Workers Memorial Day

April 22, 2007

April 28 is Workers Memorial Day. All across the U.S. and Canada, workers will organize actions to remember those who been killed or injured on the job and to develop new initiatives to win the right to a safe work environment.

Every year, more than 50,000 U.S. workers are killed by workplace injuries and occupational diseases, tens of thousands more are permanently disabled and millions are injured or made ill (5 million in 2004).

This enormous toll of death and suffering results from the systematic and conscious refusal of the capitalists to guarantee a safe work environment.

The government also bears responsibility for this murder and maiming of workers because of its refusal to enforce the health and safety laws which do exist.

At current staffing levels, it would take the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors 117 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once. What is more, the penalties imposed on the capitalists, even for serious and wilful violations (a wilful violation is defined by law as one in which the employer knew that workers' lives were being put at risk), do not even amount to a slap on the wrist. In FY 2005, penalties for serious violations of the OSH Act averaged only $883. In FY 2005, despite OSHA's findings of 726 wilful violations only 10 cases were referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Under the OSH Act, killing a worker is considered only as a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of six months in jail. In fact, since 1982, despite 170,000 workplace deaths, the courts have handed down only 16 jail sentences.

In short, for the capitalist class and its government it simply is not "cost effective" to guarantee the safety and health of the workers. Every dollar of capitalist profit is, indeed, bled out of the lives and limbs of the workers.

In the early days of capitalism, Frederich Engels, describing both the unsafe factory conditions as well as the general impoverishment and oppression imposed on the workers, charged the capitalist class with murder. Engels wrote: "When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another, such injury that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet.. . its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains. . . . it [capitalist society] has placed the workers under conditions in which they can neither retain health nor live long; that it undermines the vital force of these workers gradually, little by little, and so hurries them to the grave before their time. . . . society knows how injurious such conditions are to the health and life of the workers, and yet does nothing to improve these conditions. That it knows the consequences of its deeds, that its act is, therefore, not mere manslaughter, but murder."