Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The whipped American worker

Behold the face of one Kevin Lambert, a whipped American worker.

Mr. Lambert works for Massey Energy at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, WV, the site of a suspected methane explosion that killed 25 of Lambert's fellow workers.

Mr. Lambert was interviewed by Harry Smith on CBS's "Early Show" this morning. Here's what he had to say:
"We know it's gassy coal," he said. "We know that when - you're gonna hit methane. You don't know where it comes from. Could come from a crack. Could come anywhere. All it takes is a spark. I can't see how they can point a finger at just anybody. It's just methane."

Does he feel Massey, whose safety record has come under scrutiny, is a safe operator?

"They treat me alright," Lambert replied. "There's no safe mines. I don't care where you go. You're not gonna find a safe mine. They could do whatever they want - make all the laws.

"When a man goes (into a mine), he knows that could be it. … You stick your head between two rocks to make a living, you know you're taking a chance. These 25 guys … they died for a cause. Every time you turn your lights on at home … you should think about them guys.

"Everybody overlooks West Virginia. They never think about coal. We need coal. We gotta have coal. Ya gotta have it. Gotta have it. Bottom line - gotta have it."

The printed word cannot convey the impression of the contrived nature of Mr. Lambert's statement: These 25 guys … they died for a cause. Every time you turn your lights on at home … you should think about them guys. Wanton disregard for worker safety is the price we Americans pay for electric energy, eh, Mr. Lambert? Are your 25 dead co-workers martyrs for the American way-of-life, heroes of free market capitalism, not victims?

Mr. Lambert spoke quietly and resignedly when there should have been outrage. But the company, Massey Energy, that owns the mine in which he works and where 25 of his co-workers died was cited 458 time last year for safety violations. Thanks to Massey CEO Don Blankenship's political connections those were ignored, fines never paid. And yet according to Mr. Lambert, "They treat me alright."

I am sure Mr. Lambert is a patriotic American. Perhaps he is a veteran. I am sure he goes to church on Sundays, owns a pick up, maybe a fishing boat. His wife probably works and they have a mortgage to pay and young'ums to feed, cloth and school. I am also certain Mr. Lambert considers himself a rugged individualist who does not need a union boss leeching dues from his paycheck. So he kisses the hand that holds the whip.

What a sad commentary on the American worker.  Not far from Montcoal,  in 1921, 7,000 miners rose in rebellion against greedy mine-owners, their hired goons and corrupt state officials in the Battle of Blair Mountain for the right to unionize. Mr. Lambert may even have ancestors who fought at Blair Mountain but he is whipped, broken. He, like so many American workers, has accepted his fate as a fungible commodity, a thing to be thrown away like broken tool when it is no longer useful.

And so, once the dust is settled and all the bodies are brought to the surface and after all the funerals, Mr. Lambert and his whipped co-workers will put their heads between the rocks knowing full well they too could be free market martyrs.    

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