West Virginia mine disaster leaves two miners dead

Wharton, W.Va. — Two West Virginia coal miners were killed on May 12 in an accident that took place at Brody No. 1 mine near Wharton in Boone County. This nonunion mine is is owned by St. Louis-based Patriot Coal and has a history of safety violations.

Preliminary indications show that a coal burst was responsible, say state officials and mine owner Patriot Coal. Coal bursts are violent failures of ribs, roofs or floors in underground mines, which cause a violent ejection of coal and rock into the mine.

Last October, Brody No. 1 was one of three coal mines added by the Mine Safety and Health Administration to a “Pattern of Violations” list for repeatedly breaking federal health and safety regulations over the previous year. It was cited for 253 serious violations, including methane hazards, emergency preparedness/escapeway hazards and roof hazards.

In addition to the MSHA violations at Brody mine, inspectors say some injuries in the mine were not reported to the agency. On 13 occasions last year, inspectors found conditions considered so threatening to miners that they closed portions of the mine until corrections were made. These are incidents involving what MSHA considers “unwarrantable failures” by mine managers to follow the law and protect miners.

MSHA has staged six surprise “blitz inspections” at the mine since 2010. Only five other mines have had as many or more of what MSHA calls “mine impact inspections”; these were instituted four years ago after 29 coal miners were killed at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine.

Incidents such as these are commonplace in Appalachian coal mines, as at Sago, Upper Big Branch or many others. Whether it is the destruction of human life or the environment that sustains it, coal bosses are responsible for tremendous suffering.

As long as the resources of our planet are privately owned, bosses will compete with each other for profits. This drive for profit — inherent in capitalism — leads bosses to deem safety and environmental concerns as unimportant.

The answer is to make our planet’s resources the property of the working class and use them in a safe and democratically planned fashion. Only when the mines are no longer the private property of the big owners will the incentive to treat the workers and environment as dispensable disappear.