By Alain Gabon
Turkey Agenda - May 22, 2014
As a descendant of three generations of French coal miners, the Soma tragedy hits particularly close to home. It is hard, and as a matter of fact not desirable or appropriate, to have a purely analytical discourse about this. The first thing I immediately and spontaneously remembered, right there, literally the second I heard the horrible news, was my first descent at the bottom of the pit, as a child, for a “visit”, a guided tour so to speak with the miners as tour guides, of the place where both my father, my grand-father, and my great-grand-father had been (and in the case of my father, still was) working daily, as were almost all of the fathers and many brothers, cousins, etc. of my school friends in that small mining town we all loved. That was a nice town that had been able to prosper and even thrive both economically and culturally thanks to the coal mines around which the whole city and most of the others in that mining region had been built. It is thanks to these coal mines but also to the truly generous social policies of the French welfare state and the private owners of the pits, who, while exploiting them, also lavished benefits on their workers including free housing in large, solid and comfortable houses built for them, free education for their children, free health care for the whole family, and a range of other social welfare benefits that are simply unthinkable in today’s economy—it is thanks to that that the entire coal miners’ working class of that region including my own family and those of, literally, all my friends and neighbors, were able to rise up to middle-class standards, give their kids a high school and for many a university education, thereby ensuring they would not have to do that kind of back-breaking and excessively dangerous work. And most kids including myself did not have to, though I sometimes regretted not having been part of what was then presented, in the paternalistic discourse of the state and the rich Catholic conservative bourgeois owners of the mines, as the “working-class aristocracy of the nation”—a title they were taking dead seriously, disputing it to the steel factory workers who were also being told by their bosses they were the real “working class aristocrats of the nation”.