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Barack Obama, Which Side Are You On?

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Barack Obama, Which Side Are You On?

Sunday was the funeral for the twenty-nine coal miners killed in the Upper Branch Mine in Beckley, W.Va. In a photo-op President Obama comforted a woman whose son and two grandsons died in the mine explosion. He told the assembled families, "We've been mourning with you all these difficult days. Our hearts have been aching alongside you" and although "We can't bring back the 29 miners that were lost, . . . we can do what we can to make sure it never happens again."

Unfortunately, as is his custom during his year plus in office, Obama spoke in vague generalities and never said how future deadly disasters would be prevented. Barack Obama, which side are you on?

Obama asked, "How can a nation that relies on its miners not do everything in its power to protect them? How can we let anyone in this country put their lives at risk by simply showing up to work, by simply pursuing the American dream?" But Obama and the corporations that financed his campaign for the Presidency do not want to hear the answer - because they are on the other side.

The coal miners used to know what the answer it is. Union.

In the 19th century the coal miners were amongst the first unions in the United States. The United Mine Workers of America protected its members, secured decent wages, and won health benefits and pensions. The coal miners and their union were the backbone of the early American Federation of Labor and later of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Coal miners told their story to each other and the world through their songs. The answer to prevent mine disasters and to protect worker rights, safety, and living standards is strong unions. But they have forgotten their songs and the unions have withered. The United States needs to bring back the unions and their labor union songs.

Two of my favorites are Miner's Lifeguard and Which Side Are You On? I have altered the words a bit, as miners always did, to address the current situation.

Miner's Lifeguard
Miner's life is like a sailor's
'Board a ship to cross the wave;
Every day his life's in danger,
Still he ventures being brave.
Watch the rocks, they're falling daily,
Careless miners always fail;
Keep your hand upon the dollar
And your eyes upon the scale.

Union miners, stand together,
Heed no coal company tale;
Keep your hand upon the dollar
And your eyes upon the scale.

Which Side Are You On?
Come all you good workers,
Good news to you I'll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

They say in West Virginia
There are no neutrals there.
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for Massey Coal.

Don't scab for the bosses,
Don't listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven't got a chance
Unless we organize.

Which side are you on, Obama?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on, Obama?
Which side are you on?

Barack Obama, which side are you on?