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My friends, it is solidarity of labor we want.
We do not want to find fault with each other, but to solidify our forces and say to each other:
"We must be together; our masters are joined together and we must do the same thing."
- Mother Jones



Remember the Dead…Fight for the Living


Billy Mitchell


Sunday past, April 28th, was “Workers' Memorial Day” - not that there was any significant coverage of it in the local media. Workers Memorial Day is a time for workers everywhere to commemorate workers who have died as a result of work-related accidents and disease and to renew the fight for safe and healthy working conditions for workers everywhere.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to secure employment during our lifetime have spent the best part of our waking hours at work. The lion’s share of our time, skills and energy is spent in an environment that is controlled and dominated by others - our employers. It follows therefore that health and safety at work ought to be a priority for both workers and employers alike. The environment and the conditions in which we spend our working hours should be no less hazardous in terms of health and safety that our home environment or the conditions under which we socialise.

It is estimated that more than 25 million working days are lost each year as a result of accidents at work or work-related illnesses. More than a million workers are injured at work each year and it is estimated that some 500 workers across the United Kingdom are killed while working. Some 25,000 people are forced to give up work each year due to work-related illnesses or accidents. In Northern Ireland last year, sixteen people were killed and almost 4,500 were injured at work. It is estimated that work-related accidents cost the local economy £500 million each year.

There has been much discussion recently about the effects of asbestos on the health of those who worked with it at the shipyard and in other industries. Asbestos-related cancer is nothing new. When I was growing up in the late fifties and early sixties I knew of at least a dozen relatively young men who died agonising deaths as a result of asbestos related cancer. Today some 3,000 workers across the United Kingdom and as many as 250,000 people across Europe die of this disease each year. That is as unacceptable today as it was thirty or forty years ago.

Dangers to health and safety do not just come from poor safety procedures and dangerous substances; many workers face a new threat to health and safety - violence at work. During the past five years there has been a marked increase in the number of violent assaults by members of the public against public service workers. Schoolteachers and health workers in particular appear to have been singled out for attack. It is estimated that almost 100,000 assaults are carried out each year against health service workers in the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland there has been a spate of violent attacks on bus drivers, ambulance crews, fire brigade crews and nurses and ancillary staff in our A&E units. Those who are dedicated to serving the public should not have to deal with the threat of assault from violent members of the public.

Employers have a legal responsibility to protect their staff from health threatening hazards and risks. They have a moral and a legal responsibility to provide staff with adequate information and training on all aspects of health and safety issues relevant to their workplace. There is also a statutory duty to provide safe equipment and protective clothing for those whose duties require it. Workers, for our part, have a duty to ensure that our employers meet their obligations in a positive way. Many employers are excellent at producing finely worded Health & Safety Policies but are not so good at ensuring that those policies and their related procedures are implemented. Not all accidents are accidents - some may properly be regarded as corporate manslaughter, even murder!

As we reflect on those who have died as a result of industrial diseases and accidents at work let us, as workers, commit ourselves afresh to campaign for safer and healthier working conditions for workers everywhere. The working environment should be a place to earn your living, not a place to die. If we truly remember the dead we will dedicate ourselves to fighting for the living. Death and injury in the workplace is preventable. It doesn’t have to happen.



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