ment offices of the army and marine corpsour peasants versus their peasants, but all those who made the trip the fortunes of the Cincinnati Reds, the home team for Appalachia. Outside, to his everlasting credit, he taught me how to pitch horseshoes well enough that I was eventually able to hold my own in the games the miners played in the parking lot every night before going down the shaft to work. Columbus also saw that I got a decent education in West Virginia bluegrass music, union local protocol \(“At meetin’s don’t you go makin’ no waves for at least a year. mores of BlairI did not drive a pickup, wear a baseball cap, or sport a bicep tattoo, and because of these curious omissions, I was, in the eyes of those sadvisaged mountain beauties of which the southern highlands are so prodigal, something of an eccentric, and possibly worse. The temporary addition of a cane during my recuperation from a foot injury in late July greatly enhanced my public image, however; my limp and the aluminum walking stick lent me an air of legitimacy and even distinction. Columbus’s brotherliness was something to see, and his sense of well-being in the face of a dangerous and brutal job simply astonishing \(“Hell, what more could a man ask forthe mines is 55 degrees in the summer, 55 degrees in the aly. The coalfields, especially in southern West Virginia, below Charleston, are a violent place, by and large an unhappy place. The beauty of a hollow socked in by fog is heartbreaking, and I found Blair just the kind of forsaken and out-of-the-way spot where I might best further my very personal researches into life as it is lived in this-our-favored-land, but the whistle of the hopper car train hauling the black stuff away at night reminded one that coal has always been, in every disastrous sense, an extractive industry for Appalachia: along with the mineral wealth have gone the clear streams and forested ridgelands the pioneers found, as well as 100,000 lives lost to mining accidents in this century alone. The campers, the trailers vying for attention, and the color TVs found everywhere in Logan County today are the outward signs of a new coal-based prosperity that has done nothing to improve the disgraceful quality of public services and amenities that are the product of generations of rape-and-ruin at the hands of coal operators in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. In Blair, the houses have fresh paint, but nearly all the old men killing time on the porches, on the stoop down at the ARCO station, and on the benches in front of the post office of a weekday morning aren’t soon to be impressed. They’ve seen King Coal come and go and come again, and as they struggle to hold on as long as their destroyed lungs let them, they tell their sons and grandsons to strike whenever they think they should and for God’s sake keep the union strong, boys. The strike Marx and Engels saw in Europe’s coalminers the vanguards of revolution. They were a bit off the mark, but miners in Germany, Belgium, France and Britain have, since the Industrial Revolution, functioned as a permanent underground, and in more than just the literal sense. Miners have weighed heavily on the conscience of any society they’ve supported. In Eastern Europe today, the central authorities treat them with a special deference. Even at its most repressive, the Franco regime was never able to bring Spain’s miners to heel and keep them in the pits against their will. Miner supremacy in the United States never took on European proportions, but John L. Lewis was not out of bounds 45 years ago when he called the rank and file of his United Mine Workers “the shock troops of the American labor movement.” The post-war dismantlement of the coal economy brought about by the rapid switch to oil and natural gas as the nation’s principal industrial fuels prevented Lewis and his miners from asserting monolithic power over American labor relations, and the UMW, for all of its trials and dark romance, steadily lost the power it once had to win concessions from both Washington and the country’s coal magnates. In its weakened state, the union has, since the early Eisenhower years, been in less than an advantageous position to demand effective safety laws and a say in the making of production policy. Mining remains America’s most dangerous occupation, and the grimmest hole in our industrial life, to wit: Since the turn of the century, along with 100,000 fatalities suffered in the country’s deep mines, one million Americans have been permanently disabled in mining accidents. Since 1970, more than 1,000 U.S. coalminers have died of work-related causes and another 125,000 have been injured on the job. Currently, a working miner faces a one-in-eight chance of sustaining a serious injury in the course of a year. The fatality rate of U.S. miners is still about seven times the average for the general American work force. The number of workdays miners lose as a result of injuries is nearly ten times the average for the national work force. Other countries have done much more than the U.S. to insure miner safety, especially the United Kingdom, where a powerful union has successfully demanded the introduction of mining techniques and equipment that can be credited with reducing Britain’s miner death rate to a level between a quarter and a half of the U.S. figure. The death rate for Czech and Hungarian miners is about a third of what it is for their American counterparts. The numbers and percentages add up to about 150 lives each year in the U.S., and miners say that’s just too much human carnage. The fact is that America’s mines are still damned dangerous, but the country’s major coal operators regard safety as a negotiable item. To today’s younger miners \(the average rank-and-file age last year was 31, down can be won only through violent protest. The wildcat strike, characterized by company spokesmen and too many editorial writers as the ensign of chaos, is often the only means available to a miner for enforcing his simple right to life and limb while underground. Against this argument the coal operators have, since last fall, issued little else but platitudinous observations on the woes caused them by “unauthorized work stoppages.” Most of the reportage on the 109-day strike that ended last week seemed to bog down in sideline details about benefits and intra-union turmoil. What the essentials of the dispute reduced to \(though they were given little expressionand conflict between safety \(and the right to strike against hazardous working condigreater production. The operators, after a long and cynical history of human exploitation in the American coalfields, still energetically lobby the Congress for delays in the enactment of hard-nosed safety codes for the nation’s deep mines. \(Nine of the 16 Texas congressmen who voted on a tougher mine safety law passed last year, incidentally, voted If coal is again to become the cornerstone fuel of the American economy Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter have said coal is the way we must goas many as 400,000 new miners will have to be pLit to work by 1985, many of them in the angry hollows of West Virginia and Kentucky, where the continent’s best metallurgical coal lies beneath a difficult and compact mountain terrain. And that coal, which we all need, everyone of us, will have to be mined safely. The mountaineers, the people who’ve been made such cruel and ignorant sport of by the likes of Al Capp and the producers of “Hee-Haw,” are making it clear they won’t go get the stuff for us and lose their lives in the bargain. L.W. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.