For the last 10 weeks the capitalist media has been whipped into a frenzy by the story of 33 trapped miners in the San Jose Copiapó copper and gold mine in Chile. Though the event has been widely covered, it has not been much reported on, but rather, it has been turned into a narrative that leaves an increasingly unoriginal Hollywood salivating with eyeball dollar signs. The television reporting, as the miners were being rescued, was nothing less than abysmal.

The miners, clearly ecstatic to be alive, were like Big Brother props for self important journalists; it was froth; fairy tales over analysis, heavy sage tones over tough questions, a random event over cause and effect, form over substance, story telling over journalism, it was all waving white handkerchiefs and national anthems. Broadcasters and minor celebrities embarrassingly shared their personal relief, somebody even said “This really shows the Chilean national character, this could only happen in Chile”…

From the word go coverage of the event has teetered on farce, turning an event that was terrible and should never have happened into something that is positive for the miners and altogether fantastic; a gripping saga… with a happy ending. Much like Dunkirk was a stroke of military genius, the trapping of these miners has been a miracle too, in its own right, and one that has served to benefit the miners(!!). The release of the trapped miners has unleashed a furore of media speculation as to how the miners, in the words of the Financial Times, have “struck gold”, referencing the instant celebrity status enjoyed by the miners upon their rescue, with all the post-modern claptrap about “zeitgeist” and meta-narratives. Though little has been said of their fa te at the time when they become instantly economically unviable in the eyes of cynical media moguls, who, in a years time, won't see much Dollar mileage in putting their faces on the front of Time magazine. And if they wanted to be miners again, their luck has run out, because the San Estaban mining company, who employed them, is looking to declare bankruptcy, conveniently, given that the families of the trapped miners have considered litigation on account of corporate malfeasance. Bankruptcy would leave the capitalists who own the mine null-and-void in terms of payment. In fact, even before the accident, the miners were all likely to lose their jobs, laid off by a company so indifferent to their working conditions, that the accident was one waiting to happen.

The mining company was told by the miners that the mine was unsafe when they decided to reopen it in 2008, following a death in the mine. In fact, since 2003 there have been numerous deaths in that mine. 70 miners were trapped in an similar accident in the same mine in 2006. This has been scantly reported on by the capitalist media. It was only mentioned back in August when the mine partially collapsed. A media which calls the miners “heroes” seems little interested in their fate beyond, perhaps, not wanting to report their deaths. The sad fact is that, if they have died, it would not have been an uncommon occurrence in a mine in Chile, or Latin America, or a world under capitalism. There are few accurate statistics with regard to deaths in mines, but hundreds, maybe thousands die every year from accidents in mines, the lions share being in Latin America and China. In the US, about 30 people die every year from accidents in inactive mines and quarries, and 10s of thousands die every year from respiratory and heart diseases as a result of working in unsafe and dirty working conditions in coal mines alone. None of these deaths are necessary.

Absent from all reporting on this catastrophe in Chile, has been questions on the conditions of mines in Chile and Latin America, or the number of accidents that occur, and why they occur and why this one occurred. Nor have there been tough questions put to the capitalist clique of the San Etaban mining company, or their government cronies. Nor has there been any discussion as to how this can be avoided in future.

Accidents in mines can only be avoided by nationalisation of all mines in Chile under the democratic control by the workforce. That way the mines can continue to extract the resources and minerals that are needed but not as something that is merely incidental to the purpose of generating profits. The profit motive that drives its tiny group of beneficiaries to create dangerous working conditions. The workers report unsafe conditions before most industrial accidents happen happen. It was the case with this accident as it was with the Prudhoe bay BP oil spillage. A spillage which was the largest land spillage ever and perhaps the biggest industrial accident of the last decade. Only democratic control by the workforce can ensure genuinely safe working conditions. Ultimately, the solution to the problem is democratic control of the means of production, which can only be achieved by the conquest of power of the Chilean working class, in solidarity with the working class of the whole of Latin America, for a socialist federation of Latin America.

James Lawrence

(as an addendum, coincidently, BP announced it was considering removing whistle blower rights of its work force the same day the miners were released. Workers will not be allowed to announce likely dangers in the work place to any third party; ie, anybody outside the company in the future. The announcement was made at Prudhoe bay. Just another day under capitalism)