In early 1989, grime-covered coal miners, leading troglodytic lives filled with dust and danger, gathered one morning by their lockers, changed into their work gear, and, with helmets in place and headlamps lighted, refused to decamp into the their underground workplace.
At issue wasn’t mine safety; nor was it wages, but rather things more mundane: soap and toothpaste. Neither was available to miners and their families in the isolated mining town.
Like coal mining towns in West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia, this town was bent to the exigencies of industry and commerce—the quality of life for miners often suffered as a result. The town was old-fashioned in both geography and city planning. While retaining the natural dignity and beauty of the boreal forests growing on hillsides surrounding the community, there were few amenities available for the citizens. The people there lived hard, nineteenth century lives; living behind-the-times and in isolation-- with lives made harder by the exploitation of mine bosses who controlled little things like vacation time. Vacation time may seem a small matter but it’s important to people who live their lives underground and rarely see the sun, writes David Satter in The Age of Delirium.
The workers and their families were underfed too-- amazingly as we approached the 21st century-- without basic amenities like laundry detergent, indoor toilets and running water. Union bosses ignored workers’ appeals to get them the necessities of life; and even letters to a local television show complaining about conditions got no response.
The management of the mine, in desperation, and after considerable agitation from workers, resorted to another ruse, as they had on other occasions. It was the kind of ruse they had used before to support the myth that management “cared” about the workers. They gave the workers a harsh mechanical soap to clean up with after work, “a washing-up liquid that was used for cleaning engines and caused their hair to fall out,” Satter continues. “As the taps broke on showers, four men were forced to wash under one shower.”
The workers this time had enough of excuses. They went on strike, occupying the town with a self-organized militia and sending emissaries to other workers and other towns, with the strike spreading regionally.
The management of the mines could do nothing to stem the strikes either. They could offer the strikers neither soap, nor toothpaste, nor detergent.
All they could offer them were more lies, excuses and myths.