The American Right has grabbed a sizable voting bloc of working- and middle-class men by pitting jobs from coal against the environment. In the short term, this dichotomy seems to make sense Ė since itís important to pay the bills Ė but it is a mid- to long-range disaster, says former steel worker Lee Ballinger.
By Lee Ballinger
I know what itís like to depend upon coal to feed a family. Many years ago I worked at a steel mill in Ohio. My job was at the coke plant where West Virginia coal was turned into coking coal for the blast furnace.
The top of the coke ovens was an area the size of a football field where monstrous machines funneled coal into the ovens. It was my job to put the heavy oven lids back on nice and tight. It was literally as hot as hell up there. It felt like walking barefoot on hot coals.
The air we breathed was truly foul but to us it was the sweet smell of something like success. We called it the smell of money because it paid the bills.
Yet as soon as I got a chance to escape the coke ovens, I took it. I got a job bid on a crew at the blast furnace. But I couldnít escape the coal. Like the devil or a bad check, coal will find you. It followed me to the blast furnace. .................(more)