This is a picture of a miner. What do you think it is like for him working in a mine? What might his working conditions be like?
What can you get from a mine?
This is a mine shaft in Poland. Here you can see the headframe or tower.
Migration is a constant fact of history. The history of humanity is the history of migration. Humanity is characterized by geographical mobility. No other species has successfully colonized so many different environments. There have been migrations in every age and civilization, for a variety of reasons. So, are people designed to migrate and to move? Does this mean that people have no real roots?
Human beings are not made either to migrate or not to migrate: they are made for freedom. Over the centuries, it is the search for freedom that has generated the great human movements around the planet.
According to the EESC (European Economic and Social Committee), Europe’s economic and social model is in danger without migrants.
People migrate for various reasons, ranging from security, demography and human rights to poverty and climate change.
Push factors are the reasons why people leave a country. Pull factors are the reasons why they move to a particular country. There are three major push and pull factors: socio-political, demographic (economic), and environmental.
People migrating to work at the “Zwartberg” mine moved there looking for a better life, better wages, and educational opportunities. But the working conditions in a mine have always been very tough, as working underground is heavy work which brings the risk of serious illnesses and of dangerous accidents. The earth is a miner’s livelihood, but it can also cause their death.
What sort of factors are the topics in the list below? Can you drag them into the correct columns of the table?
Zwartberg coal mine was one of the seven mines in the Kempen coal basin. This mine was located in Genk’s Zwartberg district, named after a mountain called Black Mountain.
On 25 October 1906, “Les Liègeois” got a coal mining concession for 4,180 hectares. The construction of a railway connection and a power station began immediately. The first mine buildings were inaugurated on 14 March 1910.
The engineers had to solve the problem of how to deepen the mine shafts. They had to make a hole through 560 metres of soil consisting of sand, chalk, and clay. It was decided to freeze from the surface to the top of the coal layer. Freezing drilling started in 1913. They drilled 45 holes where they placed steel pipes. In these pipes, they placed a slightly thinner tube of the same length that was open at the bottom. They pumped lye cooled to -27° through the thinner tube. The cooled lye caused the surrounding materials to freeze and form ice cylinders. These materials were extracted, and the space between the casing and the rock was filled with concrete.
In February 1920, miners found the first coal layer at a depth of 575 m. Coal production started on 2 August 1924. The Albert Canal (constructed from 1930 to 1939) played an important role in transporting coal to the Liège industrial basin.
Some four hundred workers started work in the mine. The first miners in Belgium came from Wallonia, Antwerp and northern Limburg. After the First World War, however, there was not enough manpower and people were recruited from countries such as Croatia, Hungary or Slovenia because they had experience of mining. After the Second World War, more immigrants came from Poland and Italy. Most miners came to Belgium because of the better wages, and when they had saved enough, they wanted to return to their home countries because they felt lonely.
In 1963, more new recruits arrived, but this time they came from Turkey and Morocco. These recruits came because many Belgians wanted to work at Philips and Ford. The newcomers knew nothing about mines. Moreover, they brought with them a different religion, different languages and unfamiliar writing, for which mine management was not prepared. The newcomers built up their own society. They were given cafés, stores, football clubs and mosques, so they could feel at home. They were better off in Belgium than in their homelands and did not want to return.
From 1955, the mine enjoyed international prestige because of its technology, training, communication, and social achievements. These improvements came as a response to a mine gas explosion in 1952 that killed 23 miners. In 1949, Zwartberg became the first European mine to instal a cooling system on its lower floor. An internal television circuit with its own studio that promoted safety was also very popular.
In the summer of 1965, a new government of Christian Democrats and Socialists came to power. The country’s economy had a deficit of 22 billion Belgian francs partly due to loss-making coal mines, into which hundreds of millions of francs had to be poured. Those mines were in both the French-speaking south and in the Flemish east. It was mainly in the southern regions that mines were losing money. The government, however, needed to find a balance between the closing of mines in both regions for political reasons.
At that time Zwartberg was the most modern mine in Belgium: highly efficient, with state-of-the-art technology.
However, a few days before Christmas 1965, 4,500 miners received the news that the mine would close its gates in 1966. The miners occupied the mine below ground on 27 January 1966. The strike riots that followed received international attention. Some workers were injured and even died. In the following days, the army was deployed to deal with the very tense atmosphere. On 2 February 1966, the Zwartberg Accords were concluded, allowing calm to return. On 1 October 1966, the mine was closed. In 1967, the shafts were filled in. Precious machinery remained underground, and the two shafts were dynamited in 1967.
Only a few things remain as reminders of the Zwartberg mine. There is a building for technical services and stairs to the main entrance. There is also a plaque depicting important stages in the mine’s history, and the sculpture “Mine Monument” that we presented in this lesson.
This story is about a mine which was closed in 1967, so we used the past tense.
You know there are regular and irregular verbs.
There are some regular past forms in the text.
The past tense of a regular verb is made from the base form of the verb with -ed (or -d if the verb already ends in -e). The spelling is the same for all persons.
There are some irregular past forms in the text.
These forms you must learn by heart. The form is the same for all persons.
- Are you interested in how a modern coal mine operates? Here is a film about Maules Creek mine in Australia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLaCDMhCOQs
- Mining has a dark side, and you can learn about that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiIgv0WI3fM
- Do you want to read about the biggest mining disaster? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monongah_mining_disaster
- Check the grammar at https://www.grammar-monster.com/glossary/past_tense.htm
Extra resources for learners
- Links to 4 Elements in Arts Resource Library
- You can read about a British mining disaster in the book Aberfan – A Story of Survival, Love and Community in One of Britain’s Worst Disasters by Gaynor Madgwick
- You can watch 2 films related to miners: The 33 by Patricia Riggen and Blood Diamond by Edward Zwick.