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The Immaculate Conception of the Free Market

March 14, 2012

For years, Big Tim Davies dug his own grave. Along with his nephews Josh and Cory.  They were miners killed in an

Memorial for victims of the Sago mine disaster.

explosion, along with eight others, at the Sago coal mine in Tallmansville, West Virginia in February, 2006.  Coal mining is dangerous work, but lax regulation and inadequate enforcement of safety measures put Tim, Josh and Cory in much greater danger.  This neglect was politically motivated, of course, with mine owners and their advocates working hard to prevent any oversight of their operations.  But it was also fueled by the creed of the Religious Right free marketeers that treats employers as sinless heroes battling overweening government and rapacious unions.  This religious creed is a big reason these men died.The Religious Right persistently attacks government regulation and bashes unions as un-Biblical because they contradict the sanctity of private property.  Its adherents even go so far as to use Biblical support for slavery to argue that employees’ should submit to employers. Their religious zeal condemns any effort to protect workers or allow them any say in their working conditions.  They claim unions “destroy free enterprise,” and violate the freedom of contract, each of which they say is sanctified by the Bible.  The Republican Party has embraced these tenets to such an extent that both nationally and in the states “antiunion zealotry has become a core premise of the GOP.”

But the Religious Right’s denunciation of unions ignores the actual conduct of employers; they assume that conduct is so pure it rules out any need for unions.  They absolve employers in advance of misconduct, saving all their moral indignation for employees and their representatives.  But mine operators’ willful neglect of their employees’ well-being exposes how false their creed is.

On April 5, 2010, the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, WV exploded, killing 29 miners.  The owner, Massey Energy

A protester holds a sign behind Massey Energy Company Vice President and General Council Shane Harvey, left, and Massey Energy Company Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship, as they wait to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 20, 2010, before the Senate Health and Human Services subcommittee hearing on mine safety.

Company, had over 350 safety violations, more than 20 of them “flagrant,” but continued to operate unimpeded by contesting the violations and thus barring any effective oversight of its operations.  It systematically violated safety standards, “gaming the system to protect its bottom line, putting profits ahead of the safety of its workers.”  Violating the law was its accepted practice; any complaints were silenced.  The same conduct by another “scofflaw mine” –– which amounts to “industrial homicide” ––  killed Big Tim and his nephews.  Both mines were nonunion.Sin loves a power vacuum –– where those who have it can exploit those without it.  domination out of greed or ego or the lust for more power is what sin looks like in the economic realm.  This vacuum existed at both mines because the employees had no union.  So the company was free to thumb its nose at their safety in its relentless pursuit of ever greater profits.

Would a union have made a difference?  You bet it would.  A recent study by a Stanford Law professor shows how much safer mines are where there is a union looking out for the workers: “unionization predicts about a 17-33% drop in traumatic injuries and about a 33-72% drop in fatalities.”  With a union Big Jim and Josh and Cory would likely still be alive today.  The Religious Right can try to ignore employers’ sin, but the families of these men will never forget it.

For resources on faith and worker justice see the Interfaith Worker Justice site.


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  1. You have condemned all conservative Christians using guilt by association. By your calculation if one is a mine operator one is a Christian. And if one is a Christian one is a profit maximizing capitalist. Your logic is faulty and you lose whatever credibility you may have had when you employ such a broad brush approach. And you thereby do a disservice to any stakeholders, be they miners, owners or government regulators, who are heavily invested in mining.
    On your next try zero in on a very few issues and lay them bare by using verifiable facts to make your case. Maybe you could even ask one of your industry targets to explain their point of view for themselves.

  2. “Sin loves a power vacuum –– where those who have it can exploit those without it. Domination out of greed or ego or the lust for more power is what sin looks like in the economic realm.”

    Those are your money statements.

    My interest in the use of the bible to support the free market is peaked. I am about to follow some of your links down the internet rabbit hole on a quest for more information.

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