Workers Memorial Day

April 13, 2014

April 28 is Workers Memorial Day.  Across the country, workers will organize actions to remember the millions of workers who have either been injured, made sick, or killed on the job.

Every year, more than 2 million 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 (3 million in 2011).

This enormous toll of death and suffering results from the systematic and conscious refusal of the capitalists to guarantee a safe work environment.  For the capitalist class, it is simply 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 order to maximize their profits, the capitalists minimize their investments in safe work environments while maximizing the pace and intensity of work.

The government also bears responsibility for this murder and maiming of workers.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, killing a worker is considered only as a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of six months in jail. So too, penalties for a serious violation of the OSH Act (one that is known to pose a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm to the worker) are limited to $7,000.  Willful and repeated violations carry a maximum penalty of a mere $70,000.

What is more, the government refuses to enforce the health and safety laws which do exist.  At current staffing levels, it would take federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors 117 years to inspect each workplace under OSHA jurisdiction just once. When found in violation of the OSH Act, the capitalists are rarely even given a slap on the wrist.  For example, in FY 2010, OSHA found 1,519 violations to be willful but didn't refer the vast majority of them (1,505) to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.  Since 1972, there have been over 400,000 workers killed in workplace accidents, but the courts have handed down no more than 16 jail sentences.

Another aspect of the problem is that the states and the courts are implementing administrative, judicial and legal changes making it harder for workers to collect compensation for the injuries they sustain due to unsafe working conditions.  This is part of an on-going campaign by big business to completely gut the system of worker comp.  For examples, some state legislatures are making it more difficult for workers to collect compensation for Repetitive Strain Injuries or excluding RSI's from workers compensation coverage. Other attacks include slashing the duration and level of workers comp benefits, imposing arbitrary criteria for permanent and partial disability claims, limiting employer liability for workplace injuries and denying workers the right to independent medical opinions.

The attacks on workers compensation are one part of an all-out offensive directed at erasing any and all individual and collective rights gained by the workers over decades of struggle.