CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Being honest may not get you a lot of friends, but it will always get you the right ones. This is a statement that our politicians and union leaders need to learn.
In the deep valleys and steep hills of Southern West Virginia, two tragedies have taken place over the last 20 years: The mountaintop removal that annihilates the mountains and health of coal communities and the decline of the UMW.
The scenery of the area has taken a different shape; one that any common sense person would realize is headed downhill. Friends of Coal signs replaced UMW signs and the area that was once a union stronghold has surrendered to big coal and the politicians who carry their dirty water. The union still fights for the rights and safety of the miner while they are on the job, but when it comes to the destruction of their communities, the union joins the other side. How did this happen?
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the union was beaten back by a well-thought-out plan by big coal to weaken and destroy the UMW. The plan is working to perfection.
They created MTR mines that used fewer miners and kept a few mines in the union so that the UMW would join the effort to relax the laws for water and air quality. This is where the fabric started to unravel: The union had always fought for safety rules for its underground miners, sometimes even with blood. This new type of mining required a different type of safety regulations, ones that protected the environment and the people living in the areas where they mine coal. The miners of Blair Mountain fought for a union not only for higher wages and a strong union, but also for their family and the ability to have a good life.
Today, money means everything, and health and quality of life are ignored. West Virginia is now rated last in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index score. The UMW was a divided house once they fought against the very laws that would protect the people in the communities where their miners live.
The people who live in these communities are having their water destroyed, their homes flooded, their air polluted and yes, their jobs taken, indirectly. I say indirectly because MTR mines require half the miners as underground mines. You can see why this is a win-win situation for the coal companies and a virus for the union.
If you don't believe the coal companies and the UMW are fighting together to weaken safety standards, then look at the water quality hearing on selenium.
I have not heard of the union helping a coal company whitewash safety laws since the days of Tony Boyle. Under Boyle, the money and strength of the union was the UMW's focus while miners' safety was in jeopardy. The union has become so weak in Southern West Virginia that it will not stand up to the lying politicians who are the Friends of Coal, and whose goal is to destroy the union.
How many Friends of Coal politicians showed up or spoke out for the Patriot miners? The union is even afraid to take the lead on saving Blair Mountain, leaving that to the environmentalists, who seem to care more about our history than the union.
The Friends of Coal have turned West Virginia into a red state by building a mountain of lies. They defeat people who are for the people and their communities, and they help coal companies empower union-busting republicans.
I once had a union official tell me his main objective was to preserve the union. To that I now answer: A union divided cannot stand. The state legislators are trying to pass laws to weaken the environment in West Virginia. Many of these people do not even believe in climate change. Yet these people are also trying to reform our educational system. How can people who don't believe that two plus two is four, or don't believe in science, possibly come up with a program that will help our children?
As mountains disappeared, people lost perspective to formulate sound long-term goals. It's time to clean the coal dust from your eyes and ears so you shall know the truth: Our strength is in our history. The heart and strength of the union beats within those who are fighting to save Blair Mountain! We need jobs but the companies we work for must care as much for the environment and workers as they do for money. The true mountaineer loves his family and his home: the Mountain State.