Outside the spotlight of fortune and glory reserved for celebrities are millions of hard workers doing the jobs our country can’t do without. These hidden hands came to be known as Essential Workers as the COVID-19 pandemic set in early in 2020. Since this time, communities have begun to recognize how important this work is to keep the gears of society turning. Formerly unsung, we’d like to take Labor day to recognize these remarkable individuals.
Mining, Mining Everywhere
There are a significant subset of Essential Workers who have always performed high-risk jobs and remained mostly hidden from view. Regardless of a global pandemic, they underpin the very fabric of society.
If every one of the big tech giants in Silicon Valley were suddenly erased, life would surely face huge changes. Nevertheless, our society would still function – as evidenced by life before the Internet or the mobile phone.
However, if every mining worker on the planet were to suddenly go on strike, the world would be stumped. Humans would be left without the ability to make anything new that uses electrical conduit, pipes, or plastic. Additionally, we would lose every type of transportation aside from walking, every structure more sophisticated than a wooden cabin, and all surgical tools.
It’s common to hear the phrase “if you can’t grow it, it must be mined”. But even growing things is difficult without mining. Mined products like phosphate and potash are key ingredients in the fertilizers that enable the levels of crop yield that keep up with global demand. Without fertilizers, there would be massive food shortages around the world.
Bravery, Skill, & Hidden Hands
American professional culture with its modern focus on high-tech production has marginalized the skilled trades that underpin society. Long gone are the days when Rosie the Riveter graced posters around the country. Undeniably, those images championed the industrial elbow grease required to overcome international enemies.
On Memorial Day, the United States honors those who lost their lives marching headlong into danger in order to preserve our way of life. This Labor Day, we want to bring focus to the fact that our way of life also depends on hidden hands who brave harsh and dangerous conditions every day.
Miners face the risks of cave-ins, explosions, and exposure to deadly gasses. Under these circumstances, they extract the many elements required for our cell phones, light bulbs, and airplanes to function. Globally, more than 10,000 mining workers die in job-related accidents every year. Understandably, this makes mining one of the most dangerous occupations on the planet. To put it another way, more miners have died at work since 2001 than all troops in all nations in all global conflicts combined.
Further, that annual number may be low. Generally, it’s difficult to get accurate numbers about mining-related incidents around the world due to differing standards of reporting internationally. In most developed nations, worker protections keep the numbers of accidents relatively low compared to developing nations. Comparatively in these developing countries, lax safety standards can be largely attributed to a lack of union presence. Labor movements in developed nations fought long and sometimes bloody battles to secure basic worker protections. Specifically these practices include the elimination of child labor, livable wages, labor organization rights, and the government’s obligation to enforce safety regulations.
Accomplishments & Gratitude
We have labor movements to thank for eight-hour workdays and weekends, especially the long weekend associated with Labor Day in the United States. Additionally, unions like the Knights of Labor and the Central Labor Union organized the first Labor Day celebrations in New York in 1882 to celebrate those from whom all economic value flows – the workers. In 1887, Oregon made Labor Day an official public holiday, and it’s now recognized nationally.
So let’s take some time on September 7th to remember the sacrifices of the labor movements around the world. Many of them were driven largely by industrial workers like miners who helped usher in a new era of dignity for the working class. Not only did these Essential Workers help to put a stop to the exploitation common in the Industrial Revolution, but they also continue to deliver the raw materials we all require to live in the modern world.