MAC/20: Mines and Communities

London Calling regrets a lost opportunity for coal mine workers

Published by MAC on 2009-05-05

In March, under the auspices of the British National Union of Mineworkers and Australia's CFMEU, a hundred and twenty delegates, belonging to 20 unions from 17 countries, participated in the second international coal miner's conference, held in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh.

The Mines and Communities (MAC) network would be among the first to back the conference's resolutions on health and safety, human rights and against exploitation. The MAC website has strongly backed the demands of mineworkers around the world for better conditions, equitable wages and democratic control of their workplaces. MAC has frequently pointed out that most mineworkers, both unionised and artisanal, are intrinsically part of communities whose rights to dignity and self-determination are being abused by companies and governments. This is confirmed in the founding document of MAC, The London Declaration of 2001 (updated in 2009).

Of course differences exist between organised unions, some community groups and NGOs. Miners, competing for employment, may find themselves at odds with local people who don't want a mine at any cost, or with environmentalists pushing their own agendas. But, in practice, a lot of these potentially divisive issues are resolved when new mine projects are recognised as intrinsically damaging - whether to those working for them, or those residing close to them.

Over the past ten years some trade unions have adopted the principle of "just transition." Recognising that certain types of work (like very deep, dangerous gold mining) or the production of some bad materials (such as asbestos) will soon be legislated out of existence, forward-looking workers groups are training their members for more sustainable employment opportunities.

Arguably nowhere is such a challenge more urgent than in the coal sector, where dangers to mine workers, and the overwhelming contribution of coal burning to adverse climate change, make for a uniquely "toxic" social and environmental mix.

Yet, at the March coal miners' conference, short shrift was given to these realities. The delegates went further than any previous meeting of its kind in asserting that: "Coal has been and will continue to be a fundamentally important element of the World's energy and economic future", then "call[ing] on the International Trade Union Movement to cease its bias against coal."

Who belongs to this "international trade union movement" one might ask? More important, how could the conference purport to speak on behalf of hundreds of thousands of other workers around the world - for whom coal mining is at best a daily struggle for survival, and at worst, a veritable death sentence?

The conference's resolution on climate change appeared to completely ignore the long term impacts of relying on coal-fired power generation; the contribution that this makes to global greenhouse gas emissions from steel and cement manufacture; and the toxicity of radioactive and heavy metals spewed out by power plants and contained in fly ash.

It also failed to acknowledge that there is currently no such thing as a truly "clean development mechanism" for coal-based electricity - and may never be - nor safe disposal of its carbon products.

Seven weeks ago in Scotland there was a unique opportunity for coal workers to affirm their solidarity with the numerous current victims of mining and apply their undoubted practical and intellectual strengths to the tasks of determining a future "without coal."

Regrettably, that opportunity was thrown away.

Even worse, one might think, was hearing trade unionists echoing some of the false claims made by the very companies and bosses against whom their members have been fighting for years.


Statement from the 2nd INTERNATIONAL COAL MINERS' CONFERENCE

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND 18-19 March 2009

This meeting of representatives of 20 coal mining Union's from United Kingdom, France, Germany, Poland, South Africa, India, Vietnam, Australia, Canada, United States of America, Mexico, Ukraine, Turkey and Columbia and their internationals IEMO and ICEM, having heard detailed reports and participated in rigorous discussion in respect of the issues confronting the workers we represent commits to the following:

1. Health & Safety - We declare that the ongoing toll of death, injury and disease arising from work in the coal industry to be unacceptable, and know that it can be significantly reduced if not eliminated by increased investment in safety, by the introduction of stringent health and safety legislation, and by the establishment of serious enforcement regimes by authorities.

We demand the ratification of ILO C176 by all countries party to the United Nations, and a dramatically increased focus on ratification by the ILO itself, including the adoption of C176 as a core convention, developing a list of targeted countries and respective Governments where the passage of ILO 176 should receive special attention due to high fatalities and injuries; hold meetings with Governments and key mining employers in those targeted countries to seek support for ratification; transmit a letter to major mining companies asking them to not only publicly support ratification but also to devote resources to it and work closely with trade unions and Governments to effect ratification.

2. Climate Change - We declare that we cannot and will not permit our members, our families and our communities to bear the brunt of the world's efforts to reverse or control the damage to the planet from increasing CO2 emissions. Coal has been and will continue to be a fundamentally important element of the World's energy and economic future, and we call on the International Trade Union Movement to cease its bias against coal. Low emission coal technologies must be developed and those who profit most from the exploitation of the world's coal reserves, must be required to contribute significantly to the development of these technologies.

International trade union groups, which continue to display and promote an unfair bias against coal as a fuel source are placed on notice that continuation of such stance, will lead the unions represented at this conference, moving to remove our support from such groups.

3. Human and Trade Union Rights - While there are many examples of abuse of human and trade union rights in the world today we are particularly appalled and devastated, that the abuses, such as those reported by our Mexican and Colombian representatives, are not only continuing in the 21sssstttt century, but are doing so with the active acquiescence and support of Governments of those countries. The callousness and brutality imposed on workers and their union leaders and workers families in these countries is a scandal, and has no place in a civilized society.

The world community was ultimately moved enough by the brutality of the Apartheid regime in South Africa to take strong economic and political sanctions against that regime and forced change. It is now time for the World to take a similarly strong stand against brutal employers and acquiescent Governments in these countries. We declare our support for the struggles of Los Mineros and Sintracarbon. We pledge to provide as much political, financial and moral support as are within the means of our national unions and call on our internationals to similarly focus on supporting these struggles.

We herby pledge to return to our countries and begin making concrete plan to organise a global delegation of trade union members and Members of Parliament to protest the efforts by the Governments of Mexico and Grupo Mexico to destroy the Mexican miners union known as Los Mineros, one of the few examples of democratic trade unionism in that country. We intend to send this delegation to Mexico within 90 days of this Declaration.

4. Employment Security - We declare our opposition to the growing trends of privatisation, casualisation, exploitation of migrant workers and outsourcing of labour in our industry where they are aimed solely at reducing the employment security and bargaining strength of the people we represent. In an era where we see the leaders of financial and commercial institutions paid enormous sums of money after they have destroyed the companies that employed them and required massive Government injections of capital to keep them afloat, it is unacceptable that workers and their families, who have not been responsible for the crisis Capitalism now finds itself in, are made victims of the greed of others.

We demand dignity and safe and secure work for our members and call on the international trade union groups to organise significant protests___ to coincide with the upcoming G20 summit to demand actions from Governments on behalf of workers as they have done with big business in the current financial crisis.

5. We call on our national unions and those internationals to which we are affiliated, to similarly commit to the foregoing declarations. Actions are required and expected to fulfil the commitments contained in this Declaration and each of us here present, commits to pursue, to the fullest extent possible, in each and every forum available to us, the full implementation of the content of this Declaration. We pledge to test the commitment of ourselves, as individuals and as individual organisations, to the words contained in this Declaration against the outcomes we achieve when next we meet.

2ND INTERNATIONAL COAL MINERS' CONFERENCE

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND MARCH 18 & 19, 2009

RESOLUTION

This meeting declares that to assist with the implementation of the Declaration made at the 2nd International Coal Miners Conference the International Preparatory Committee be renamed the International Coal Mine Workers Action Committee and that that Committee have the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the terms of our Declaration.

The funding of participation in the Action Committee will remain the responsibility of individual national unions who participate.

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