The worst in 14 monthsWritten by Julen Madariaga on February 23rd, 2009
The AFP dispatch says it all:
Seventy-four workers were confirmed dead and dozens trapped underground after a gas blast early on Sunday at a colliery in northern China, the worst accident to hit the nation’s mines in over 14 months.
There is something very wrong with these news. The paragraph should end with “the worst since the beginning of Reform” or even “since the fall of the Qing”. But the worst in over 14 months!
A mine, and especially a coal mine, is a dangerous working environment - we have known very serious accidents in Europe as well. But, in the 21st century, large scale incidents with 74 fatalities becoming yearly routine is not simply an “accident”. It is a conscious act of a company manager who is gambling with the life of his workers. And there is a responsibility from the government for allowing to continue operations in some mines that should have been closed down long ago.
For the sake of comparison: Only this one incident is 10 times more deadly than the whole Sanlu tainted milk scandal. In that case, there was wide social response and the governent saw it as a serious harmony problem. A fast trial was organized, the company was dismantled and in three months there were leaders condemned. Probably not perfect justice, but at least there was some action.
But who will speak for the black faced migrant miners? There is no independent union of miners to organize protests. The general public is not concerned by a safety issue that - unlike tainted milk- will never put their own well-being at risk. The media, both international and Chinese, will have forgotten the incident in no more than a week.
Very soon we will all turn our attention to different news and, in the meantime, the miners will still be going down, little by little digging their way into their next pocket of gas.