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The Middle Place: Environmentalism, Labor Rights and a Free Market Society

Repost from Wednesday, April 17, 2010:

madalaine richards art #etsy

It's complicated. We want everything to be linear, to sit in neat piles until we have time to sort through them. But that just isn't how things work. I feel like I am in the middle place, maybe you feel the same way too. I believe in capitalism, in a free market society. It is the best system yet for giving human beings liberty to live a free life. I am a proud American. My family has lived the American Dream for as far back as the 1600s. Nobody ever became a scion of society, but we've all gotten by just fine. A few hiccups here and there, but really nothing to complain about.

I am also a big fan of fair labor practices. My grandfather worked for the Railroad Union. He helped establish what we now know as "worker's rights." Many people dislike Unions, they say they get in the way of business progress, that they hurt more than they help. But some people might feel this way about other controls in society--the speed limit, for example. No one likes getting a speeding ticket, but when you see maniacs driving at dangerous speeds, you wish they would get a ticket, right?The same thing goes for Labor Rights. It might be a pain in the neck for corporations to follow the rules, they might see other companies bending, or breaking the rules. But when more than 25 mine workers die unnecessarily, then we understand why there are rules in place and why they should not be tampered with. We do not know all of the details of the tragedy in West Virginia. Some people have speculated that if the machinery that was supposed to alert miners of unsafe levels of methane in the cave was working, they should have had plenty of time to get out of the cave. Some speculate that in the past, similar circumstances included the intentional tampering of the machinery to improve production. So if the company let the methane levels get a little higher than what was regulated, they would be able to move more coal. That the limits were too low for them to reach their inventory goals. That they wanted to beat their profit projections. And that the person in charge of all of these decisions is paid in excess of $10 million dollars a year to play hard and fast with the lives of these workers. Here is where I am stuck, because in this instance I am ready to point the finger at the guys in suits. But then I am also ready to point my finger at the "greeniacs" as the Massey CEO Don Blankenship refers to the environmentalists. Because why should we focus our energy on saving mountaintops, when it's the people inside of the mountain who are at the greatest risk of all? Of course the right answer is that we should--and must--do both.

*Photo/Art Credit: Madelaine, Wild Wonderful West Virginia

*The Middle Place title is borrowed from Kelly Corrigan's book of the same title.

*Tweet with Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Mining here.

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