Archive for the ‘Workplace injuries and deaths’ Category

by Susanne Kemp

Firefighters across New Zealand and around the world are marking International Firefighters’ Day today, May 4.

As the IFFD home page notes, “Firefighters dedicate their lives to the protection of life and property. Sometimes that dedication is in the form of countless hours volunteered over many years, in others it is many selfless years working in the industry. In all cases it risks the ultimate sacrifice of a firefighter’s life.”

In Third World countries, firefighting is an especially hazardous job due to widespread very poor health and safety conditions in factories, sweatshops and other workplaces and the under-spending on public services such as firefighting.

Bangla Desh firefighters and emergency workers

For instance, in the Tazreen Fashion factory fire in Dhaka, Bangla Desh, in 2012, at least 117 died while 200 were injured.  At the Kader Toy Factory fire in Thailand in 1993, despite the desperate efforts of firefighters, somewhere between 190-210 workers, mainly young women from rural areas, were killed and over 500 were injured.  The workers were locked inside the factory and firefighting crews were delayed by traffic jams in the area. (This fire is the subject of Don McGlashan’s powerful ‘Toy Factory Fire’ song on his first solo album.)

While we should think about the dangers faced by firefighters in NZ, we should never lose sight of the (more…)

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Left, Cyril Ramaphosa; Right, Marikana Massacre

by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president of South Africa has produced a plethora of articles hailing a new dawn for the nation.  The Irish Times published an article written by the South African psychologist and current John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill chair in peace based at the International Conflict Research Institute, Ulster University, Professor Brandon Hamber.  The title of the article was the unimaginative A new dawn for South Africa, but a false start for Northern Ireland.(1)

But here I want to focus on South Africa.  He is after all from there and Ramaphosa was hailed in Ireland as a champion of peace and an important figure in the decommissioning process.  If his election as president of South Africa is a new dawn, then it will not be long before he is once again held up as an example to us all, which is what Hamber does, in effect.

He acknowledges problems in South Africa, but states that with Ramaphosa’s election, “A wave of new-found optimism has swept the country. In his state-of-the nation address on Friday, Ramaphosa spoke of a new dawn, turning the tide against corruption and tackling inequalities, while maintaining economic stability.”  He further states that “South Africans have a new belief in democracy and people power, and have learned first-hand the value of a free media and an independent judiciary. There is new hope in the constitution, the rule of law and the institutions developed to protect democracy.”  Were that true it would be a remarkable accomplishment in a matter of days.  The hypebole of people power is overwhelming and nauseating.

To be clear, the new president of South Africa is a mining magnate, a multimillionaire whose fortune is calculated, depending on the source as being between USD 450 and 700 million.  Yes he was once a lawyer and a leader of the National Union of Mineworkers.  But that is in the past.  How he became rich says more about the South Africa he will build than all the fine words that we expect at inaugurations or the sycophantic faith of academics who should (more…)

Being arrested for union organising, Minneapolis 1934

One of the most important battles fought by workers in the United States in the 1930s was waged by the Teamsters Union in Minneapolis.  Through a series of fights, Minneapolis was converted into a union town and the Teamsters were able to spread organising across the Mid-West.  At the heart of the working class struggle in Minneapolis were a group of teamsters who were union militants and Marxists.  One of the most prominent of these was Vincent Raymond Dunne (1889-1970).  Dunne later spent 16 months in jail for opposition to WW2.

Recently, long-time left-wing activist Howard Petrick, a former anti-Vietnam War GI, produced a play on Dunne and his life. 

by Barbara Gregorich

Howard Petrick’s one-man play, Fight for 52 Cents, is set in 1969, with Vincent Ray Dunne speaking to a meeting. With this as the framing device, Dunne tells his younger-generation audience about his life — the lessons he learned in helping lead the working class in its struggle for better living conditions and why he became a communist.

Howard Petrick as V.R. Dunne

As written and performed by Petrick, Fight for 52 Cents is a well-structured play that treats the audience to the story of Dunne’s life: what events were significant to him, and why; how these events helped shape him and allowed him to stand on a strong foundation.

Childhood experiences

The first event Dunne speaks about is that when he was five years old, his father, who was a street-car conductor in Kansas City, fell into a hole and broke both legs. Because of this accident, his father was not able to work. There was no such thing as workman’s compensation in 19th century United States. Dunne experienced this grave injustice first-hand: the five-year-old child saw that his father was injured and as a result the company he worked for dropped him from existence. The Dunne family was forced to (more…)

Even in the US there is greater awareness of the importance of opposing immigration controls

by Phil Duncan

In New Zealand, working class struggle remains – as it has been for a couple of decades now – at an historic low.  In fact, abject surrender to exploitation and acceptance of the contempt of the employers and their political representatives in National and Labour seems to be thoroughly normal now.  Occasionally a group of workers will struggle, but these workers are a tiny minority and their struggles are limited to immediate conditions and take place entirely within narrowly-prescribed industrial law.

The share of wealth going to workers, meanwhile, continues to decline.  For instance, official figures show that business operating profits have grown from $NZ47 billion in 2009 to just over $NZ65 billion in the latest financial year, an increase of about 38 percent.  But the median-average hourly wage grew by less than 20 percent.   Large numbers of workers simply haven’t received wage rises in the past couple of years.

Mourning sickness

Even when faced with workplace closures, and a possible future of unemployment, the tendency of the employees generally is to look (more…)

by Socialist Democracy

The announcement by an Irish government minister that “significant quantities” of human remains had been discovered at the site of a former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway has brought official confirmation to claims about the disposal of the bodies of babies and very young children who had died there during the almost forty year period it was in operation. Even to a public who have become accustomed to revelations of abuses perpetuated in Church run institutions the treatment of the women and children in the Tuam home were truly shocking.

These mother and baby homes were places where unmarried pregnant women were sent to give birth. After birth their babies were then taken from them and raised in a separate part of the home by nuns. These children were later given up for adoption, often without the consent of their mothers. The women remained in the home for a year, working unpaid hours to reimburse the nuns for their “services”. This was the standard practice – not just at Tuam – but across all ten of these type of institutions that existed within the state. It is estimated that 35,000 unmarried pregnant women passed through these homes.

Informed by a warped religious dogma that deemed the sexual activity of females outside of marriage to be a sin, these homes were designed as places of punishment rather than care. This punishment came not only upon the women but also their children who were seen as the products of sin and therefore less than human. While forced separation and adoption is shocking even more shocking is the very high death rate of children born into these homes that meant that most never left alive.

At least 6,000 children died in mother and baby homes throughout Ireland. For many the end was an unmarked burial plot within the grounds – their remains disposed of with those of numerous others in what can rightly be described as mass graves. For others even death didn’t end the exploitation with hundreds of bodies being sent from the homes to Irish medical colleges. These deaths cannot be accounted for solely by the poverty of that time but rather by the conscious neglect and cruelty that women and their children were subjected to.

Investigations

It was claims about the nature of the disposal of the remains of almost 800 children at Tuam – that they were dumped in part of the sewage works – that (more…)

Regina Elsea and her fiance

by The Spark

Regina Elsea was killed last year when the robot she was trying to repair suddenly moved and crushed her. She was working for Ajin USA, a car parts company, earning $8.50 an hour.

Chambers County, where the company was located, offered tax breaks and other financial aid to companies to locate there. Encouraged by such free taxpayer-backed money, car companies, with their high-tech robots and technologies, started to move to the region. People were hired, but most of the wages remained very low. In addition, much of the work was supplied through staffing agencies and was temporary.

Elsea was not an Ajin employee. She was employed through a (more…)

unnamedby Don Franks

(dedicated with respect to Pike River miners and their families)

On Mayday, get your old flag out
unwrap each dusty fold
pour the cold beer, find some young ear
to hear your stories told
how we used to put a blue on
downloadhow we boxed the place up tight
saw the scabs off, held the picket line
stood tall through all the shite
just remember while you party on
until the (more…)