Posts Tagged ‘Industrial Accidents’

Health and Safety Legislation and the Fall in Fatal Accidents at Work

March 15, 2016

One of the Tories’ favourite targets, shared with positive zeal by the right-wing press, is health and safety legislation. This they claim is a terrible burden on businesses, and has resulted in stupid, nonsensical rulings against even the most harmless and trivial pastimes. A few years ago, if you can remember that far back, there were reports that children were now no longer able to play conkers in school, unless they wore safety goggles.

Presumably the health and safety legislation being attacked is the body of legislation, which began with the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, which stipulated that every firm must draw up rules governing safety at work, and brought a further eight million workers under the protection of the new regulations. This did have a significant effect in cutting down accidents at work, despite the fact that during the 1980s many firms decided to cut corners and failed to observe much of it during the depression. Eric Hopkins in his book, The Rise and Decline of the English Working Classes, quotes the Chief Inspector’s Report of 1985 on this:

Economic pressures have adversely affected working conditions in many premises, and an increase in the numbers of small firms and sub-contracting businesses, some of which have standards of safety and health which fall well below … what is acceptable, has added to the Inspectorate’s problems of source deployment. the recession has led many employers to economise on safety. Some firms have made safety officers redundant and passed responsibility for safety to personnel officers, line management or security officers with little or no experience in safety matters. (Pp. 210-211).

He also gives the comparative statistics for fatal accidents at work between 1975 and 1985. These are as follows.

1975
Factories … 231.
Construction… 181.
Docks and Warehouses…15
Total … 254.

1985
Manufacturing … 100
Construction … 95
Service Industries … 59
Total… 427

Mike over at Vox Political reported the other day that the Tories are planning to shift the burden of proof for accidents at work from the company to the victims, in order to cut down on the number of people successfully suing their employers for industrial injuries.

As this shows, the Health and Safety Legislation has succeed in cutting down on the number of accidents at work. If the Tories succeed in getting it scrapped or significantly reduced, it will mean more workers will suffer injury and permanent disability at work, without any chance of recompense from the guilty employers.

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Empire Files: The Tyranny of Big Oil

January 19, 2016

This is another excellent video from the Empire Files. In this edition, the presenter, Abby Martin, discusses the power and corruption at the heart of the industry, from the emergence of the first oil monopoly under the Rockefellers, to the effect control of the market, the economy and US and global politics by a few firms, such as Standard Oil, Chevron, Mobil and, of course, BP. These firms have reaped massive profits, and are able to act with impunity to trash the environment, and destroy lives and livelihoods by buying the loyalty of politicians in both the Republican and Democrat parties. Through their influence in the media and in academia, they suppress or distort climate science to allow the continuing massive destruction of Earth’s fragile ecosystem through oil spills, global warming and the effects of fracking.

Martin begins by describing how oil wealth is at the very heart of US imperialism. Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Qatar have all been set up as ‘oil monarchies’ founded on its power. She describes how John D. Rockefeller climbed to his position as the world’s first oil billionaire through strong arm tactics used against the other oil firms. Rockefeller was the owner and founder of Standard Oil. He made a deal with the railway companies, which he used to force the other companies in the nascent oil companies to sell up to him. When this didn’t work, he bought their pipelines, and then used his power there to force them to give in. Eventually, Standard Oil owned 90% of all US refineries, and had a workforce of about 150,000 men. Rockefeller was, unsurprisingly, bitterly anti-union, and so they had no union representation. And since him the power of the oil tycoons subverts democracy in the US and imperils the Earth.

Martin then interviews Antonia Juhasz, the author of the book, The Tyranny of Oil, written during the final years of the Bush administration about the massive political, human rights’ and economic abuses of the oil industry. She states that Obama is not as tied to the oil industry as Bush was, but nevertheless he was not confronting the industry’s power. She then moved on to discuss the rise of deep drilling in oil rigs off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The age of easy oil, where all you had to do was stick a pipe into the ground and out it would come is over. Most of the world’s oil is already claimed, and that which isn’t, is difficult to get to. As a result, oil drilling went further out into the ocean and deeper. And the results were blow-outs and spills. Such as the BP blowout in 2012. This resulted in the deaths of a million birds. To disperse the oil, 2 million gallons of a chemical were used which made it 42% more toxic. It also caused the deaths of eleven men. During the investigation it became clear that BP actually had no plans what to do in the eventuality of a spill. They simply counted on learning it ‘on the fly’. And the result was the world’s largest offshore oil spill to date. Juhasz states that she herself saw some of the resulting ecological devastation from a submarine. All the local wildlife that could get out of the area, did. The animals and plants that couldn’t, in her words, ‘were nuked’. There’s nothing down there except a tarry blanket of oil that will be there forever.

Martin also has as another of her speakers the left-wing journalist, Greg Palast. He reveals that BP had a spill 17 months previously in the Caspian Sea. This was covered up by the company itself, the Azerbaijani government – which he terms the Islamic Republic of Azerbaijan, because it’s so completely owned by BP – and also the American government’s State Department under Condoleeza Rice. Why the American government? Because the spill was partly due to BP using an American quick-drying cement. Despite this, the US Defense Department doubled their contracts with BP.

The Gulf Coast blow-out cost BP $17 billion in fines. This is a staggering amount of money, but not nearly as much as the company should have been fined. The Bush administration passed a number of extremely strict environmental laws. If these had been properly applied, then BP would have been hit with a fine of $200 billion. This would have made it difficult for the company to continue operating. As it was, the company said that the fine they eventually got was ‘manageable’.

The programme also discusses the immense political power the oil industry has through the banking lobby, and the power of the big corporations over the Senate. In the early part of last century, pressure from the Progressive Party and mass protests and agitation caused the US government to pass the anti-trust laws and break up Standard Oil, not least because they also wanted to destroy the unions. This was fragmented into 34 separate companies. These, however, are beginning to coagulate and reform back into a single giant trust as they merge and buy each other out. BP was a prime example of this. The company only got into America because it bought a US company, Arco. By the time Standard Oil had been broken up in 1911, Rockefeller was the world’s first billionaire. At that time the world’s oil industry was owned by only three dynasties – the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds and the Dutch royal family.

This dependence on oil and the power of the oil industry has shaped the structure of American cities. The oil industry has done everything it can to destroy public transport systems. In 1949 the system of streetcars in one US city was destroyed through illegal action taken jointly by General Motors and the oil industry. The legislation passed to protect the environment contains massive exemptions for the oil industry. The corruption goes deep into government. Three of every four lobbyist for dirty energy used to work for the US government. 430 + congressmen have ties to the oil industry. And the industry has already given $35 million to political candidates for 2016. Dick Cheney was part of the industry, duly drafting legislation in its favour. Condoleeza Rice sat on the board of Chevron. And under Obama America has become the world’s top producer of oil and gas.

The programme then moves on to fracking, and the disastrous effects this has had on North Dakota. This state has been overnight transformed into an oil-producing environment. It contrasts with the other areas, where the industry has been around longer and so people have had time to get used to it and organise resistance. The state’s beautiful countryside of rolling hillsides and buttes, including a Native American reservation, are now disrupted by flaring, in which natural gas is burnt off. In neighbouring Oklahoma there have been 600 earthquakes in a single year due to the dumping of the waste water produced by fracking.

As for politics and the oil industry, the programme states that the oil industry now is the American political process. It’s not as bad under Obama as it was under Bush. Then big oil was the American government. The power of the oil industry is still there, but it’s now more subtle. Palast describes how every Republican candidate in the US elections is frantically in favour of the Excel pipeline, to the point where one of them even said that ‘you have to love it.’ This is directly due to the Koch brothers. The Koch brother bought a big refinery on the coast. However, there are laws that prevent them from using Texan oil. So they have to import ‘heavy’ oil from elsewhere. This is either Venezuela, where they’ll have to try to remove opposite by ousting Chavez or Madura, or to import it from Canada. This is the Excel pipeline, from which the Koch brothers will each get an extra $1 billion a year. Just as the Republicans are connected to the oil companies, so the Democrats have their links to BP. Obama has approved drilling in the Arctic. Palast describes how he was at one of the communities that may be affect, Qoqtovik, where he was told by one of the local Inuit that if drilling started, ‘it was over for them as a people there’. And if there is a spill in the arctic, it’ll go under the ice cap all the way to Norway.

Martin and her guests also discuss why it is Americans are so ignorant about climate change. The problem is that the oil industry buys up America’s academics. Palast states that almost every biologist in America is on BP’s payroll through grants from the Lawrence Livermore laboratory, which were donated by BP. And what happened to biology has also happened to climate science. The oil industry will also exaggerate the importance and status of dissenting scientists through the press. One flagrant example of this was when NPR, which Palast calls National Petroleum Radio, stated that the oil spill in the Gulf would be eaten by ‘oil-eating’ bacteria. This piece of disinformation came courtesy of a $1/2 billion grant to Lawrence Livermore by BP. The press, however, never informed its readers that the release and the science was paid for by that company. America no longer has an investigative press. They simply state that some people say this, while other have an opposite opinion.

Another example of corporate control over academia was in the case of Von Heerden, a meteorologist at Louisiana’s Hurricane Center. One month before Hurricane Katrina hit, Von Heerden warned that New Orleans could be under water due to the oil industry’s destruction of the neighbouring mangrove swamps for 100 miles. And 30 days later, New Orleans was under water. Instead of celebrating this man for his warning and efforts to save the city, the state closed down the Hurricane Centre and replace it with a Wetlands Centre. This was due to the state receiving a massive cheque from the oil companies, who specified that they would also choose the staff to be employed in the new Centre.

And globally the environmental damage from the oil industry is devastating, to the point where the future of the planet is in grave danger. The UN in 2015 stated for the very worst effects of climate change to be avoided, three-quarters of the world’s fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Yet in the US alone there have been 20,000 oil spills a year. In the Niger Delta they have had to put up with the consequences of the devastation equivalent to an Exxon-Mobil spill every year for the past fifty years, due to untouchable oil corporations. In 2013, 1.15 million gallons of oil was spilled due to derailed trains. The preferred mode of transport for the oil industry nevertheless remains road. From 2008 to 2012 550 workers in the oil industry were killed in industrial accidents. This is a deathrate eight times higher than the other industries. And yet the world’s use of oil is completely unnecessary. Stanford University developed a plan to transfer America entirely to renewable energy, state by state, by 2050. The cost of the Iraq War alone could have financed the world’s transition to renewables. However, the power of the oil industry will only be destroyed when the power of the American Empire is also destroyed.

1898 Call from Russian Workers to Form Union against Employers’ Abuses

April 24, 2014

I found this leaflet from the Ekaterinoslav Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in Lionel Kochan’s Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970) in 1898. It’s a protest against the appalling conditions and high accident rate at the Bryansk factory. If the direct causes of the strike were particular to late 19th century Russia, I was struck by how many of the issues are recurring in Britain in the early 21st century: starvation, low wages, refusal by the company to permit ‘necessary breaks’ – according to Owen Jones in Chavs, in one call centre workers have to put up their hands, as in school, every time they wish to take a comfort break. Unions and strikers were illegal in pre-Revolutionary Russia, and this government would very much like to go the same way. Boris Johnson has said that he would like to make strikes made illegal, if they were passed without fifty per cent of the workers attending the meeting, even if all the workers present voted overwhelmingly for the strike. The leaflet reads:

Every day we must hear, no here, now there, that a man has died and our blood-suckers continue to stuff their pockets, giving
no consideration to the men who have died, whose families have lost their bread-winner and are perhaps dying of starvation. The whole day we work, pouring out our blood and sweat. Every minute we expose our life to danger, we have no chance to use an essential break, and when there are accidents they accuse us of carelessness! The greed of the capitalists, the long working day, the meagre wage – there is the cause of all accidents. Even the holidays which we have had until now, have seemed too much to these beasts of prey and they have persuaded the government, which is always on the side of the capitalists, to reduce the number of holidays in the year … Comrades, they have fooled us, they have fed long enough on our blood and sweat. Our only salvation can be Friendly Workers’ Unions, against which nothing can stand. Let us join together, comrades, in one general union and demand from the office new changes in the regulations. (p. 45).

People are starving in Britain due to the government’s reforms of the benefits’ systems. Mike over at Vox Political has launched an FOI request and went to court to get the government to release the precise numbers of figures for those who are dying. It’s about 73 people a month, although it may well be much higher. And the Work Programme and various workfare policies, traineeships and unpaid internships are all about supplying industry with unpaid labour. It’s about time all this was stopped, and working people stood together to unite to force the Tories out and overturn their vile policies.