Monday, August 4, 2014

UMWA leaders, mine bosses and politicians united against regulation

Pittsburgh PA: miners protect regulations on coal
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

How things have changed. The United Mineworkers of America leadership, the union that under John L Lewis aided the formation of industrial unionism in the US back in the 1930’s, brought out thousands of their members in Pittsburg last Thursday. 

The reason for the rally was to oppose regulations that would curb carbon emissions from the coal fired power plants.  The officials like to have their members dress in fatigue-like garb as a sign of militancy.  They dressed like that when they occupied Pittston in the 90's but when they shifted from symbolism to action, then UMWA head Richard Trumka pulled them back.  Got to be realistic after all, the boss owns the pits.

The strategists atop the AFL-CIO, and in this case, the UMW actually don’t have a strategy independent of the bosses, so when they’re faced with “go time” they inevitably join forces with them. 

Mike Kelly, the Republican congressman from Philadelphia jumped on the bandwagon today with an op-ed piece in the WSJ*.  The argument these corporate politicians make in public is that the regulations will increase energy prices forcing plants to go out of business and that will mean lost jobs. The evidence for global warming is so great that he has to pay lip service to the issue by adding that the regulation will do nothing to curb it.  Kelly references the Heritage Foundation that is also deeply concerned about the health and welfare of American families (LOL),  there, “…will be fewer jobs and less income for American families” ,the corporate think-tank declares. It could cost 600,000 jobs.

As worshipers of the market and having the same world-view as the owners of the coal industry, the heads of the UMW echo the same argument: “It’s going to be devastating if it goes through in its current form.”,  Cecil Roberts, president of the UMWA was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal last Friday.

As I have pointed out in previous commentaries, it’s amazing how the politicians of the 1% become so concerned when it comes our welfare and our jobs.  They have to frame it in these terms of course because they do not wish to discuss the issue of profits.

Instead of pointing to the issue of profits and indeed, who owns an industry, in this case energy, the labor hierarchy makes their argument for them and encourages their members to take it up which they do having no apparent alternative. It is profits Kelly and the coal industry are concerned about, not our welfare in the form of jobs.

Peabody Energy is the world’s largest coal producer and it is growing. It has increased production at existing mines by 56% between 2000 and 2011. Coal is not a clean source of energy, but whether it is or not, is something we cannot leave to the owners of that industry. Kelly Mader, an attorney that has represented Peabody Energy is also on the board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Coal, electric utilities and the railroad (Buffet) corporations launched a major campaign in 2004 aimed at convincing us that coal power is “environmentally sustainable”

Just last April, thousands of UMWA members and supporters protested in St Louis against Peabody and Arch Coal accusing these corporations of intentionally designing schemes to deny health care benefits to unionized employees.  "This is clearly growing. More and more of our members are coming...and we are getting support from other unions, the religious and civic community.... People see this is as not just a struggle for the coal miners involved. If they can do this to us, then who is next?" said Phil Smith, communications director for UMWA at the time.

Yet here we are a year later and the UMWA leadership, a Republican congressman and the mine bosses are on the same team. This is where the labor hierarchy’s disastrous ideological marriage with capital leads them. It is interesting to note that in Kelly’s op-ed piece in the journal he refers to last week’s UMWA protest against regulations as “workers turned out to register their unhappiness….”, with the regulations. He is too guarded to say UMWA members, or union members. He’s no fool, he wants union outta here----permanently.

Who owns Peabody for example?  Well, these things are not easy to determine with regard to individual capitalists, but we know they are all interlinked and sit on the boards of each other’s companies. Pretty much the same folks that bribed doctors to tell us that nicotine is harmless, are now telling us coal is safe.  We have to decide this for ourselves in a forum that we control as opposed to bankers and big business.

Gregory Boyce, the CEO of Peabody Energy had a total compensation of almost $11 million last year, and that’s what we can find out publicly.  Then there’s all the investors that own stock.  These include Fidelity investments one of the largest investment companies in the world. It is 49% owned by the Johnson family. It’s losing this stolen wealth that they are concerned about, not our livelihoods.

Vanguard group is also an owner as is Deutsche Bank, Barclays, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.

They will argue workers too have mutual funds and buy stock. But I ask the working class reader: how many of you derive your income from profits on capital?  How many of you own huge amounts of shares in Peabody and other corporations.  It’s not that we don’t own shares here and there, it’s that we don’t control companies. We wouldn’t be workers if we lived off the profit of capital as opposed to wage labor---we’d be capitalists and have different economic interests. It's not prices they're concerned about---it's profits.

The UMWA rally last week was not supported by all unions as others, particularly the public sector ones, are not so affected by regulation in this particular industry.  But when it comes to it, the entire leadership atop organized Labor will back down when it comes to infringing on the bosses’ right to make profits.  We saw in the Wisconsin events that all the concession workers were asked to make were agreed to by union officials and Democrats alike. Only those that affected the flow of members’ dues money in to Democratic Party coffers and gave the union officials a seat at the table were objected to. Without that, they have no job.

The alternative to joining with the bosses whose opposition to regulation is the constraints it puts on profits is to take the energy industry in to public ownership under the democratic management and control of workers, consumers and those of us that use this vital commodity. In this way, we would democratically decide what is best for society and the natural world in which we live. In the immediate term we should support regulation but linked with this demand we open the energy companies books and take the industry out of private hands.

As we read this let’s remember that in Toledo OH they can’t even drink the water and that the huge water line break in LA and other so-called natural occurrences are all market driven.

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