May 02, 2010

Miners' leader moves delegates to action

Source: RA 2010
Caption: Michael Fabricant of PSC joins in the rousing response to Roberts' address.

Cecil Roberts

Looking out at a sea of NYSUT delegates, Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, shook the hall: "Whether you are a miner, school teacher, professor or steelworker on an oil rig, solidarity knows no bounds. I call on every union in America to join us in the fight for a safe workplace."

Weeks after 29 miners were killed in an explosion in a non-union mine in West Virginia, Roberts brought his uplifting message to an applauding, cheering convention.

Delegates interrupted his speech continuously in recognition of his role as a voice for workers who risk their lives every day when they go to work.

Roberts moved delegates to tears when he shared that some of the miners who died had written letters to loved ones to express fear for their safety and their lives.

"Young people write these kinds of letters when they go to war," he said. "They shouldn't write these kinds of letters when they go to work!"

The deadly mine is owned by the Massey Corporation, led by Don Blankenship, a prominent voice of the "tea party" movement in West Virginia.

Speaking about the many violations of federal mine safety laws that caused the explosion, Roberts said, "It's time to make an example out of somebody. We need people to go to jail who do not obey those laws."

To illustrate the situation faced by miners in contemporary America, Roberts said that in the 40 years prior to the passage of national safety legislation in 1969, 32,000 miners died in on-the-job accidents.

In the 40 years since, despite the legislation, 3,200 miners have died in the mines.

Good laws can be effective, he said, but not when they are violated.

The crowd cheered as Roberts led them in a litany of difficult issues faced by working families, each one punctuated by the chant, "Join a union!"

He said, "We have been quiet for too long." Calling union members to action, he said, "When the people get to marching, the leaders get to listening."

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