FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Workplace “Accidents” Happen

by DAVID MACARAY

There’s a reason why so many industrial and manufacturing companies resort to almost any means (some of them not entirely legal) to dissuade employees from joining a labor union.  Besides having to offer higher wages and improved benefits (and giving employees a voice in how they’re treated by management), they are required to provide a safe work environment.  The union’s on-site safety committee will insist on it.

While no company wants to see its employees maimed or killed, it goes without saying that every company is interested in saving money.  And with the bottom-line being what it’s all about, companies are hyper-aware of the expense attached to safety programs.  Safety costs money.  Money for structural integrity, money for regular maintenance, money for machine guards, money for ergonomics, money for training.

The collapse of the building in Savar, Bangladesh, a suburb of Dhaka, on April 24, which killed hundreds of textile workers (the exact number is still to be determined, but it’s well over 400), is tragic testimony to that fact.  While one’s first impulse is to write off those Bangladeshi mills as Third World shitholes—low wages, teenage workers (mainly girls), long hours, deplorable conditions—it should be noted that they’re probably no worse than American textile mills of a century ago.

It’s true.  American mills of the late 19th and early 20th century were horrendously grim enterprises, dangerously cramped, poorly lighted industrial dungeons, something straight out of a Dickens’ novel.  Of course, today’s factories (at least the ones that haven’t been shipped overseas) are bright, clean and relatively safe.  So what happened?  What caused those New England textile mills of a century ago to improve themselves?

Do we credit our politicians?  Were these improvements the result of changes in state and federal laws?  Or was it the Church who, having seen enough degradation, finally chose to intervene?  Or perhaps it was an outcry from the general public, demanding that workers (even young immigrant women) be treated humanely?  Answer:  None of the above.  It was the rise of the American labor movement that made it possible.

Which takes us back to Bangladesh (and tangentially, to Vietnam, Indonesia, Honduras, Malaysia, the Philippines, et al).  Bangladesh’s economy is almost totally dependent upon textiles.  When you talk about Bangladesh revenue, you’re talking about one thing:  textile production. As alarming an observation as it is, if you took away the garment industry, there would be no Bangladesh.

The New York Times reported (April 29, 2013) that there are a staggering 100,000 garment factories in and around the city of Dhaka, employing 3,000,000 people, but that there are only 18 full-time safety inspectors to monitor the industry.  That number is not only miniscule, it’s close to ridiculous.  And of course, all of the aforementioned countries, with Bangladesh leading the charge, are vehemently anti-union.

But increasing the number of roving safety field agents isn’t the answer, not in Bangladesh, not in Vietnam, not in the U.S.  Just as Wall Street sharpies have shown they can easily outwit government agents assigned to ferret out financial mischief, businesses know how to sidestep federal safety watchdogs.

People who tell you that we don’t need labor unions to handle safety concerns because we have OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), don’t understand OSHA.  Even OSHA reps (and I’ve spoken to them personally) will admit they can’t do it all; in fact, they can barely do any of it.  The agency is woefully under-funded, under-manned, and under-appreciated.

To be honest, that Bangladesh building collapse was no more a coincidence than was the Massey coal mine explosion in West Virginia, on April 5, 2010, the one that killed 29 miners.  Massey was a non-union mine, having successfully fended off several attempts to organize it.

Companies are nothing if not inveterate cost-cutters, and accordingly, safety programs are going to cost money.  Say what you will about labor unions, but they won’t ignore unsafe working conditions.  Not when their lives depend on it.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor” 2nd edition), was a former union rep. dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail