Monday, April 14, 2014

One Reason for Labor Advocacy

April 7, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Ed Barker’s Que Pasa editorial about Labor Day last year really struck home. His article supported the workers of this country and it made a lot of sense to me. I have always been a moderate conservative and proud of it. I can also write about labor unions because my father was a strong advocate of the mining union.

He was a veteran of World War I and had seen action in France with the American Expeditionary Forces under the command General John Pershing. He was at the Battle of Verdun and Meuse-Arragone at the close of the war on November 11, 1918. Dad was in the company of men like Sgt. Alvin York of Pall Mall, Tennessee, at Meuse-Arragone in France.

Tom Kollenborn’s father. This photo was taken in 1918 after he served in France during World War I.  He was honorably discharged with the rank of Corporal and was a member of the American Expeditionary Force under General “Blackjack” Pershing.

Other than his brief military career in France my father worked in mines all his life. He never wanted me to be a miner. His first mining job was in a coal mine at 13 years old. He always said working beneath the ground was nothing more than a date for the “Devil to grab your soul.”

Mining was the only thing dad really knew. He started in the hard-rock mines when water wasn’t used in the drilling underground. The miners inhaled the dust which led to Silicosis, a terminal lung disease. My father worked in hard rock mining for more than forty years. His two main interests outside of mining was fishing and wandering the trails of the Superstition Mountains. He was introduced to the mountains in the early 1930’s.

Dad was a strong advocate of mine safety. He verbally fought and even struck for the issue involving mine safety. There were many mining accidents between 1900 and 1940 in the United States. The Coal Mines were by far the most dangerous of all the mining operations during this period. The large mining interests did not want to spend the money to use water in their drilling operations to prevent dust. They wanted the miners to survive with only the use of respirators. Have you ever worked underground when temperatures were 110-120 degrees? It is almost impossible to wear a respirator. My father and most miners knew this.

It was a slow process to finally convince the mine operators to provide water for the drilling operations underground for controlling dust. The changes came about only when Mine Unions were formed and strikes occurred. Large mine operators did not want to spend extra money on mining operations that impacted their bottom line. Shortly after the turn of the 20th Century there were mining operations in the West where the Chinese, Mexicans, and others were paid less than whites and little thought was given to health and safety.

The bottom line was the miners were not slaves to any boss, but it took almost seventy years to ease the pain of the past. However, today men are still dying from Silicosis because of poor mining conditions. I could write a book on mine issues.

The protection of the workers from corporations is as important today as in the past. In the final analysis, too much union is as bad as not enough. We, as American, must find a middle ground because without the large corporations there would be less jobs and I think most of us know that. I have seen a lot of my father’s best friends die from Silicosis and it is no way to pass on. Today I know blade operators who worked in open pit mines ten to fifteen years ago who are slowly dying from Silicosis and they don’t have adequate health insurance to provide for their care.

Friends, there are two sides to this story.

My father loved the Superstition Mountains and the many stories he heard about them. He took me into the rugged mountains when I was just ten years old. I have never forgotten the excitement of those planned trips or the people we met in the mountains. At age fifty-two my father was in very good shape, but he was beginning to slow down. He could still hike from First Water to Needle Canyon and out in one day with me dragging along behind him. He always said, “Today’s memories were yesterday’s adventures.”

Yet, I can still see him connected to an oxygen tank and struggling to breathe because of his underground mining career.

Once again, thanks to AJ News editor Ed Barker for reminding me of the significance of Labor Day.