Limbaugh: The Coal Miner's Friend
August 2, 2002
By Mike McArdle
ordinarily find Rush Limbaugh and similar talk show hosts
rather easy to ignore and discount. I don't think even their
most rabid devotees consider them to be serious political
commentators. I will even acknowledge that I am occasional
listener of Limbaugh and some of the others while I am at
work although I've found it to be a tad embarrassing to have
someone walk in at work while Limbaugh is on the radio. I
suppose I think it would make a better impression to have
the local hip-hop station on.
But this week Limbaugh made a truly preposterous attempt
to identify the nine rescued coal miners of Western Pennsylvania
with his philosophy of endless corporate sycophancy. There
weren't any liberals in that coal mine, he told his audience,
they were rugged individualists, true Americans, not liberals
who would have only cared about whether trees were being cut
down. The man who's made a career out of believing in the
benevolence of American business and touting laissez-faire
capitalism as an boon to those at every level of the economic
scale has now adopted the coal miner as his own. I think then
that it's fair to take a look at how Limbaugh's philosophy
has benefited those who make their living in the mines.
And that's because, possibly more than any other group of
American workers, coal miners have been the victims both of
Limbaugh's philosophy and of the corporate types whom he treats
the way Monica treated Bill. It isn't the unionized miners
that Limbaugh has such an admiration for; it's the owners
and operators of the mines, those entrepreneurs whom the radio
blowhard so often tells us were the people who made America
The story of the American coal miner is the story of the
often ugly power of wealth and the long, often dangerous struggle
of the powerless worker to achieve dignity in a society where
the cards have been stacked against them. For decades miners
much like the ones who were trapped in that Pennsylvania mine
last weekend were subjected to extremely long working days,
frighteningly unsafe conditions and deadly lung diseases.
They lived in substandard (to put it mildly) housing and paid
rent to the very people who sent them into those unsafe mines.
They were frequently paid in script that could only be used
to pay inflated prices in stores owned by the same coal operators
who lived quite comfortably and would never have thought of
treating their pets the way they treated the miners.
The lot of the miner improved but through no fault of the
coal barons who did their best to intimidate, physically abuse
and if necessary kill any miners who had the nerve to ask
for socialistic notions like a shorter work day. The operators
were not above hiring goons or using compliant local police
officials to do their dirty work for them. In September of
1897 in an effort to gain better conditions a peaceful group
of United Mine Worker supporters marched in Lattimer, PA.
The march was stopped by company and local police who wound
up gunning down nineteen workers and wounding 50 others. No
one was ever prosecuted.
In 1914, in Ludlow CO miners attempting to join UMWA were
evicted from their company-owned houses and set up a tent
colony on public property. Company thugs opened fire randomly
into the tents and poured kerosene on them to sent them on
fire. Twenty people were shot and burned to death, a dozen
of them wives and children of the miners. Again none of the
perpetrators were ever brought to justice but many of the
miners were arrested and blackballed by the coal industry.
There were other places - Matewan, Cabin Creek, Bloody Harlan.
The struggle lasted decades. Miners didn't get health benefits
until the late forties or safety protection until 1969.
Now if there had been talk radio in those days whose side
do you think Limbaugh and those like him would have taken
in incidents like these? Do we even have to ask? He'd have
been screeching hysterically about "socialism" and how the
union organizers were trying to destroy free enterprise and
the great men who were nice enough to give them jobs and places
to live. For all his professed admiration for the miners it
was people like him who fought them every step of the way
and made some of them risk their lives to get an 8 hour work
day and collective bargaining rights and health and retirement
coverage, things that we all take for granted today. The people
who brought dignity and a decent life to the miners were people
like John L. Lewis and William B. Wilson and that marvelous
cantankerous hell-raiser who was at both Lattimer and Ludlow,
Mary Harris "Mother" Jones. There weren't any conservatives
working for the welfare of miners.
And how much effort and money do you think the coal operators
would have expended to rescue those nine men who were trapped
in that hole in the ground ? After the rescue the mining company
made no effort to contact any of the nine miners and it wasn't
until late Tuesday that the company grudgingly announced that
the miners would be paid for the three days they spent trapped
underground fearing for their lives. It was agents of government,
the institution Limbaugh so despises, that saved the miners.
His grotesque hypocrisy won't dampen the enthusiasm of Limbaughs
mindless followers. It's hardly his first venture into the
world of self-contradiction.
But wouldn't it be nice if old Mother Jones was still around
to walk into his studio and smack that ignoramus upside the
head and tell him about Lattimer and Ludlow and John L. Lewis
and some people who were truly friends of coal miners?