Black Lung

“He went to the boss man but he closed the door

Well, it seems you’re not wanted when you’re sick and you’re poor

You ain’t even covered in their medical plans

And your life depends on the favors of man…

..Black lung, black lung, oh your hand’s icy cold

As you reach for my life and you torture my soul

Cold as that water hole down in that dark cave

Where I spent my life’s blood diggin’ my own grave” – song by Kathy Mattea

In one of the scenes of this documentary, a mine worker is having a conversation with a NYC cop during their protest in the financial district area. This is one of my favorite scenes from the documentary because during their conversation, the cop admits that he would not want to go into the mines, he said it was “too dangerous”, then the mine worker asked “is your job real dangerous too?”, the cop’s facial expression was priceless as he nodded and said “this is all I do, a lot of bull***”. The irony in this scene is how the cop admits to getting “all kinds of healths” (benefits), and a retirement plan for a job that far less dangerous than the miner, who on the contrary, does not get any health benefit plan, nor retirement plan and must live with the risk of dying in a mine explosion, or due to black lung disease.

Unfortunately, these mine workers were not only vulnerable to unexpected mine explosions, but also to contracting any type of respiratory disease due to inhaling coal dust for several hours every day. Black lung disease was the most common for mine workers. In the documentary, we can see how the men had to live with this disease as a consequence of their labor in the mines. They struggled with talking, walking and even just breathing. But worst, they struggle with no medical and retirement plan.

In essence, while coal companies benefited from a 170% profit, they could not afford, or chose to not afford, to offer their mine workers a better salary and working conditions, or a retirement plan, or at least a decent medical plan. Instead they let their miners retire with black lung disease, if they were fortunate enough to not die in a mine explosion.