Written on 19th January
The bus droppes me on the highway and a scootertaxi carries me into the centre of La Loma in the midday heat. Dust blows up from the unpaved road and enters into my eyes, behind my teeth, covers my clothes. 4km away is the entrance to the Drummond open cast coalmine, carving 25 million tons of coal out of the Cesar lanscape every year to feed hungry coal power stations in the US and Europe and to fill the pockets of the Drummond family in Alabama.
I am here spending three weeks with the union branch of Sinaltrainal. They want people outside of La Loma to hear of their inhumane, dangerous and humilliating working conditions within the kitchens at the mine. I have put together a report, link which you can read here.
I wanted to come here to listen and learn from people here who work within the global coal infrastructure that the climate change movement believes necessary to dismantle to prevent catastrophic climate change. James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Space Institute, has said that ending emissions from coal "is 80% of the solution to the global warming crisis" as coal reserves are far more massive than those of other fossil fuels.
I have listened a lot. Their every day difficulties dominates their conversations and when I have ventured to speak about climate change I have a sense of why on earth would this be of importance to them. They have enough problems; health, lack of decent housing, clean water, insufficient food. The consequences of climate change seem similar to what they are living now. It is not particularly desirable to imagine that life may get tougher.
Does their struggles against exploitation at the Drummond coalmine represent action on climate change? No because they they do not have an analysis of the need to drastically reduce coal production? Yes because they recognise the impacts of the coal mine in their own environment; on the water levels, the wildlife in the region and life in the villages? A friend in the village told me that 9 years ago they went 11 months without rain, unknown in the history of the village.
For me action on climate change must be action to take control of coal production out of the hands of multinationals like Drummond. They only want to expand (they are aiming to increase production from 25million tonnes to 40 million tonnes) and open more mines (a nearby 55000 acre mine, double to size of La Loma mine, is due to open in February) to keep their profits growing.
‘Free market’ reforms enabled Drummond to have total control of coal production in La Loma. Wrestling it back again so production is under popular control will involve supporting unions who organises workers to fight against exploitation, will involve educational work to agitate the workers and communities to fight for more than just a small pay rise or a new paved road. How can it be ever be justified that so many live in poverty while just one US family rakes it in? It will involve the continuation of opposition to the free trade agreement with the USA through popular movements where people understand how their daily lives is connected to international trade.
And during this long process, there will be time to explore the impacts of burning all this coal on the very people whose wellbeing is already impacted as it comes out the ground.
A company that allows workers to be suspended for taking just a bottle of water, forbidden so as to keep costs low and profits high, is not realistically going to accept changes in the laws that reduce its production without a damm powerful fight. Solidarity from people concerned by climate change will be really helpful in this.