Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Coal Miner's Granddaughter

My grandfather finished high school in Hanna, Wyoming, right at the ragged end of the Great Depression. Everyone in Hanna worked at the coal mines. Everyone also had the memory, either by proxy through older relatives or firsthand, of a great disaster that very nearly wiped out the town's entire population of working-age men.

In 1903, a seam caught fire and exploded, killing 169 miners.

And here we are, more than a century later, and miners are still subjected to some of the most dangerous, frightening working conditions in America today.

I was raised in a family where we understood the danger miners face everyday. Think about it: an entire vocation built around digging a tunnel, then working in said tunnel, chipping away the very walls that support hundreds of tons of earth and rock above your head. Add to this the fact that every miner is constantly surrounded by stagnant air and combustible dust. This is dangerous, dirty, ugly work. And it is the lifeblood of thousands of small American towns.

Coal miners make pretty good money. As pay and benefits go, it beats working at the WalMart or joining the Army. But something about this story gets to the Socialist in me. The Sago mine had knowingly ignored safety citations in order to mine as much coal as possible, to feed the endless coal appetite of the industrialized world. The mine had a shamefully high injury rate- about three times that of other mines of its size. This is not just a tragedy. It is a disgrace.


  1. "Technology and automation have greatly reduced mine deaths overall in the U.S., but greater demand for coal coupled with hiring shortages and the reopening of older mines have resulted in more than 300 deaths since 2000."

    The other three very high risk jobs are farming, fishing and construction.

  2. Thanks for that perspective on the miners. I don't know anything about that life, except that it is dangerous. Thanks for sharing your story. I'm from the west coast, and our dangerous job is the refineries. Benefits eh...but the pay is high because of the danger. Just another example of how greed kills.