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The Manchin Base


Our personal lord and savior can act in the way he does because what is left of the Democratic voting working class in West Virginia is pretty damn nostalgic about the past of good wages and jobs (understandably I guess) and really bitter that the hippies have taken this way (which they haven’t, but don’t tell our West Virginia friends that).

States like Washington, New York and Illinois have enacted renewable-energy laws that were backed by unions representing workers who build and maintain traditional power plants. And unions for electricians and steelworkers are rallying behind President Biden’s climate and social policy legislation, now in the Senate’s hands.

But at least one group of workers appears far less enthusiastic about the deal-making: coal workers, who continue to regard clean-energy jobs as a major risk to their standard of living.

“It’s definitely going to pay less, not have our insurance,” Gary Campbell, a heavy-equipment operator at a coal mine in West Virginia, said of wind and solar jobs. “We see windmills around us everywhere. They’re up, then everybody disappears. It’s not consistent.”

I mean, this is true. The idea that wind energy jobs can replace coal isn’t true because there’s almost no maintenance on them. They get built and those are union jobs. But that’s it.

Mr. Biden has sought to address the concerns about pay with subsidies that provide incentives for wind and solar projects to offer union-scale wages. His bill includes billions in aid, training money and redevelopment funds that will help coal communities.

But Phil Smith, the top lobbyist for the United Mine Workers of America, said a general skepticism toward promises of economic relief was nonetheless widespread among his members. “We’ve heard the same things over and over and over again going back to J.F.K.,” Mr. Smith said. The union has been pointedly mum on the current version of Mr. Biden’s bill, which the president is calling Build Back Better.

Again, yes. From Kennedy to Trump, presidents have sold these people a bill of goods, full of promises that are never delivered. That’s real.

Unfortunately for Mr. Biden, this skepticism has threatened to undermine his efforts on climate change. While there are fewer than 50,000 unionized coal miners in the country, compared with the millions of industrial and construction workers who belong to unions, miners have long punched above their weight thanks to their concentration in election battleground states like Pennsylvania or states with powerful senators, like Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

When Mr. Manchin, a Democrat and one of the chamber’s swing votes, came out against Mr. Biden’s $150 billion clean electricity program in October, his move effectively killed what many environmentalists considered the most critical component of the president’s climate agenda. The miners’ union applauded.

Now, the UMWA is so small now that even in West Virginia, they are more a symbolic force than one that can really bring numbers. But there’s also a disconnect within the union. They largely don’t like climate change mitigation. But they do like the rest of Build Back Better and are now mad at Manchin too.

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), the union that represents West Virginia coal miners, urged Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) Monday “to revisit his opposition” to President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation “and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities.”

Union president Cecil Roberts specifically pointed to provisions in the legislation that extend an expiring fund for coal miners suffering from black lung disease, encourage businesses to build of manufacturing facilities in coal fields for miners who lose their jobs, and penalize companies that deny workers the right to unionize. “This language is critical to any long-term ability to restore the right to organize in America in the face of ramped-up union-busting by employers,” he said in a statement. “But now there is no path forward for millions of workers to exercise their rights at work.”

“As countless interest groups call on Manchin to reverse course, the statement from the mine workers’ union might be the most impactful,” The Hill reports. “Manchin was born into a coal mining family and for decades has worked closely with the UMWA, which named Manchin an honorary member last year.”

The truth is that Manchin is so out of touch with the people in his own state, who own few Lamborghinis or yachts, that he is just bumbling around. Yeah, he gets lots of oil and coal money but I don’t really think that’s it. He’s not really a venal politician. He’s kind of dumb and lives in a time warp where it is always the 1990s. But it doesn’t help that what base Manchin does have in West Virginia is also wildly inconsistent around these issues, which means he’s hearing different things from the UMWA depending on how the issue is framed.

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