Kosovo and the myth of liberal intervention

by Neil Clark

15th December 2010.

'The United States of America and the Kosovo Liberation Army stand for the same human values and principles ... Fighting for the KLA is fighting for human rights and American values." So declared the neocon US senator (and current foe of WikiLeaks) Joseph Lieberman back in 1999 at the height of the US-led military intervention against Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia.

It would be interesting to hear what Senator Lieberman makes of the report of the Council of Europe – Europe's premier human rights watchdog – on his favourite band of freedom fighters. The report, which cites FBI and other intelligence sources, details horrific rights abuses it claims have been carried out by the KLA, the west's allies in the war against Yugoslavia 11 years ago.

The council claims that civilians – Serbian and non-KLA-supporting Kosovan Albanians detained by the KLA in the 1999 hostilities – were shot in northern Albania and their kidneys extracted and sold on the black market. It names Hashim Thaçi, the former leader of the KLA and Kosovo's prime minister, as the boss of a "mafia-like" group engaged in criminal activity – including heroin trading – since before the 1999 war. The report is a damning indictment not only of the KLA but also of western policy. And it also gives lie to the fiction that Nato's war with Yugoslavia was, in Tony Blair's words, "a battle between good and evil; between civilisation and barbarity; between democracy and dictatorship".

It was a fiction many on the liberal left bought into. In 1999 Blair was seen not as a duplicitous warmonger in hock to the US but as an ethical leader taking a stand against ethnic cleansing. But if the west had wanted to act morally in the Balkans and to protect the people in Kosovo there were solutions other than war with the Serbs, and options other than backing the KLA – the most violent group in Kosovan politics. They could have backed genuine multi-party negotiations, or offered to lift sanctions on Belgrade if a peaceful solution to the problem of Kosovo could be found.

Instead, a virulently anti-Serb stance led the west into taking ever more extreme positions, and siding with an organisation which even Robert Gelbard, President Clinton's special envoy to Kosovo, described as "without any question, a terrorist group". In 2000 the Sunday Times revealed that, prior to the Nato bombing, US agents had been training the KLA. Shaban Shala, a KLA commander, claimed he had met British and US agents in north Albania in 1996.

It was the KLA's campaign of violence against Yugoslav state officials, Serbian and Kosovan civilians in 1998, which led to an escalation of the conflict with the government in Belgrade, with atrocities committed on both sides. We were told the outbreak of war in March 1999 with Nato was the Serbian government's fault, yet Lord Gilbert, the UK defence minister, admitted "the terms put to Miloševic at Rambouillet [the international conference preceding the war] were absolutely intolerable … it was quite deliberate".

The subsequent 78-day "humanitarian" bombardment of federal Yugoslavia massively intensified the ethnic cleansing of Kosovan Albanians by Yugoslav forces. Between 2,000 and 10,000 Kosovan Albanians were killed by these forces, with between 500 and 1,500 people killed by the Nato bombing.

But even after Russian pressure forced a Yugoslav withdrawal from Kosovo, ethnic cleansing and rights abuses in the region continued. Under the Nato occupation an estimated 200,000 ethnic Serbs, Roma and other minorities from south Kosovo, and almost the whole Serb population of Pristina, have been forced from their homes.

A report on Kosovo by Minority Rights Group International claimed: "Nowhere [in Europe] is there such a level of fear for so many minorities that they will be harassed or attacked, simply for who they are." And in October 2010, a report by Human Rights Watch stated that "Roma and related minority groups deported from western Europe to Kosovo face discrimination and severe deprivation amounting to human rights abuse". As for democratic advances, Sunday's elections in Kosovo, boycotted by the Serbian minority, have seen widespread allegations of fraud, with a turnout of 149% reported in one area.

Far from being Tony Blair's "good war", Nato's assault on Yugoslavia was in its own way as immoral as the assault on Iraq. But as the Iraq war has become discredited, so it is even more important for the supporters of "liberal interventionism" to promote the line that Kosovo was in some way a success. The Council of Europe's report on the KLA's crimes makes that position much harder to maintain. And if it plays its part in making people more sceptical about any future western "liberal interventions", it is to be warmly welcomed.


Ireland and the European Union: Who is to blame?

by Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey,


Like a house of cards, one by one, the European Union starts to collapse. First Greece, then Ireland, next who knows? The "experts" blame the banks, blame the bankers, blame the financiers...but who is apportioning the blame to where it really lies: to the system itself?

It is by now patently obvious that no system is perfect. The Communist system in which the State provides security for its citizens, where everyone contributes towards the common good, was implemented in many countries in the twentieth century where in general terms it was hugely successful. The capitalist system, one whose vision is a society in which people are free to create their own business and stimulate the economy by creating wealth and jobs, while paying taxes to create a social umbrella, operating alongside Trade Union movements which protected workers' rights was a nice idea and on paper a good ideal.

The problem is, one system worked and the other did not. In the Communist countries, healthcare was excellent and free, schooling was excellent, and free; having a house and a job was a birthright; public transportation was free, public utilities were free; basic foodstuffs were free and distributed by the State, which in turn provided national security with strong, defensively-oriented armed forces and security on the streets - people were free to walk around without being attacked by marauding gangs of drug addicts, inner cities were free of feral children.

The other side of the Iron Curtain spent trillions of dollars trying to sabotage the model, trying to assassinate the political leaders of Communist countries (such as Fidel Castro) and from day one in Russia started interfering (the Civil War). This side of the Curtain was happy to call Stalin Uncle Joe when 26 million Soviet citizens were losing their lives defeating Hitler (90% of the Wehrmacht casualties were sustained on the Eastern Front) yet after the Great Patriotic War finished, settled back into its customary policy of antagonism against a political and social system which freed millions from the tyranny of Imperialism across the globe and brought impoverished and backward societies into the front line of development in just a few decades.

Instead of siding with and working towards the success of this system, this side of the Curtain sabotaged it and by a skilful policy of dangling carrots in front of the noses of a generation of donkeys which blindly took the bait, sent the entire world, just two decades later, into the worst economic and financial crisis it has known. And it isn't over yet. Make no mistake: the economic black hole is so vast in certain countries that there is no sunshine on the horizon and there will not be for decades to come.

And what has this wonderful capitalist system done? For a start, it turned against the attractive ideals which underpinned its basic policy, that of creating societies free to reap the reward of personal endeavour. Predictably, it has turned into a system whereby dog eats dog. Where are the high street grocery stores? They have gone, sucked into horrific black holes called hypermarkets or big spaces, where all your movements are controlled from the minute you enter to the second you leave, by the use of aromas (bread, makes you buy), the strategic placing of goods, leading you to go past the products you would not normally buy as you make for the staple goods, by manipulation of music to make you walk faster or slower, right up until the check-out, where the impulse buys are placed at just the right height to catch the attention of the average baby sitting on a supermarket trolley or the average toddler walking beside mother.

While the Communist system distributed houses for free, the other side of the Curtain turned people's lives into a nightmare from the moment they are born to the second they give up and die, no doubt being asked if they know how much money they are costing the National Health Service days before they do (as was the case with a close family member). After twelve years of education, it seems many cannot even write, higher education has become a business, as has healthcare, leisure time activities and transportation. Getting and retaining a job is a drama, buying and maintaining a house another, while a decent pension is a thing of the past. This, while bottom-line policies dictate how few police there are on the beat as the citizens grapple with living in societies in which an old lady does not feel safe to go out after dark.

Wonderful. However, that is just the start of it. As if the system itself were not bad enough, they brought in international mechanisms of control which directly affect the lives of citizens the other side of the world and in the EU, they exported it and imposed it on an inter-continental scale, in a top-down attitude of "do as I say and shut up", repeating referenda in countries whose populations obviously did not want to live in a Federal State. Take Ireland as a prime example.
And here we reach the crux of the matter: the globalization of stupidity. As if it were not enough for the "system" to turn its back on its founding principles, which were valid, it invented vectors by which rating agencies such as Fitch, Standard and Poor and Moody's (based in the USA, where else?) can stipulate how much a country's capital is worth and thereby directly affect the lives of its citizens. This has nothing to do with a system in which citizens are free to create wealth and therefore let's not call it Capitalism any more. It has morphed into something far, far worse: The speculative system.

In a word, gambling. Whereas in the past money was based upon value, i.e. trading in sea shells or the value of a silver coin (which was in Medieval times cut in half or quarters to provide the real value of a payment) speculation took its first uneasy steps when the promissory note became the currency in circulation, not worth the paper it was printed on, but having the value of the promise to pay the bearer a certain amount of money (e.g. one pound). The stake into the heart of the money-based-on-value system was the decision by the Nixon Government to unilaterally end the policy of fixing the value of the dollar to gold in 1971, destroying the Bretton Woods agreement to peg exchange rates among currencies.
The second step was the insurance market, tying monetary sums to eventualities and as time went on, these products became more and more complex, drawing in the banking system itself, insurance and reinsurance policies, investment funds, pension funds, municipalities, University funds, healthcare authorities' trusts, basing their wealth on future products of commodities, shares, government bonds, taking out insurance policies on these values...and when the public confidence in the economy collapsed, all of these products lost value because they were never based on anything tangible, purely on speculative and intangible waves of euphoria.

Nobody knows exactly how many trillions were vaporised because the knock-on effects are still being felt. It was this catastrophic backdrop which the banks were facing, their investment funds intrinsically tied up in this fog of ratings agencies and a more and more globalised economy: a world-wide house of cards waiting for a hurricane.

This system was bound to be wide open to the effects of its endemic and chronic vector of failure to create employment, where a 4% unemployment rate is classified as "healthy" (creating an underclass from the outset) and by now based upon the power of the USD, was wide open to the effects of the USA manipulating the value of the dollar to stimulate exports and to reduce its debt.
With the banks up to their ears in catastrophic investments and with unemployment rising, it came as no surprise that the system itself had positioned itself on thin ice. In Ireland's case, the budget deficit had reached 32% of its GDP, while the European Union had stipulated in its Convergence package that economies could only have a 3% deficit.

How Ireland gets back from the brink without seriously harming its consumers, who after all have fulfilled all the demands made of them, paying their taxes and following the laws imposed upon them, is a telling question for today's globalised world.
Suffice it to say that were the intelligent powers that be to raise just a one per cent tax on financial derivatives traded, hundreds of billions of USD would become readily available, taking the burden away from the citizens. This will never happen, because this system is controlled by a handful who have become super-rich at the expense of the rest of the population, consigned over time to becoming members of a global under-class.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have allowed ourselves to be duped by a global system controlled by the few, catering to their interests and rendering the endeavour of billions of people meaningless. It is as if a cabal of gamblers has taken over the world.

And guess who gets to pay their debts?




What exactly are 20,000 USA troops doing there?

Is it a pretext of Humanitarian Aid!

by Steve Whatham (Lawyer and member of The Socialist Labour Party).

I watched a news item from Haiti on the evening news, 4th November. It showed Haitians surviving in make shift crude shelters following the earthquake which occurred quite a long time ago on January 12th 2010. Very little appeared to have been carried out to provide proper shelters.

My thought drifted back to reports that International help was flooding into this impoverished country. I was aware already that Cuban doctors in great numbers had already been working in Haiti for a number of years and had set up clinics where sick people could get medical help at no cost.

News reports stated that the United States had sent in Navy ships and up to 20,000 troops. My, what you can do with this amount of help if sent for the purpose of helping the people.

Assuming this huge deployment was to help the afflicted but not trusting the intentions of the Americans with their record of interventions throughout the world I surfed the web and obtained the following assertions.

Writing for “Global Research Articles”, Marguerite Laurent states the following which I have shortened but not altered the information.

"After being called crazy and un-American for writing that the 2010 earthquake gives the US the perfect disaster-capitalism opportunity to come out from behind the UN and openly occupy Haiti to secure Haiti's oil, strategic location and other riches for the corporatocracy...

The Greater Antilles, which includes Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and their offshore waters, probably hold at least 142 million barrels of oil and 159 billion cubic feet of gas, according to a 2000 report by the U.S. Geological Survey. Undiscovered amounts may be as high as 941 million barrels of oil and 1.2 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to the report. Among nations in the northern Caribbean, Cuba and Jamaica have awarded offshore leases for oil and gas development. Trinidad and Tobago, South American islands off the coast of Venezuela, account for most Caribbean oil production, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

I've been writing for years now that the US has been trying to get rid of Haiti's democratically elected government since 1991 so they could get to "their" strategic reserves without any fear of a populous president nationalizing the oil and gas reserves to benefit the miserably poor majority in Haiti as has been done in Venezuela or elsewhere in Latin America. (See, Haiti is full of oil, say Ginette and Daniel Mathurin, where these scientist say there's more oil in Haiti than in Venezuela.) No one has been listening. Not even the white liberals who are such defenders of Haiti. To the best of my knowledge, other than Haitians, over the long years before the earthquake, the only non-Haitian observers who ever paid attention and picked up on our reports and concerns about the plundering and pillaging of Haiti's riches, were John Maxwell and Chris Scott of CKUT Radio in Canada. That's it. All the others bought the State Department line that Haiti was a charity case and had no resources to mention.

Today Haiti has oil and 20,000 troops are down there to secure it and Haiti's other riches while the vision is to perhaps herd the displaced earthquake victims - who don't die from their TV-aid - into hastily constructed pre-fabricated houses and let the ghettos fester as they do in Kingston, Jamaica, while the areas the whites and Haitian oligarchy want are developed into tourist havens and all capital is flown out of Haiti.

There exists a “Lavalas map” of Haiti's resources which shows that Kafou's Morne Cabrit the area affected by the quake housed a huge reserve of oil. Here's the article I wrote, last year documenting that Haiti had oil and that was the reason for the US/UN forced removal of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. I do so hope, this time, to honour the lives lost and really help protect the remaining survivors of Bush the first and Bush the lesser's two regimes changes in Haiti and now this total occupation, that conscious Americans and all decent folks on this earth, are paying attention and will help us stop this latest travesty.

The just thing for now, is to allow former President Aristide who was kidnapped out of Haiti on a rendition plane by the US Special forces and has been practically under house arrest in South Africa for 6-years, forbidden first by US Secretary of State Condi Rice and now Hillary Clinton from returning home, to return to his country. He ought to be returned to Haiti so he may assist Haiti’s majority at this agonizing time and help in the relief and rebuilding of the nation".

A further article dated October 15th on Axis of Logic by a columnist called Dady Chery was headed:- Hatians Demand UN to take its colonial Army, MINUSTAH Out and said:-

"It is high time to bid good riddance to MINUSTAH (MIssion des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haďti), a colonialist army that has terrorized Haiti for the last six years and is currently overseeing the sham presidential and legislative elections in the country.

The most popular political party, Lavalas, is being excluded from the elections. MINUSTAH’s 1994 appearance came on the heels of Aristide’s transport into exile after he decreed a minimum-wage increase. Brazil, Canada, and the United States, all countries with powerful interests in Haitian sweatshop labour, are the key supporters of this army, which consumes more than one fourth of Haiti’s state budget.

Haitians -- rich and poor, and throughout the political spectrum -- despise MINUSTAH. Its horrors range from the daily confiscations of drivers licenses and computers, to well-documented cases of rape and murder.

Even so, year after year, the UN Security Council renews MINUSTAH’s mandate. Such renewals typically follow several weeks of insecurity so predictable one could set one’s watch to it. This year is one year too many. Throughout the critical first 72 hours after the January 12th earthquake, cowardly MINUSTAH soldiers scrambled to rescue their own personnel and left the Haitian earthquake victims to themselves.

On October 15, 2010, MINUSTAH’s mandate expires. Perhaps readers can offer some other reason for the deployment of the 20,000 American soldiers?"

The full article by Marguerite Laurent and Ezili Danto is on the web and gives possible reasons for what triggered the earth quake which for some reason was in the area where oil is said to be present and did not go as far as the border with the Dominican Republic.


The Welfare State

As the Second World War drew to a close discontented British troops and workers were determined not to return to the conditions of the 1930s.

As author John Gorman emphasised in his work ‘To Build Jerusalem’ -

“For the labour movement the war strengthened the commitment of ‘no return to the thirties’. After the experience of fighting from Dunkirk to Berlin, and in deserts and jungles, there was a resolve to refuse to return to a Britain of class privilege, private wealth and public squalor”.

The government’s response to this unrest was the Beveridge Report, also known as ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’, published in 1942, which formed the basis for establishing the Welfare State and National Health Service after WW2.

The Report claimed “It is, first and foremost, a plan of insurance - of giving in return for contributions benefits up to subsistence level, as of right and without means test, so that individuals may build freely upon it.”

To this end the report’s principle proposed change was “Unification of social insurance in respect of contributions, that is to say, enabling each insured person to obtain all benefits by a single weekly contribution on a single document.”

(Above quotations from the Beveridge Report November 1942).

This weekly National Insurance contribution would serve as access to benefits such as free health care, unemployment pay and a State pension upon retirement and thereby a comprehensive system covering people ‘from cradle to grave’.

By any objective assessment this was an historic gain for the population of Britain.

The Beveridge report was at the time a culmination of the welfare policies that had been adopted previously. The report acknowledges for example, the Poor Law, the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1897, the Pensions Act passed in 1908, the Unemployment Act of 1934.

This move for more State intervention in welfare and social policy grew during the Second World War; free school milk and meals were introduced for example, and apart from initiating the Beveridge Report the government introduced white papers on education and a national health service. These developments materialised in the Education Act of 1944 which provided free secondary education for all and in the reforms introduced by the Clement Attlee led Labour government after the war, with the passing of the National Insurance Act and the NHS Act.

Since the 1980s we have seen successive governments attempt to roll back these historic gains, culminating today in the attempt by the current coalition government to end welfare and social provision completely.

Trade unions, which represent millions of workers, must not only secure the interests of workers at their place of employment but must see it as their duty to also protect and defend all the past gains, made at great sacrifice, by our ancestors.



The Chilean abuses kept in the shadows

by John Pilger

The rescue of 33 miners in Chile is an extraordinary drama filled with pathos and heroism. It is also a media windfall for the Chilean government, whose every beneficence is recorded by a forest of cameras. One cannot fail to be impressed. However, like all great media events, it is a facade.

The accident that trapped the miners is not unusual in Chile, but the inevitable consequence of a ruthless economic system that has barely changed since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Copper is Chile's gold, and the frequency of mining disasters keeps pace with prices and profits. There are, on average, 39 fatal accidents every year in Chile's privatised mines. The San Jose mine, where the men work, became so unsafe in 2007 that it had to be closed - but not for long.

On July 30 last, a Labour Department report warned again of "serious safety deficiencies," but no action was taken. Six days later, the men were entombed.

For all the media circus at the rescue site, contemporary Chile is a country of the unspoken.

At Villa Grimaldi, in the suburbs of the capital Santiago, a sign says: "The forgotten past is full of memory."

This was the torture centre where hundreds of people were murdered and disappeared for opposing the fascism that Pinochet and his business allies brought to Chile.

Its ghostly presence is overseen by the beautiful Andes, and the man who unlocks the gate used to live nearby and remembers the screams.

I was taken there one wintry morning in 2006 by Sara de Witt, who was imprisoned as a student activist and now lives in London. She was electrocuted and beaten, yet survived.

Later, we drove to the home of Salvador Allende, the great democrat and reformer who perished when Pinochet seized power on September 11 1973 - Latin America's own 9/11. His house is a silent white building without a sign or a plaque.

Everywhere, it seems, Allende's name has been eliminated. Only on the lone memorial in the cemetery are the words engraved, "Presidente de la Republica," as part of a remembrance of the "ejecutados politicos" - those "executed for political reasons."

Allende died by his own hand as Pinochet bombed the presidential palace with British planes and the US ambassador watched.

Chile is now a democracy, though many would dispute that. In 1990, Pinochet bequeathed a constitutionally compromised system as a condition of his retirement and the military's withdrawal to the political shadows.

This ensures that the alliance of broadly reformist parties, known as the Concertacion, is permanently divided or drawn into legitimising the economic designs of the dictator's heirs.

At the last election the right-wing Coalition for Change, the creation of Pinochet's ideologue Jaime Guzman, took power under President Sebastian Pinera.

The bloody extinction of true democracy that began with Allende's death was, by stealth, made complete.

Pinera is a billionaire who controls a slice of the mining, energy and retail industries. He made his fortune in the aftermath of Pinochet's coup and during the free-market "experiments" of the zealots from the University of Chicago, known as the Chicago Boys.

His brother and former business partner Jose Pinera, a labour minister under Pinochet, privatised mining and state pensions and all but destroyed the trade unions.

This was applauded in Washington as an "economic miracle," a model of the new cult of neoliberalism that would sweep the continent and ensure control from the north.

Today Chile is critical to President Barack Obama's rollback of the independent democracies in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela.

Pinera's closest ally is Washington's main man, Juan Manuel Santos, the new president of Colombia, home to seven US bases and an infamous human rights record familiar to Chileans who suffered under Pinochet's terror.

Post-Pinochet Chile has kept its own enduring abuses in the shadows. Families still attempting to recover from the torture or disappearance of a loved one bear the prejudice of the state and employers.

Those not silent are the Mapuche people, the only indigenous nation the Spanish conquistadors could not defeat.

In the late 19th century, the European settlers of independent Chile waged a racist war of extermination against the Mapuche, who were left as impoverished outsiders. During Allende's thousand days in power, some Mapuche lands were returned and a debt of justice was recognised.

Since then, a vicious and largely unreported war has been waged against the Mapuche. Forestry corporations have been allowed to take their land, and their resistance has been met with murders, disappearances and arbitrary prosecutions under "anti-terrorism" laws enacted by the dictatorship.

In their campaigns of civil disobedience, none of the Mapuche has harmed anyone.

The mere accusation of a landowner or businessman that the Mapuche "might" trespass on their own ancestral lands is often enough for the police to charge them with offences that lead to Kafkaesque trials, with faceless witnesses and prison sentences of up to 20 years.

They are, in effect, political prisoners.

As the world rejoices at the spectacle of the miners' rescue, 38 Mapuche hunger strikers have not been news.

They are demanding an end to the Pinochet laws used against them, such as "terrorist arson," and the justice of a real democracy. On October 9, all but one of the hunger strikers ended their protest after 90 days without food.

A young man, Luis Marileo, says he will go on. On October 18, President Pinera is due to give a lecture on "current events" at the London School of Economics.

He should be reminded of their ordeal and why.

This article appeared in the New Statesman.


Arthur Scargill Speech

Arthur Scargill, legendary leader of the National Union of Mineworkers during the Great Strike of 1984/85, spoke at a Socialist Labour Party public meeting in Barnsley on 6th September 2010. This is a recording of the speech and it makes excellent listening.

Working class people are under attack, our jobs, our wages and conditions, our pensions, our public services fought for over generations are all threatened. Youth unemployment is rising at an astronomical rate on top of an already record level while at the same time education opportunities are being cut...

It's time to fight back! It's time to stand up for the socialist society - the only viable long term alternative to a decaying capitalist system.


Chile's trapped miners

Even those who have done the dangerous work of mining can only imagine what the 33 men are going through in Chile

By Ken Capstick (NUM & SLP)

Guardian 25th August 2010.

The 33 miners trapped below ground in Chile’s San José mine since 5 August are suffering the worst nightmare of miners the world over, who will be sharing their pain and that of their families, desperately hoping the rescuers succeed.

I spent 38 years of my life working as a coalminer and many long hours underground. I will never forget leaving school and jumping for joy – we said it was “the end of bondage”. I was 15, it was Easter 1956. Normally we would get a week’s holiday – I got two days and then found myself feeling imprisoned in what seemed worse than any dungeon. Deafening noise, constantly moving machinery, little light with which to see, grimy surroundings and hard physical work was my lot in life.

I was out of bed by 4.30 in the morning, trudging to the pit with my father; weather conditions, however bad, never stopped him or most miners. Men would crush on to the cage, as it was known, and then there would be a sudden plunge into the shaft as it hurtled for almost half a mile into the depths of the Earth. The bricks of the shaft wall were just a blur – four Blackpool towers end-on-end would just about reach from top to bottom.

I would start work at 6am and work until 1.30pm. Looking back now I realise how dangerous it was. At the end of the shift I would wash in the pithead baths and catch the bus in the pit yard, known as the pit paddy, which circled the mining village and dropped everyone off near their homes. Mother had the dinner on the table. I often fell asleep eating it.

I finished my first five days, Monday to Friday, in what seemed like a year. Saturday was voluntary in those days. I told my father I wasn’t going. He told me I was.

There was constant danger, and supervision by older miners was essential. They took care of you, but not in a mollycoddling sort of way – it was rough justice if you didn’t do as you were told, back-chatted or got “too big for your boots”.

I became an electrician and worked in every part of the mine. It was regarded by other miners as a cushy number. It was, but only by comparison with the work they did. Conditions were often cramped, crawling on hands and knees, breathing foul air, coughing and spitting out black coal dust from deep in your lungs.

Miners didn’t suffer fools gladly: coalmining was harsh. Conditions could be freezing cold or boiling hot in different parts of the same mine. Miners worked often on their bellies, using a pick and shovel all day, doing crushingly hard work. They ended up with bronchitis and emphysema, industrial deafness, broken limbs, dust on the lungs and were called greedy by people who could never understand. And we have had our share of disasters that have killed hundreds of miners in the time it takes to say, “Look out”. Sometimes they would be torn to bits after being dragged into brutal machinery, quite literally carried out in bags like chunks of mincemeat. It would be announced in passing on the news.

I once helped to carry a friend out of the mine. He was dead. He had been buried by a large fall of ground. We worked feverishly to get him out. That was 40 years ago. I laid a wreath at the altar in memory of him recently. It never goes away.

Eight miners have died in Britain’s coalmines in the past four years.

www.bbc.co.uk/bradford/sense_of_place/lofthouse_colliery_disaster.shtmlan inrush of water killed seven. Their comrades worked for a solid fortnight before being forced to leave them buried where they died.

Miners depend on each other for their own safety, which creates an unbreakable bond of camaraderie. Some might find it strange that a coalmine echoes to the sound of laughter. If I miss anything, it is the humour.

A miner is a miner wherever he works. Sometimes I spent 18 hours at a stretch in a coalmine, but can only imagine what it must be like for those fellow miners trapped in the unimaginable darkness of the San José gold and copper mine.

Leadership will be a vital element, someone experienced who they trust and respect, with the authority and mental strength to maintain his own morale as well as that of the others. I have met many men of that calibre. And in San José, 670 metres underground, it seems a natural leader has emerged – 54-year-old shift foreman Luis Urzúa.

If you have ever called a miner greedy, say a prayer with me tonight for those in Chile who, if reports are accurate, look like being there until Christmas.



The Case for Clean Coal

Ken Capstick, former Vice President of Yorkshire National Union of Mineworkers gives a speech on British and world energy issues and makes the case for the use of Clean Coal utilising Carbon Capture and Storage as an integral part of an Integrated Energy Policy for Britain.

Essential listening for anyone concerned for future energy provision and a world that tackles CO2 emissions in the only practical way available.

Ayrshire, Scotland.

May 2010