People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 14, 2006
Institute of Mines Energy Social History (IHSME) of France organised an
International Symposium on Safety in Mines on March 1-2, 2006 at Billy-Montigny
in North France on the occasion of centenary of the big mining disaster of
Courrieres mining company at this very place in which 1204 miners were killed.
The accident, which occurred on March 10, 1906 was caused due to powerful
explosion inside the underground mine. The fire spread rapidly making it
difficult for the workers to come out of the mine. Out of 1795 workers working
in the shift only 591 could save themselves from the disaster. This was the
second largest mining catastrophe known in the world, next only to the accident
at Honkeido in old Manchuria province of China in the year 1942 in which 1572
from the trade union activists and academicians from France, the inter-national
symposium was attended by representatives from Germany, Australia, Belgium,
Great Britain, India, Morocco, Poland and Ukraine. The representatives of South
Africa could not participate due to elections in their country. Some members of
French parliament also participated in the symposium. Francois Duteil, president
of IHSME, while welcoming the participants noted that several countries in the
world experienced similar big disasters. He further observed, It is necessary
for all the mining countries to have an exchange on the past and the future of
the mining industry in the world to avoid new disasters in the mining
industry. He stressed the need for ensuring adequate safety measures by
governments of all countries so that precious lives of our miners are saved by
mayor of Billy-Montigny, Brino Troni, appreciated the steps taken by the
organisers of the international symposium to commemorate that mining disaster in
his town and used this occasion to create awareness about the question of safety
in the mines. He pointed out that the mine involved in the disaster started
operation in 1850 and the working conditions and wage earnings of workers were
not good. The people of France as well as other European countries were shocked
to hear the serious nature of the accident. Mere payment of compensation could
not help to ameliorate the anguish of a large number of family members whose
breadwinners were involved in the disaster.
first technical session of the symposium dwelt at length with the causes and
consequences of the Currieres accident. It was presided over by Jean-Marie
Czapraga, president of Institute of Social History and addressed by Denis
Varaschin, Professor of History, University of Artois, Stephane Sirot, Professor
of History, University of Cergy-Pontoise, Oliver Kourchid, a reseach worker and
Achille Blondeau, a regional trade unionist. They explained various aspects of
the disaster and pointed out the lack of safety measures that led to loss of a
large number of lives. The French government has now stopped operation of coal
mines and the energy needs of the country are being met with nuclear fuel.
Despite huge reserves, coal is not being exploited. The government of France is
now considering the proposal to hand over the mines to private operators, a move
that has been objected to by the trade unions.
vivid description of the causes of accident underlined the need to pay more
attention both by the government and the trade unions to ensuring the
safety of miners. The report of the medical examination of the bodies of miners
showed that none had survived the day of the catastrophe. The explosion was
extremely powerful and spread quickly all over the mines resulting in a large
number of casualties. Only the workers who were near the shaft could save
official report of inquiry acquitted all engineers of all the blame during the
rescue operation. It was noted that in the northern region mines it was not
obligatory to stow or fill up the worked out and abandoned part of the mine
which provided space for accumulation of noxious gas. This was actually
obligatory in other regions of France. It was also noted that there was no
statutory regulation in France for systematic and complete filling of abandoned
second technical session reviewed experience of different countries on the
situation of safe working conditions in mines. It was presided over by Serge
Terrier, chief of International Department of Federation of Energy and Mine
Workers Union (CGT). Presentations were made by Manfored Warda (Germany), Ian
Laveny (Great Britain), Khalid Alami (Morocco), Rajmund Moric (Poland), Anatolyi
Sabynin (Ukraine) explaining the struggle of the trade unions in their country
to ensure health and safety in the mining industry. They highlighted the need to
ensure ratification of the ILO Convention No 176 on health and safety in the
mining industry by all countries.
K Pandhe, co-president of IEMO, explained the measures taken by the organisation
to create awareness on the question of health, safety and environment in mines.
He explained the decisions of the IEMO Congress held recently at Cochin in
India, among which included a call for a worldwide campaign on these issues so
that the life of the miners is made safer. He pointed out how despite
development of new technology, mining conditions all over the world are unsafe
and major accidents occur from time to time. The dreaded disease of
Pneumoconiosis caused due to inhaling of coal dust while working in the mines is
incapacitating thousands of workers in coal mines all over the world. The mining
workers of Asbestos mines are facing serious hazards for which there is no cure.
Pandhe emphasised the need for international cooperation in the trade union
movement for making the life of miners safe. He explained the harrowing
conditions in Indian mines, particularly the blatant violations of safety rules
by the managements of mines, both in the private and public sectors. He also
narrated the struggles conducted by the mine workers in India.
a separate technical session several trade unions in mining industry in France
discussed about the lessons of Courrieres disaster and the measures to be taken
to strengthen the TU movement to intensify the struggle for ensuring safe
working conditions in mines. They also reviewed the impact of globalisation on
the mine workers in France.
deliberations of the international symposium resulted in a combined resolve to
develop more cooperation among the trade unions all over the world. The growing
attacks on TU rights all over the world was observed by several speakers and the
symposium stressed the importance of fighting for TU rights as an inseparable
component of the struggle of ensuring health and safety of the mine workers.
meeting of the mining union leaders was also held during the symposium. This
meeting considered the need for bringing together all the unions in mining
industry, irrespective of international affiliations. It felt that the following
issues should become the basis for evolving international unity of mining
in working and living conditions of the miners.
struggle to implement ILO convention No176 on health and safety by the
governments of all countries.
protect the trade union rights of mine workers.
meeting proposed that an international conference of mine workers should be held
in India in October-November 2006 to consider the three issues and build a
united international movement of mine workers. It also suggested that all mine
workers organisations in India should work together to prepare for such a
conference. It decided to appeal to all miners unions in the world to come
together to make the conference a success. The conference will not disturb the
present international affiliations but bring together mine unions from all over
the world on to a common platform, which will be an important step in building
worldwide unity of the working class.