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8/26/2004

Working people need a break also.

Brilliant Commentary by the UMWA's President
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Commentary from Charleston Daily Mail
by
Cecil E. Roberts International President, United Mine Workers of America

Working people need a break also.

The United Mine Workers of America takes great offense at the simplicity of the view articulated in an Aug. 23 Daily Mail editorial entitled, "Surviving Beats Folding: Horizon miners may yet come out of this all right."
The author of the piece believes that Horizon Natural Resources coal miners, including thousands of UMWA miners and their dependents, should be thankful that our nation's bankruptcy laws have provided them an opportunity to possibly continue working. I say "possibly" because the new owners have not guaranteed anything to these workers.

In exchange for the chance of future employment, the writer would have Horizon miners see the glass as half full and not half empty, or find the silver lining in this tragic storm cloud. After all, the writer says, the miners have "survived to fight another day."

What complete hogwash.

This is the type of thinking that corporate America wants business-leaning media nationwide to continue pounding into the heads of working people. To them, the message is simple:
C'mon, working people. Don't dwell on the negative. Just be happy your workplace might survive.
So what if you were promised lifetime health care in contract after contract. So what if -- again, in contract after contract -- you surrendered higher pay and accepted lesser benefits for the promise of lifetime health care and were promised the right to a union job if the company was ever sold.
So what if many of you are now getting up in age and suffering from chronic, high-cost medical problems like black lung disease.

And so what if the federal government itself promised you lifetime health care benefits.
Forget about all that and just be happy you might still have a job to go to. Granted, it may not be a job that rewards you with the same level of compensation or protection you once had, but it's a job and isn't that good enough?

Don't question it. Just suck it up and toe the line. Be good little workers.

Not surprisingly, America's extreme right wing employs a similar technique when it labels those who do not support the way President Bush has handled the war in Iraq as "unpatriotic" or "anti-American." Do not question our president. Just blindly accept that what he is doing is best for you and all Americans.
A similar message is being articulated by this editorialist. Do not question our nation's bankruptcy laws. Accept that when the banking industry was helping pro-business members of Congress write the laws, they were looking out for working people, too.
Give us a break.

Corporate America -- and I have to think the writer of this editorial -- would love to see the Horizon miners and all other workers simply roll over and accept the cards they have been dealt.

If that were to happen here and elsewhere, maybe American workers would soon begin to accept the same fate as workers in many Third World nations, where worker complaints about low pay, no benefits and unsafe working conditions are often met with a "just be thankful you have a job" response -- or in extreme cases, imprisonment or death.

I am here to tell you that the UMWA and the American labor movement have fought too long and too hard to allow this to happen in the United States. That is why the UMWA is committed to leading the fight to reform our nation's bankruptcy laws -- and our labor laws.

We live in a democracy, and that is what makes America great. We have the right to voice our dissatisfaction and fight to remedy injustice.

That is exactly what the UMWA will continue to do because, in our opinion, it is not that the Horizon miners have survived to fight another day, but rather that they have instead been sentenced to a slow economic death.

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