United Nation's International Labour Organisation
published a report in May this year whose stunning
conclusion was that bad conditions in the workplace
bring about more death and suffering than wars or
drug and alcohol abuse combined. More than two million
people die from preventable work related accidents
or diseases every year - equivalent to one death every
15 seconds or a September 11 every day. The total
is now three times the annual number of deaths in
wars every year (650,000 killed) and also exceeds
deaths from alcohol and drug abuse combined. Things
are getting worse as two years ago the figure was
"just" 1.2 million deaths. The United Nation
report named agriculture, construction and mining
as the three most dangerous occupations in the world.
("The Guardian" 2 May 2002)
was always one of the Northern Ireland Office's major
arguments that more people were killed in car accidents
in the North than as a result of political violence.
It would rather have been more interesting to find
out how many people died in the North over the last
35 years as a result of preventable work "accidents".
There is no mining industry in Ireland, but agriculture
and the construction industry are a major source of
employment for the working class. How many people
died on building sites in West Belfast over the last
thirty years? Have the victims received any forms
of official recognition? Have there been any sort
of inquiry into rogue builders companies? Have we
seen in the Andersonstown News or Irish
News articles exposing those issues? Or has this
been buried under the carpet in the name of maintaining
peace in the "community"? It would be interesting
to find out. Also, what happens on farms in East Tyrone
or South Armagh? How many agricultural labourers lost
their lives because of poor working conditions?
is not simply an economic, "bread and butter",
work conditions issue. It is also a political problem.
One of the effects of the so-called Peace Process
and Good Friday Agreement has been the balkanisation
of the Irish nation into Catholic and Protestant tribes.
At political level, in Stormont, politicians have
to identify themselves as "Nationalists"
or "Unionists". This institutionalises the
idea that all Catholics have "common interests"
as "Nationalists", and that somehow at the
end of the day, we are all part of the same "community"
and that our common interests are stronger than whatever
differences or grievances exist in "our community".
A graphic example of that sort of discourse and worldview
can be found in any issue of the "Andytown
News" or the Feile festival. It is time to
launch an attack on this idea of the "community".
West Belfast itself is not a unified whole but a patchwork
of different districts whose depravation or wealth
indicators vary. For example, what sort of "community"
exists between a rogue builder's large house in, let's
say, Gransha or Finaghy and an exploited labourer
in Clonard or the Lower Falls? Any real campaign against
bad work conditions and preventable work accidents
will have to challenge this reactionary thing known
as "our community". We only owe our allegiance
to the working class.
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