Memorial Day: April 28
April 26, 2003
By Dennis Rahkonen
Workers' health and safety circumstances have vastly improved
since the "robber baron" industrial era when U.S.
mines, mills, and factories were a constant, unrelieved threat
to employee life and limb.
Over decades of often arduous struggle, labor unions have
won great advances - such as the Occupational Safety and
Health Act - plus many other standards that have helped all
workers, whether organized or not.
Still, a grim, unacceptable fact remains.
Each year in this country almost 6,000 workers are killed
on the job. 50,000 die from occupational diseases, and additional
millions are hurt.
The AFL-CIO consequently devotes its energies to remedying
this situation, through ongoing effort, and by emphasis on
a special, annual occasion focused on the problem
"On April 28, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial
Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job.
As we remember workers who have died in workplace catastrophes,
suffered diseases due to exposure to toxic substances or been
injured because of dangerous conditions, we rededicate ourselves
to the fight for safe workplaces."
Victories have been won, but not without a harrowing cost.
Moreover, amelioration of old hazards sees fresh hazards
emerge. Ergonomic problems associated with new styles of repetitive
work cripple and injure almost two million U.S. workers each
year. They constitute our country's leading job safety and
Also, immigrant workers are being killed on the job at an
unprecedented rate. Millions of workers remain beyond the
pale of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The AFL-CIO's commitment to this cause is commendable, and
"We will honor the victims of workplace injuries and illness
by holding employers accountable for protecting workers' safety
and health. We will demand that the Bush administration stop
putting corporate interests over the well being of workers.
We will call for action on needed job safety protections.
We will demand stronger enforcement of the law and protection
from known workplace hazards and from new safety and security
threats. We will fight for OSHA coverage for all workers and
the freedom of workers to form unions and, through their unions,
speak out and bargain for safe jobs, respect and a better
future. On April 28, we will honor fallen workers. And we
will keep on fighting until the promise of safe jobs is a
But the struggle, now, is against a very ruthless foe. The
Bush administration is no friend of America's wage-earning
majority, as evidenced by its unvarying, profits-before-people
priorities. Joining with powerful business groups, it seeks
to thwart or roll back many vital worker protections.
Again, the AFL-CIO:
"After repealing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's
(OSHA's) ergonomics standard, the administration halted work
on dozens of new safety and health standards and ignored important
hazards. The administration has proposed cutting OSHA's budget
and slashing funding for job safety research. Meanwhile, the
Bush administration continues its pro- business stance, stacking
advisory committees with management representatives and even
shutting workers and unions out of OSHA's voluntary programs."
Organized labor gives us centralized clout to fight for worker
betterment on health and safety questions, plus other conditions,
as well as benefits and wages.
But - since almost all of us get up each workday morning
to earn our daily pay - this is a matter that transcends
whether we belong to unions or not. Everyone should make their
voice heard, for the common good.
Whether through vigils, rallies, contact with elected officials,
letters to the editor, testimony from injured workers themselves,
participation in radio call-in shows, or the dedication of
local memorials to those who've died simply trying to put
food on the family table...please stand up for our collective
right to make it through our working lives healthy and whole.
Get in touch with your area's individual unions or central
labor body to find out what's planned. Then take part.
For additional information, contact:
AFL-CIO Department of Safety and Health, 815 16th St., N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20006; phone: 202-637-5366; fax: 202-508-6978;
Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, WI, has written commentary
and verse for various progressive outlets since the ‘60s.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org