It is true that, for several decades in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, the Supreme Court misread the federal government’s power to “regulate commerce . . . among the several states” to strip the United States of its lawful authority to regulate mining, manufacturing, agriculture and other key elements of the nation’s economy. But it is difficult to understand why Mullin might choose to return to this era. Last year, for example, twenty coal miners died from work related injuries. Every one of these deaths was a tragedy, but is also a far cry from the more than two thousand coal miners killed in 1920 — a time when federal mining safety laws were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Indeed, such high fatality rates were routine in the era of minimal regulation that Mullin seems to pine for today.
Indeed, during the same town hall meeting, Mullin appears outraged that the United States has gone too far to protect workers’ lives — “[i]f you look at the trucking industry, from 1978 til now, we’ve improved our accident rate and fatality rate by almost 80 percent . . . yet they want more.”
We heard this often during the Wisconsin union protests, that basically everything was okay now, so why the need for unions?
And it was enraging on every level, the idea that once you’ve protected yourself, you no longer need protection. That once something has made you less likely to die — and these men died, by the thousands, down in the dark — you can go back to the way it was before, because there’s some devil’s arithmetic that says society is allotted a certain number of deaths of the less wealthy, and we are behind on our numbers lately.
I’d like to say these people, people like Mullin, simply don’t know what it means to labor, to walk out the door every day knowing that even if you you come home, your bones will be a little more brittle, your hands a little more gnarled, your breath a little more choked. I’d like to say people like Mullin have never watched someone die by inches, every day he’s on his feet.
I’d like to say people like Mullin are simply sociopaths, in that they think 20 percent is an acceptable portion of the population to be maimed or killed, such that the rest of us can live comfortably. I’d like to say they’ve never looked a widow or an orphan in the face, and calculated from there, rather than their spreadsheets.
I’d like to blame ignorance or some accident of genetics, that creates moral monsters like this. But it’s the very safety people have fought so hard to create, that creates the illusion that safety is guaranteed and guarantees are no longer required.
On the morning of April 7, 1869, a fire spread at the 800 foot level in the Yellow Jacket Mine. Firefighters entered the mine but the smoke and flames pushed them back. As the fire burned, wood timbers collapsed and poisonous air expanded into the adjacent Kentucky and Crown Point mines. The fires persisted and mine sections were sealed off and remained hot for several years. At least thirty five miners died, and some bodies were never retrieved. The Yellow Jacket Mine fire was the worst mining accident in Nevada history up to that time.
Yet they want more. Because they have to remember, and we don’t.