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Introductory Speech to the 3rd International Miners’ Seminar


I am pleased to be able to open the 3rd International Miners' Seminar on behalf of the ueberparteilich (above party lines) miners' initiative Kumpel für AUF (Miners for AUF) and welcome all participants with a cordial "good luck"!

My name is Sonja Borgwardt and I am active in the regional group Herne/Castrop-Rauxel of Miners for AUF.

We are happy to be able to welcome more than 500 participants here! Welcome!

We would especially like to welcome: (list of guests)

At first we would like to introduce the representatives of Miners for AUF for the presidium of the seminar. From the central coordinating group of Miners for AUF I welcome:

Andreas Tadisiak, mine electrician
Christian Link, miner, and
Esther Müller-Horn, mechanic in a large metal company

Also from the preparatory group of the 3rd International Miners' Seminar:

Frank Kraffzyk, underground fitter, and
Stefan Engel, public spokesman of the miners' newssheet „Vortrieb" and presenter of this seminar.

From the team of assistants I would like to introduce Steffi from Bottrop.

Miners for AUF thanks the Workers' Education Center which supports us in logistics with its wonderful premises and catering.

We are situated here in the middle of the Ruhr area, a region characterized by the mining industry, where in times of the peak of the mining sector in Germany in the 1950s, there were 180 mines with 600,000 miners.

Miners for AUF originally came into being here in Gelsenkirchen in 1999 as the "mining working group" of the ueberparteilich (above party lines), democratic and financially independent municipal election alliance "AUF".

There people came together who no longer felt themselves as being represented by the bourgeois municipal representatives.

Miners for AUF is not an organization, but an organized mass movement of miners and their families which everyone can identify with on the basis of the common interests of the miners.

Today Miners for AUF is represented in eight regional groups,
especially where hard coal is being extracted in Germany.

In a declaration of 1999, "For the future of the miners and their families", Miners for AUF demands:
no pit closures at the expense of the miners,
no job cuts by the DSK (German Coal Company), if equivalent jobs as a substitute are not being created
preservation of jobs by means of the reduction in working hours to 30 hours with full wage compensation.
This declaration was signed by 12 000 people!

Since the leadership of the trade union IGBCE (Industrial Union in the Mining, Chemical and Energy Industry) is pursuing a policy of class collaboration and has accepted that the mining industry in Germany is being destroyed without any struggle, Miners for AUF has also assumed the role of supporting the militant direction in the companies and organizing public action.

However, Miners for AUF does not regard itself as a rival organization of the IGBCE, but supports the trade unions as fighting organizations.

In 2002, Miners for AUF organized the 1st Miners' Seminar
with the motto "Who is the RAG?" (Ruhr Coal Corporation)

About 70 participants worked out the history and development
of the Ruhrkohle AG (Ruhr Coal Corporation) from a national mining company into an international supermonopoly in the raw material, mechanical engineering and chemical sector. In May 2004, an intense international exchange of experience among miners about their conditions and struggles took place at the 2nd Miners' Seminar attended by a total of 10 foreign delegations and 170 participants.

It became clear that a reorganization of the international mining industry had taken place on the background of the worldwide changes.

This results in the necessity for the miners to unite internationally, because in spite of all the differences in the individual countries they have common enemies.

The final resolution of the 2nd Miners' Seminar states:
"... the goal is to, step by step, arrive at the point that every important struggle of the miners in the respective countries becomes a common concern of the international miners' movement. For the future we intend to coordinate our struggles and our demands."

This is what we want to do at our third seminar.

There are 6.5 million coal miners worldwide and 20 million miners altogether!

As long as they are divided, their fighting capacity will be limited.

However, if 20 million miners take common action - the world would tremble!

To achieve this many obstacles have to be overcome.

Since most of the official trade unions and those with a social-democratic or Christian orientation do not support this seminar,
the problem arises how to get into contact with the militant core
of the miners in the individual countries.

Then there are different languages, which make understanding more difficult.

In many countries the miners' freedom of movement is very restricted. Often the miners cannot take leave for one or two weeks just to go to an international seminar. Then a passport is required. There are big obstacles for getting a visa, and visas are only granted in exceptional cases and reasons have to be given.

You do not know each other yet. Is it worth the effort? Who are these people who are inviting us? What results can be achieved?

Of course, most important are the political obstacles.

It's no accident that 24 delegations from 22 countries have already confirmed their participation, and that today only 14 delegations have actually arrived.

It is a fact that the trade union IGBCE has influenced the international miners' association ICEM to urge the national trade unions to prevent the participation of official delegations from their countries. This has obviously been successful in single countries.

Most of the delegations did not let themselves be put off by these machinations and are represented here, in spite of all difficulties.

Of course, money is also a very big problem. Many miners from foreign countries often are not able to finance a ticket, for example from the Philippines or Peru.

This seminar is exclusively self-financed. We are especially proud of this. Many euros have been donated for "solidarity miles" to enable the trip to this seminar. Many thanks for the great initiative of our donation collectors and the many thousand donators.

The fact that this seminar is taking place with such an overwhelming participation is already a first step in the international coordination of the militant miners' movement.

While the seminar is met with great approval by the miners and the population here, the state authorities, the trade unions leaderships and especially social democracy have tried hard to hinder the miners' seminar.

Here in Gelsenkirchen, until the very end, the City Mayor refused to receive the miners' delegations in public.

Even a visit of children to the museum during the miners' seminar was turned down by the responsible official from IGBCE and SPD.

The background is clear. The trade union IGBCE has accepted a curious deal with the Ruhrkohle Corporation and the government. By 2018, the entire German hard coal industry is to be closed down. In order that this can be brought about without any friction and without the resistance of the miners, a social plan has been adopted.

We cannot consent to such a procedure. Miners for AUF rejects the closing of the hard coal mining industry and supports the fight to save every job.

The trade union association ICEM led by the IGBCE declared at its world conference in 2008 that the negotiated conditions for the closure of the mining industry in Germany "are an extraordinary success and a just transition."

This agreement between the mining companies and the trade unions to keep quiet is even being depicted as a shining example.

Therefore, it's no wonder that such a miners' seminar, which aims especially at developing the miners' struggle to a higher level, at coordinating and uniting it, has to be combatted with determination.

Nevertheless, against the resistance of the municipal authorities and with the pressure of broad public relations work, we succeeded in accomplishing that in six cities in which delegations of the international miners' seminar are accomodated, official local receptions took place.

In Gelsenkirchen, where the differences are especially sharp, the leader of the local faction of AUF/The Left, Monika Gärtner-Engel, held the official reception.

The impressive welcoming procession demonstrated the growing force and the resolute will of the participants of the seminar that nothing and nobody can hold them up.

We already experienced a wonderful reception, a diversified visitors' program and an impressive miners' theater.

Today we want to start with the actual seminar.

Here the experiences of the miners of the various countries shall come together, in order to learn from each other, to make our struggles more effective in the future and to develop them to a higher level.

You can learn from victories, but also from defeats. Here there are representatives of important struggles of the miners in the last years, who will share their experiences with us.

There are, for exampe, the delegations of the Polish miners with their underground strike of Budryk.
There are the powerful strikes of the miners at the end of the former Soviet Union with a participation of 350,000 miners.
There are the current fierce street battles of the miners in Peru for better working conditions, especially against subcontracted work.
There are the South African miners, who played a great role in the struggle against the apartheid regime.
There are the contract workers in India, who in June blocked the offloading of coal onto trucks and trains.
There are the Bolivian miners, who are a substantial political force in the country, and who in the last years repeatedly contributed to the fact that anti-people governments had to resign.
There are important experiences in which miners and ecological movements struggled together, as in Bangladesh, in Venezuela or in Peru.
And, last but not least, there are the miners from Germany, who in 1997, by a six-day strike involving 130,000 miners, prevented the implementation of the government plans according to which 60,000 miners were to be dismissed.

When we commonly evaluate the struggles here at the miners' seminar, we also have to raise political questions in general.

For example, the question which role does the miners' movement take in the struggle against the climate catastrophe?

Which position does the miners' movement take on the neocolonial plundering of the countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America or Eastern Europe that are dependent on imperialism and oppressed by it?

Especially coal mining has risen from 3,800 million tons annually in 2000 to 5,351 million tons in 2006. That is an increase of 40 per cent.

Influenced by the extraordinary economic upturn of the last years based on the development in China, Russia, Brazil and India, especially energy demands have increased considerably.

During this period, the struggles of the miners have also temporarily decreased.

The international monopolies pushed into the coal sector and changed the wage and working conditions in many countries.

Often the international monopolies brought along their own trade unions and insisted on the destruction or dissolution of the old trade unions in the process of privatization.

The first signs of a new economic crisis have already become visible and will mainly cut back the energy and raw material sector,which undoubtedly will be effected at the expense of hundreds of thousands of miners in the whole world.

We will be experiencing bitter struggles against closures and dismissals, in which the miners need the solidarity of their international class brothers.

Our seminar is taking place in a situation in Germany in which the entire coal mining sector is to be closed down step by step.

In this city of Gelsenkirchen alone, where in 1960, 59 000 miners still worked in 30 mines, the last mine is to be closed down this year.

The miners could not yet decide to push through a common struggle for defending their jobs and the mining sector.

Our seminar shall help to give the miners encouragement and self-confidence, but also the necessary know-how for effectively pushing through their demands.

Dear colleagues,
this seminar is not a party meeting, but it takes place on the basis of an ueberparteilich (above party lines), democratic and ideological openness.

That means to respect different ideological standpoints and not to put the differences at the center of discussion.

Here we have the task to emphasize the common ground in the struggle, in order to find a way of removing the international barriers of the miners' movement beyond country borders.

The seminar has been prepared by the regional groups of Miners for AUF for two years.

For the exchange of experience on the first day, country reports have been prepared in order to give certain information in advance.

After the respective country reports, which are summarized in six regional reports, there will be six blocks of discussion in which the individual delegations can complete the reports and evaluate them by contributions and questions on the reports.

However, it is important to restrict speaking time to the obligatory five minutes due to the great number of participants here, so that as many people as possible can participate in the discussion.

Today we want to deal with the individual country reports for the whole day, in order that we first have a common working basis and knowledge about the conditions in the individual countries.

Tomorrow a discussion on today's results shall take place and conclusions shall be drawn from the present situation.

Perhaps we will already succeed in taking first decisions on the manner and the content of the future cooperation.

Since we have made relatively short country reports, we have distributed additional material in folders in written form, so that everyone can study the problems more thoroughly, and also so that in the future knowledge about the mining countries and the miners' movement will exist.

In order that the seminar can be conducted in a prudent way during the relatively short time which is at our disposal, Miners' for AUF has set up rules for the conference according to which the presidium will organize the proceedings.

This evening we have invited further guests to a common barbecue party and cultural festival.

Finally, we can only wish that we conduct a successful seminar and experience two surely moving and possibly historical days,too.
Good luck!