People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 20

May 14, 2006

International Symposium On Safety In Mines


THE 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 workers perished.


Apart 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 collective efforts.




The 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.


The 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.


The 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 themselves.


The 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 mines.


The 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.




M 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.


In 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.


The 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.




A 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 workers:

  1. Improvement in working and living conditions of the miners.

  2. To struggle to implement ILO convention No176 on health and safety by the governments of all countries.

  3. To protect the trade union rights of mine workers.


The 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.