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As the Coal Industry Shrinks, Miners Deserve A Just Transition—Here's What It Should Include

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/11/05/coal-industry-shrinks-miners-deserve-just-transition-heres-what-it-should-include

Sane economic thinking would have foreseen the need to retrain miners and train their progeny for evolving technologies. Local universities and other bodies of learning could have participated. But gee, the free market just ain’t that sane now is it? Just squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until all of the juice is in the fat cats’ glasses and forget about the masses.

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The best thing alongside an economic transition would be Medicare for All. There are massive healthcare problems in coal country. Also, they need to fix the schools and give the teachers a raise.

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I don’t know why coal miners deserve any more help than any of us who chose a job and found that changing times changed our job status.
I know plenty of people who’ve never worked in industries that destroy the earth who’ve seen their jobs taken away or turned into part-time, temporary, contractor or otherwise bad-paying jobs, or no jobs at all.
Journalists, for example. School teachers. Park rangers. EPA scientists.
How come nobody ever proposes to help those groups?
Does anyone think that helping coal miners will turn them into progressives?
These people hate environmentalists and progressives. Even as they cough up their lungs and see their homes destroyed by coal mining, they vote for McConnell, Manchin and other coal industry tools.

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This is not just a problem for extractive industries like mining, or traditional manufacturing employees. Anyone who does not have a defined-benefit pension (now the vast majority of Americans) is a victim of Wall St. greed, and their money and corrupt influence on American politics. All Americans could have access to a safe and stable guaranteed defined-benefit pension program, if we had the political will to have Congress create it. It already exists for one industry. Railroad Retirement is a federally-administered company/employee funded pension plan, that predates Social Security, and in many ways was the example for SS. While railroads and their employees pay into it, the companies have absolutely NO SAY in the administration of it. It cannot be used as an asset in a bankruptcy or takeover by a corporate raider. Employees covered by it cannot lose their money from a bankruptcy, or because of any rules violation or other “cause” of termination - you paid into it, you are entitled to the money. It is transferable between railroad employers. It is better than Social Security, because it is designed to be a pension a retiree can live on. Employers and employees pay more in taxes into it, but retirees get a higher benefit in return. The fund is invested in “safer” investments, and has never lost money. Most railroads would like to get out of it, and I’m sure every corporate and financial industry lobbyist would fight like Hell to prevent it from being made available to the rest of working Americans. But it’s what we need to make for a stable and dignified retirement for the VAST majority of our workers. The only way we will ever get close to getting something like that is to de-fang corporate America by passing the Constitutional amendment that says corporations are not people, and money is not speech, and to then outlaw political activity and lobbying by all corporations, and greatly restrict individual political contributions to minimal levels that most people could afford. Once the rich and corporate America could no longer buy-off the politicians, then we can get them to pass laws and create institutions that would benefit average people - like a decent pension for everyone.

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But isn’t capitalism supposed to usher in new and better jobs eventually when “creative destruction” disrupts some sectors? I hear Kentucky needs dog groomers and home health care workers.

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Another example of unfettered corporate capitalism creating a problem with socialism proposed as the solution. The first step should be to strip coal execs and shareholders of every penny of their assets. That money can then be used to train ex-miners to clean up the coal ash and environmental degradation poisoning their communities.

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Seperating us into small groups based on race, religion, geographic location, etc. and tussling over a small slice of the pie keeps us from figuring out we all have a common enemy. It is class warfare but 'murikans are trained from birth to never discuss class and to view socialism and communism as pure evil.

Healthcare and a living wage. Same as everyone else. And the people who got rich off the coal should pay for it.

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Absolutely, it’s all part of the “trickle”, no wait, I think that’s piss going down my back.

Now that industrial hemp is legal to grow in the US, We the People should invest all those damaging corporate handouts into hemp farms and manufacturing plants all over the nation. Growing the biomass will hemp heal the atmosphere and damaged land, and create jobs for millions of people. Anything petroleum, cotton, and trees can do, hemp can do better without killing the planet. There are thousands of products to be made out of this gift from Mother Earth. Food, clothing, shelter, four kinds of fuel, medicine, and biodegradable plastics are just the start of a new, regenerative manufacturing industry for We the People.

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Recently I installed a 70% Afue wood burning fireplace insert. Though it burns wood and emits CO2, it nevertheless is considered carbon neutral, as the wood if not burned would emit the CO2 as it decomposed. As such, the government could and should create a rebate program to have these carbon neutral fireplace inserts, along with carbon neutral wood burning stoves, made available to the public who currently have 5% to 15% inefficient burning fireplaces. These inserts would also reduce the amount of heat needed by burning other fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas.
If such a program were enacted, there would then be a need for several million of these units to be manufactured, and installed, which would take some years before accomplishing. During this time it would provide employment to many unemployed coal miners, and other unemployed individuals.

“don’t know why coal miners deserve any more help than any of us who chose a job and found that changing times changed our job status.”

Well, David…from a ‘role of government under welfare state capitalism’ point of view - I’d argue government creation of green jobs would do two good things:

one, it would go beyond giving unemployment checks and telling workers, ‘find a job fast or else’ - rather, it would assign government the role of investing in and training workers for good jobs (i.e., it takes the view it is not merely his/her responsibility to get two crappy jobs for a miserable existence);

and, two - green jobs in particular would begin to carry out a democratically arrived at human need to save the planet - with government vs. the capitalist economy understood as the proper and necessary instrument of that transition.

Note this does not contradict the view that government should be responsible for creating and training unemployed people in good jobs in all areas of the country and kinds of job.

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“Does anyone think that helping coal miners will turn them into progressives?”

Well…yes…

…I do think that the government training workers for good green jobs would change minds about both the role of government and the green new deal…at least under proper government auspices, where the ‘job training’ included education about why this kind of job was so important - particularly if the training started with the young in the public schools - including but not limited to career technical high schools…

Suppose we put those people to work.

Look across Appalachia at the thousands of acres of mountaintops flattened in the latest mining technology. There are satellite pictures that show what’s left there now.

What if we put those thousands of former miners to work preparing sites and then building and operating solar power stations. How much energy could we generate by turning those already flattened sites into solar generation plants? How many of those miners could we employ in their preparation, construction and maintenance? Could Appalachia become one of America’s major power generation locations?

The solar collectors can be “ringed” by wind generators. There is little lack of wind across those mountains.

The sites are already there.

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Could help workers in a declining industry, plus tip political balance of power - as it would be in workers’ interest to grasp and politically side w/a Green New Deal vs. the anti-GND position of the party of McConnell many vote for.

Hi DavidCarson:
Oh please be kinder to the coal worker people. Not only have they lost clean air and clean water—but the F***in coal companies also blew up their mountains that were their local graveyards too! They truly live with their damaged environment and have suffered more than just losing a job. When you say those things about “deserving,” you fall into the Hillary-----mentality of her ,“deplorable.” Remember too, that they had mainly a one item economy----coal. It’s as sad as dissing the car workers in Detroit when cars moved to Mexico. : (

Hi JackNelsonStewart!

Great ideas! : )

Over, say, the course of a year, would the same amount of wood emit the same amount of CO2 decomposing as it would burning?