Sunday, 28 April 2013

Workers' Memorial Day

Today is Workers' Memorial Day, and I didn't know this:
Workers' Memorial Day was started by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in 1984. The Canadian Labour Congress declared an annual day of remembrance in 1985 on April 28, which is the anniversary of a comprehensive Workers Compensation Act (refer to the entry Workplace Safety & Insurance Board), passed in 1914. In 1991, the Canadian Parliament passed an Act respecting a National Day of Mourning for persons killed or injured in the workplace, making April 28 an official Workers’ Mourning Day.
As I know well, workers are killed or maimed on the job every day.

But this past week, there have been two huge industrial 'accidents' that cannot be explained by any factor other than PROFIT over people.

These events sure are different in the reactions they've engendered.

Already, a long list of safety violations at the Texas fertilizer plant is being compiled, including this wowser.
Reuters reported last Saturday that the plant had on site 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate. This is 1,350 times the amount that would require a facility to self-report its stockpile to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

No inspections, shoddy records, laughably small fines, and more.
Think this is bad? Ramit Plushnick-Masti and Jack Gillum, reporting for the AP, note that: “There were no sprinklers. No firewalls. No water deluge systems.” Without such basic fire suppression systems, once the plant started to go, it was almost unstoppable, and the fire spread quickly through the facility without any walls to keep it in check. This made the accident even more devastating than it could have been, and endangered the lives of first responders who arrived on scene to help victims.

An investigation is ongoing into the circumstances of this terrible event, but the outcome of that investigation is already obvious: overworked government agencies failed to catch a serious safety problem, and negligence on the part of a factory owner resulted in the development of hazardous conditions.

The question is: will he be held accountable, and will Congress take a critically-needed lesson here and increase funding to government agencies charged with our safety?
Also, look where the plant is located. Not exactly a wise result of sane zoning regulations.

In Bangladesh, where perhaps there is less laissez in their acceptance of rapacious capitalist faire, the wanton negligence and greed that killed hundreds of people in a building collapse has generated protests.

Hundreds of thousands of garment workers walked out of their factories in Bangladesh Thursday, police said, to protest the deaths of 200 [since updated to well over 300] people in a building collapse, in the latest tragedy to hit the sector.

Grief turned to anger as the workers, some carrying sticks, blockaded key highways in at least three industrial areas just outside the capital Dhaka, forcing factory owners to declare a day’s holiday.
And more action -- arrests
The owner of an illegally constructed building that collapsed last week in a deadly heap in a Dhaka suburb was arrested at a border crossing with India on Sunday, a government minister said.

. . . [Mohammed Sohel] Rana, a small-time politician from the ruling party, had been on the run since Wednesday. He had appeared in front of Rana Plaza on Tuesday after huge cracks appeared in the structure. However, he assured tenants, including five garment factories, that the building was safe.

A bank and some shops on the first floor shut their premises on Wednesday after police ordered an evacuation, but managers of the garment factories on the upper floor told workers to continue their shifts.
And more arrests.

So, while we in the West wring our hands over our complicity in our demand for cheap clothes and make fine distinctions on how low safety standards in other countries could justifiably be, I'm finding it simply stunning that there is not more direct, head-to-head comparison of the two events.

They are remarkably similar. Greedy capitalists offer shitty work to disadvantaged people. Greedy capitalists locate their operations without any regard for the community. Greedy capitalists flout rules and regulations. Complicit or overworked regulators do nothing.

People die.

Maybe the good people of West, Texas, are preparing some humungous lawsuits. Because otherwise, they don't seem all that exercised. Sad, sure. Angry, not so much.

Happy Workers' Memorial Day.

ADDED: A good read on the garment industry in Bangladesh.

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