Fightin' for a Breath (Film)

Fightin' for a Breath

  •  Stephanie Wagner Whetstone
  •  1995
  • Color IconColor
  •  26:15
  •  3/4" U-matic video
Film Description
Black lung is a debilitating, incurable, and often fatal lung disease caused by exposure to coal dust. Great Britain recognized it as an occupational disease by the turn of the 20th century, but the American medical community still denied any relationship between exposure to coal dust and disabling lung disease until the late 1960s, when a movement of Appalachian coal miners, a few maverick doctors and politicians forced the nation to confront the issue. Appealing to state and federal legislatures, and, when necessary, shutting down coal production with massive wildcat strikes, members of the black lung movement insisted on legal definition of black lung disease and demanded compensation for its victims, finally spurring Congressional passage of the landmark 1969 Coal Mine Helth and Safety Act in the wake of the tragic deaths of 78 miners in the Mannington Mine Disaster. Yet even the federal black lung compensation program continues to be the focal point of a confrontation between workers, employers, and policymakers. Fightin’ for a Breath looks at this 30-year history and the plight of black lung victims today, showing us what the federal compensation program was intended to be and what it has become — a regulatory maze designed so stringent that few disabled miners ever receive benefits.

Screenings & Festivals
  • Georgia Peace Center
  • American Friends Service Committee
  • Kentucky Educational Television

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"Poor safety standards and lack of safety equipment ... this fim examines the history of the movement to compensate for black lung." — American Friends Service Committee