Workers' Memorial Day
Since 1989, April 28th has been designated Workers’ Memorial Day. This date was chosen because it is the anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Every year, people in hundreds of communities and at worksites recognize workers who have been killed or injured on the job.
Last year a series of coal mine tragedies focused the nation’s attention on the dangers faced by workers. Twelve men died after an explosion at the Sago mine in West Virginia. Within a few weeks time, disasters at 8 other mines claimed additional lives. By the end of 2006, 47 coal miners lost their lives—twice as many as in 2005.
Over the last several decades, we’ve made a lot of progress in protecting workers on the job. Fatality and injury rates have fallen dramatically in many industries. But now that progress is halting and may be reversing. Last year more than 5700 workers were killed by job injuries. Another 50,000-60,000 died from occupational diseases, including more than 10,000 deaths from asbestos-related diseases. For Hispanic and immigrant workers, the situation is much worse. Workplace deaths have increased sharply, as many of these workers work in the most dangerous industries and jobs, exploited by employers with little or no protection. More than 8 million public employees still have no OSHA coverage and no legal rights or job safety protections.
Since taking office in 2001, the Bush administration as turned its back on workers and workplace safety. Siding with its corporate friends, the administration has overturned or blocked dozens of important workplace protections including OSHA’s ergonomics standards and new protections on tuberculosis, indoor air quality, reactive chemicals and cancer-causing substances to name but a few. At OSHA, voluntary compliance has been promoted over enforcement, and industry representatives have been put in charge of government safety programs, most notably at MSHA, the mine safety agency.
George Will, conservative columnist, once wrote that workers are merely a corporation’s “commodity”. Well, Mr. Will, if so, workers are a commodity that breathes and feels and bleeds and, too often, dies. They are a commodity who have families that depend on them, who produce the goods and services that you depend on, and who make up the heart and soul of this great country of ours. Corporations must make profits to be sure, but there can be no blood on our ledger books, there must be no pain because of our profits. In fact, when workplaces are truly safe, both the worker and the employer benefit. Job safety is good for business.
We must fight to make workplaces safe and make sure that the clock is not turned back so that the US becomes a low-wage economy where safety is ignored and workers are disposable.
Workers Memorial Day is a day on which we call for an end to injustices and rededicate ourselves to make our workplaces safer and our communities stronger. We call for strengthened safety laws to provide workers the protections to which they have a right. And we call for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, to restore workers’ rights to join a union so that they can have a real voice and be protected on the job.
Mary Harris “Mother Jones”, the great labor leader of the turn-of-the-century coal mines, called us to “Mourn for the Dead, and Fight Like Hell for the Living!” We mourn, we remember, and we will never stop fighting.
AFL-CIO Website on Workers' Memorial Day