The Mining Basin

A man crosses a bridge from which a black banner hangs in solidarity towards the miners in Cangas de Narcea. Asturias, 2012.
A man walks in front of a message that reads “Indignation” resulting from the reduction of mining budgets by the Partido Popular (PP). Asturias, 2012.
A group of miners protest in favor of coal mining in a strike that took the streets of Mieres. Asturias, 2012.
Two miners embrace in a manifestation in favor of the continuity of the mines in Mieres. Asturias, 2012.
Aerial view of Port Musel where coal arrives for its commercialization. In Port Musel, international coal arrives to be taken to Spanish thermal headquarters and it is also the point of departure for Spanish coal that is exported. Asturias, 2012.
A miner in the Cerredo Mine. Asturias, 2012.
A self-rescue control panel in Cerredo. These tkeys are used to turn on the lights in the area and control who is in and out of the mine. Asturias, 2012.
Miners take a break and eat their sandwiches at dinner time. Activity in the Cerredo mine never ceases which is why there are three rotating shifts. Asturias, 2012.
A miner delivers food to co-workers that are trapped in Pozo Candin in the Langreo area. Asturias, 2012.
Gloves and remainders of coal in the Cerredo mine. Asturias, 2012.
House in Cuenca de Cerredo during sundown, Asturias, 2012.
Miners in the area of Figadero during a the strike. Asturias, 2012.
Miners on the lookout in the hills of Figadero during a confrontation with national police. Asturias, 2012.
A miner at a road block near the vicinity of Pozo Santiago. Asturias, 2012.
A miner rests during strike at the entrance of a mine. Asturias, 2012.



In 2012, workers in the coal-mining sector went on strike again for months. For many of the older miners, is was a sort of “dejavu”, taking them back ten, twenty, even forty years to a time when, if they hadn’t died of silicosis or had been killed in the mines, they were fighting for their rights, for their families, and for their land. The difference now is it’s not their salaries that are at stake, or the eight-hour shifts.  Today it’s their future at stake, due to the government decision stop subsidizing the sector.  The mining sector was heavily subsidized and now there is an expiration date for those subsidies:  2018.

Over the next 5 years, miners and all others in the region who either directly or indirectly work with coal, face the difficult task of reinventing themselves.  There are not many options.  Be it because of bad business by owners, or the clumsy handling of the situation by different governments, or because of pure corruption and greed.  Options for the re-industrialization of mining regions have all failed and there are many cases of companies abandoning the region, leaving behind a delicate situation of high unemployment and lack of opportunity.  But let’s be honest, who would risk their skin for a coal if there were other ways of making a living?

Since the beginning of the strikes and all through 2013, nothing has gotten better.  Hundreds of workers, following the general pattern of the entire country, have been fired or forced to retire early, through a system of subcontracting, which employers use to hire “new” employees under deplorable conditions.   And, the scandals in the sector are many.  We know about the pilfering of funds, redirected into teh construction of phantom roads, or on scholarships in the United States for the ccoal miners' children,  or all the money squandered on popular fiestas.  And then there was the hundreds of tons of coal that mysteriously vanished from the leading coal-mining tycoon Don “Vito” Alonso’s coffers, himself accused of for embezzling and corruption.  

One might still add that when it comes to the mainstream media and how they cover this conflict, they never really address the human factor.  The culture of sacrifice, solidarity and tradition are human legacies, which surpass mere economic benefit.  Perhaps the real conflict here is not about the sector and whether it is profitable, or about closing down the mines.  Rather, it is about these people's future.


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