Why Workplace “Accidents” Happen


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

October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness
Pepe Escobar
The NATO-Russia Face Off in Syria
Yoav Litvin
Israeli Occupation for Dummies
Lawrence Davidson
Deep Poverty in America: the On-Going Tradition of Not Caring
Thomas Knapp
War Party’s New Line: Vladimir Putin is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Brandon Jordan
Sowing the Seeds of War in Uruguay
Binoy Kampmark
Imperilled by Unfree Trade: the TPP on Environment and Labor
John McMurtry
The Canadian Elections: Cover-Up and Steal (Again)
Anthony Papa
Coming Home: an Open Letter to 6,000 Soon-to-be-Released Drug War Prisoners From an Ex-Con
Ramzy Baroud
Listen to Syrians: The Media Jackals and the People’s Narrative
Norman Pollack
Heart of Darkness: A Two-Way Street
Gilbert Mercier
Will Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite Militias Defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
John Stanton
Vietnam 2.0 and California Dreamin’ in Ukraine
William John Cox
The Pornography of Hatred
October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Cuba’s Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War