if you want to argue that the U.S. government has alway spent far too little that’s fine, but I think that most liberals believe that the problem isn’t that so much as two things:

        A) The government has deprioritized poor people.

        B) Private industry has gutted good paying jobs to the point where work is no longer always a good solution to poverty.

        Problem A is very real and needs to be addressed, but it isn’t clear to me that an increase in spending is the way to address it so much as a shifting of priorities.

        Problem B is also very real, and maybe the best way to deal with it is a tax and transfer system, but we could at least try (much cheaper) regulatory methods first, such as raising the minimum wage, reforming union law in this country so that unions would have a fighting chance, enforcing employee status vs independent contractor, enforcing overtime laws etc…

        It isn’t clear that those methods, which could do a lot to alleviate inequality and have also been used, are politically more or even as difficult as a massive increase in the size of government with the goal of helping the poor.

        Whether the tax code needs to be reformed is sort of a separate question. It does, and in fact as the article I linked to points out a lot of de facto government spending these days comes as tax subsidies to the rich, which clearly should end, but that’s sort of my point. Shifting money from being spent on a tax subsidy to the rich to, say, healthcare subsidies for the poor isn’t a net increase in spending, and if we reprioritized like that we could achieve much of the progressive agenda without actually increasing the government’s size very much (Though ideally I guess we’d switch from Obamacare to single payer, which would show up as a bump in the graph.)

        • Steve LaBonne says:

          Can you explain WHY you think government spending is inherently worse than private-sector spending? And please don’t make me laugh by trying to claim that our financial-manipulation-dominated private sector is somehow uniquely good at allocating capital efficiently.

          • Nobdy says:

            I didn’t say government spending is worse than private sector spending. Spending in general is a cost that needs to be balanced by a benefit. Government spending is a little screwy because of fiat currency (I’m not against fiat currency, it just makes government spending different because governments can print money) but for me it boils down to this.

            Let’s say you have a budget of $500. You spend $200 doing something utterly useless, let’s say hiring skywriters to write paens to the beauty of Ted Cruz. You find that you cannot accomplish everything you need to with the remaining $300. Do you need a larger budget? Possibly, but you might want to try re-allocating that $200 in Ted Cruz skywriter money first. Now you can argue that the Ted Cruz skywriter money is not totally wasted, that it stimulates the economy and keeps the skywriters out of poverty, but even if that’s so there must be some efficiencies that can be achieved by paying the skywriters direct subsidies or having them write useful things rather than paying them to write paens to Cruz.

            Right now our government does spectacularly wasteful things. It gives agricultural subsidies to billionaires. It goes to war in Iraq and Afghanistan with nothing to show for it, then shovels cash into the maws of Haliburton and Blackwater with even LESS than nothing to show for those hundreds of billions.

            You want to fix OSHA? You could increase the government budget. Or you could transfer 2 billion from wasteful agricultural subsidies to OSHA, allowing it to expand to 5 times its size (Which might allow it to accomplish its actual mission.) We want more public transportation? We could raise taxes in cities or put them further in debt, or we could stop paying for massive stadium boondoggles.

            Maybe reallocation doesn’t get you 100% of the way to where you want to be, but if you increase spending without improving the ways the government spends there’s a good chance it will just go to more subsidies for the wealthy and profits for government contractors who do extremely shoddy jobs.

            • Steve LaBonne says:

              Your truisms about reallocation few would disagree with. But you’ve made no case at all for reducing overall spending, and you’re simply wrong to claim that it’s worryingly high in historical terms or in comparison with other advanced countries. What is true is that revenue is too low.

              • Nobdy says:

                Many would disagree. There are massive political fights about agriculture subsidies going on right now. What are you talking about? These reallocation suggestions are all bitterly opposed by entrenched interests, just as raising revenue is.

                I never claimed that spending should be cut, nor did I say it was worryingly high. I simply pointed to a graph that shows that it is not worryingly low historically, and suggested that policy goals from this post could easily be achieved by reallocation rather than increasing spending.

                We need a stronger OSHA with better workplace regulation, a functional and aggressive NLRB, and a higher minimum wage. None of those is particularly expensive in the scope of government spending.

  5. Mart says:

    I would add workers comp insurance costs to the list of things lowering the rate of injury and death in industry. Very large companies with high incidence rates save millions when they turn things around, often with the help of the insurance companies safety consultants and programs.

  6. Box of Hair says:

    If you’re a right-libertarian, you probably think that the Fukushima cleanup solution is an excellent idea — there’s certainly nothing in your philosophy that says it could be otherwise.

    Having homeless people decontaminate a breached reactor for less than minimum wage is the paradigm of an unfettered market solution in which every actor gets what they can claw out of the market, and the workers get irradiated for a pittance, but it’s OK because they were otherwise of less than zero value from a market perspective.

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