Daylight deprivation is not the only difference between mining and other industries. A coal mine evokes a single color.
Yet even mining statistics are more colorful than those of others. Statistics in other industries have headings like "year", "production amount", "export", "cost per worker" etc., mining stats include interesting entries like: "number of deaths per million ton", "annual increase-decrease of number of deaths", "number of injured", etc… In China, every year, two to three thousand miners still die in accidents. Every single week in 2004, an accident with at least ten casualties occurred.
The free market works thus: The miner is free to go down in the pit, or not. If you don't, another who will can be found. With a prayer or a curse on his lips, the miner does go down. But before that, he bids farewell to his loved ones, because, as it says in the song, once you are in the ground, there is no way to say goodbye.
What does the miner do at the bottom of the pit? The answer is simple for us: He works. The bottom is not a place where you can have a break anytime, or get some fresh air for five minutes. Sometimes it takes hours simply to get to the seam.
Seven levels down, the miner sweats, wipes his sweat, drinks water, swallows coal dust, eats, worries, gets bored, daydreams, gets angry, jokes, in short, he lives. And falls sick.
In the US, in the 21st century, around four thousand miners every year get miner’s disease. For China, the rising star of the new millennium, it's 10 thousand annually. From the 1920s to the 1970s in France, the rate of workers continuing to work with “black lung” increased. “Miner’s disease” destroys the lungs, and eventually, kills.
Miners afflicted with the disease continue to work. If they are lucky, they retire and then die. In any given country the affliction rate is 10 percent or more. A miner working the day shift sees daylight every few months for an hour or two a day. An increase in per capita coal production indicates that country’s development.
Just when a economy is developing, a roar erupts from deep in the pit. Then, -since there is no sky- the earth is turned upside down.
A sinister enemy, methane gas, lurks in badly ventilated corners. A more obvious enemy is coal dust. As the miner works, the enemy grows, accumulates. Even with a small explosion anywhere in the mine, the coal dust creates a chain reaction and increases its impact. When coal dust barges in to magnify the disaster, an immense amount of carbon monoxide is produced. Coal dust is not fully burned, it forms clouds, and it prevents ventilation, too. And carbon monoxide spreads to every corner of the mine, poisoning workers. An explosion in the Miike mine in Japan in 1963, initially killed 20 workers. But 438 workers later died from carbon monoxide poisoning. 1197 out of the 1403 workers either died or were poisoned.
Folk singer Aşık Mahzuni Şerif describes this in brief: Miners die en masse.
This newsreel is from the 1956 accident in Nova Scotia, Canada, where 39 workers died. In the same region, 350 workers died in 1873, and 125 workers died in the same mine in 1891. In 1958, two years after this reel, 74 died at the same mine, and in 1992, 26 miners died in the region. A year before the miners’ families in this film, wives and children of the 55 miners who died in the Gelik pit in Turkey were reduced to tears. And a year before that, so were those of the 13 victims at the İncirharmanı mine in Kozlu. This was only 7 years after 53 people lost their lives in the same mine, and 13 years before the accident where 25 died. Forty miners were killed in this mine in accidents in 1968, 1972, 1973 and 1974. So, these were in the past, you say? Fine. In February 2010, 13 miners died in Balıkesir, and there were three previous explosions, where 18 workers had died. As for the mine in Kozlu where 30 workers died in May 2010…
Look, in the newsreel for the week in 1956, the mining accident is followed by: the birthday of the Statue of Liberty. Well, everyone has to celebrate the age of liberty!
The poet Ceyhun Atıf Kansu writes:
Mother, sibling, child, they left and came
They went down a hundred and forty metres
below the ground
A roar is heard, and I am helpless
None could get out, there was
forty eight of them.
This is how it is, miners die en masse…
When they die, the free market and progress suffer a temporary blip. Business stops.
The remaining are divided into two: The wounded and others. The wounded are harmless.
The others are overcome with a dangerous silence. They freeze. Just in case they are not frozen enough, soldiers stand guard.
The city fathers and state officials grieve at the funerals of miners. The crowd, whose pain and anger can at any moment turn into rebellion is, as crowds are, greater in number. Knowing that the military may have to be called in against widows and orphans hurts the sensibilities of the officials.
And those who the miners leave behind… will cry and carry on working. This is how the free market operates. They will work and they will die untimely deaths. If not in an accident, because of the coal dust in their lungs.
Here is how the poet Melih Cevdet Anday describes our level of progress enabling big-city-middle-class girls to wander around in their flats in t-shirts even on the coldest days of winter:
...In the deep, where hues of blue dance,
where even despair no longer has meaning
beneath an anchor, alone like the fin
of a small fish,
buried in sand, or hooked on a rock,
beneath an anchor waiting for its ship, lies soil,
and further down, the mine.
Under the mine that just collapsed,
beneath the roof that crumbled after
the lamp went out,
and under the plank holding up the wall,
the wounded worker was alone,
the dark had taken his eyes,
but he was still conscious, a small sun,
the smallest sun in the world,
like childhood, like thoughtless birds,
heard the ship weigh anchor,
making great noises.
the sea was beneath a sky afar,
the clouds, the seagulls and the sea.
This suits this kind of progress: The ad agency of General Electrics takes 16 Tons, a song written for miners… and feels no shame.
While making the movie I of course found myself dealing the most with the subject of accidents. In the West, where the most vicious form of capitalism and the most horrific assaults on all those with nothing but their labour were experienced, after countless struggles waged for rights and fair-play, it is possible to encounter a crumb or two of respect to human dignity here and there. We can easily find the names of all those miners who died in mining accidents 150 years ago in the US or Great Britain. But just take a look at the statistics on mining accidents in Turkey. Don’t be lazy, look it up on the internet. Those who died, if they were politically active, are remembered by their names carried on the placards at protest marches, otherwise they are forgotten. Above is a shot of the “Wall of Accidents” that I made use of in the movie.
The beginning of 1985. These are photos I took for a series I did while working for “Cumhuriyet” Newspaper. (The word over the gate, "Selametle", means “Safe Journey.”) The sign over the gate going down to the pit always led me to extrapolate: “Hey bro’, you might not make it back but what can we do about it?”
In this section we can listen to quite a bit of Cem Karaca’s (right) song “At the Bottom of The Mine” and a wee bit of Mahzuni Şerif’s (left) “The Miner”. While perusing the “Wall of Accidents” the tune you hear is one I found on YouTube. It’s by Joseph Cormier, titled as “No Way to Say Goodbye.”
From the 1800’s onwards almost all the major mining disasters were depicted in engravings and drawings. Due to the internet all these relics have resurfaced and are readily available. There are countless drawings and engravings used throughout the film, some have been combined, some have been animated.
This photo was taken in the mid-1980’s in Zonguldak. The miners are trying to clean up after a shift. You should check out this photo of Ukrainian miners who are having a smoke before going into the showers. Please see these striking pictures of miners too.
The rest of Ceyhun Atıf Kansu’s poem that was used in the film is as follows: “Heavy is the sleep of black-eyed coal/ It draws them into its lap in Ereğli, Devrek/ all those madly sleepless poor sods, suddenly putting them to sleep .” As for the words we hear at the end of the film from a poem of Melih Cevet Anday (right), they cause one to say “ a tragedy expressed so metaphorically is thus rendered so much more sorrowful.” I guess that’s what a poem should do.
I first went to the mining region as a reporter on March 7th 1983, to cover the deaths of 103 miners at an accident in the pits of Armutçuk. I was struck as much by the overwhelming sense of helplessness that wafted through the region as much as by the huge death toll and the pain of the poor families of the deceased. Tens of thousands of people with no choice but to go down into the mines, to die… After that I kept going back. This photo is from 1984.
Ben Shahn’s picture “Death of a Miner.” In this part of our exhibition this one is featured. Below is another photo I took at a miner’s funeral. From 1984.
The use of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s "16 Tons" in an ad for General Electric proved to be quite controversial. People found it a bit offensive to deck out sexy girls and nice boys in miners’ gear. Seth Stevenson in “Slate” magazine featured Richard Avedon’s portraits of real miners (this is a small example of one of them). Josh Ozersky of the New York Times objected to the content while at the same time observing, “One thing is clear, though: throwing oiled-up hotties at the camera is, in commercials as in hip-hop videos, usually a sign you don't have anything to say.” The families of miners reacted vigorously against the ad and it was supposedly for this reason that it was pulled. Click here for a source on the round up of the controversy.