Friday, April 16, 2010

Upper Big Branch Mine: Dancing Between Labor Concerns and the Bottom Line

Capitalism has worked wonders for this nation. We owe our status as the most prosperous nation on the face of the earth because of it. But capitalism unfettered is simply unacceptable, and the consequences can be severe when the bottom line supersedes the safety of those who help to make that bottom line through their labor. We saw this happen, yet again, and in a horribly tragic fashion, in West Virginia.

Massey Energy, and specifically its CEO Don Blankenship, put the bottom line over the lives of its workers. It seems that only in tragic instances like the sad event at the Upper Big Branch Mine do people understand the positive role that labor unions can play in striking a balance between those seeking profit and those working to make the profit possible.

Unions have been demonized since their inception, but I think that it is fair to say that many non-college educated, blue collar workers (skilled and unskilled) and their families benefited greatly because of the efforts of the Labor Movement. Many people who are descendants of union workers have done well enough to be in a position to criticize the Labor Movement in the 21st century.

So, in spite of Limbaugh delusions, the miners at Upper Big Branch did not have a union. There were unionization efforts that failed over the years at that mine. There was also the cavalier attitude of the CEO about safety violations, the fines for which were considered merely the costs of doing business. It is not hyperbolic to say that that capitalist impulse costs lives, as well as dollars, and it wasn't worth it. I am sure that the families of the 29 miners who lost their lives that day would agree.

Big business supporters from all political spectra have aversions to regulations and labor concerns. It's a part of the reason why this Congress is having such a difficult time doing financial reform with any punch or substance. My guess is that efforts to address the coal industry would have been the same, but for that mine explosion, and those 29 people who lost their lives. I hope that

Do labor unions go too far? Sometimes. Do big businesses look for a profit, even at the expense of the needs of workers? More often than not. It's about dancing along that line between the two and finding a balance that benefits as many as possible. Americans won't be losing their freedom, or joining on a march toward socialism by pushing for that right balance. As a matter of opinion, I believe it strengthens our capitalist system.

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