Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Make not your fortune down in the mine

There are few in the country this morning whose minds are not turned to Tallmansville, West Virginia, just outside Buckhannon. That's where rescuers are trying to rescue 13 trapped coal miners who have been pinned in a coal hole since early Monday morning.

I have somewhat of a personal interest in this: My Grandfather worked the coal mines of Southern West Virginia when he was a young man. Most of his brothers did this, also. This is a family that has produced two governors of West Virginia, members of the House of Delegates, and three of my great uncles served as local elected officials. This is noteworthy because it has been said of West Virginia years ago that the entire state was one huge Company Store. Perhaps the most telling proof of the truth of this statement is the fact that members of my family had attained or were attaining some measure of social status within the world of West Virginia politics, yet even most of them had to work in a coal mine at some point in their life. Grandpa got no break because of who his brothers were...that didn't matter to the coal barons. I will say that he and his brothers got out of the mine pretty early in life compared to some of their friends, but the family didn't enjoy immunity from being touched by life in the coal mine.

Back in those days, coal mining was the only source of work for many a young man in West Virginia because so many could not afford the education needed to better themselves, nor could they afford to leave. The coal companies knew they were the only game in town, and they paid the men slave wages and monopolized everything. Nowadays the coal mines are the only game in town for a different reason: The unions came up the mountain and demanded better wages and benefits commiserate with the hazards of this kind of work-and those who could leave the mines after World War II did, and they often left West Virginia altogether. The unionization combined with the shortage of hands forced the coal companies to increase wages and offer benefits. As a result, a coal mining job isn’t the only job you can get in many parts of West Virginia, but it is probably among the better-paying ones in many places, so it is still the only game in town in much of the Mountaineer State.

The wages are better than they used to be, the benefits exist at some level where there were once none…but the miners are still not paid what they are worth and they may never be. West Virginia boys generate about a third of the nation’s power supply by digging down in those holes. The day they stop digging, so many in our country would have no light or heat. The fruits of their labor are worth so much more than their pay.

The news this morning is discouraging for the families of the miners: The air in the part of the mine where the trapped miners are said to be located has been tested and the amount of carbon monoxide there is said to be at lethal levels.

Pray for the miners and their families.


At Wednesday, January 04, 2006 11:47:00 AM, Blogger Brian Hornback said...

This is a sad story, the lady they interviewed overnight. I feel sorry for and when she said we are West Virginia and not very smart is an indication that the question their self worth.

I will go on record that I would chose a West Virginia Coal Miner to be on my side than some others that I know.

At Wednesday, January 04, 2006 5:48:00 PM, Blogger Dave Oatney said...

You are right that there are a lot of people in West Virginia that do question their self worth, and there is a reason...I think I'll talk about it tomorrow!


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