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Vol. 78/No. 2      January 20, 2014

Only workers can enforce safety

The recent Bakken shale crude oil train derailments and resulting explosions and deaths are just one example of how capitalism’s drive for profit puts workers on the job and those who live near industrial operations in danger.

Nearly 4,500 workers in the U.S. were killed on the job in 2012, the last set of official figures released by the Labor Department. That’s a dozen workers every day. And we’re being killed in record numbers in the oil and gas, construction and coal mining industries.

Hundreds of people — rail workers, passengers and those living near the tracks — died as a result of catastrophic train derailments, from the Bakken crude loaded explosions in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July to the Metro-North commuter crash in Bronx, N.Y., last month.

The number of workers killed in North Dakota, where exploitation of Bakken shale oil and gas deposits has mushroomed, jumped 45 percent — to the highest fatality rate in the country.

Amid cutthroat capitalist competition, bosses are pushing workers to toil longer and harder, with less and less training and no regard for safety. One worker in the industry is killed every three days.

Workers around the world face the same thing. In one building collapse in Bangladesh last year, 1,127 garment workers were killed. Some 15,000 workers are killed every year in India by freight and commuter trains, 6,000 by the suburban transit system of Mumbai alone. A panel appointed in 2012 by the rail bosses themselves found the companies responsible for what they called “massacre on their railway system.” The Chinese government reported safety improvements that reduced mining fatality “accidents” to 1,049 miners last year.

The same thing is happening in industries that are expanding production as well as those that are contracting. In the North Dakota oil boom, bosses are driven to maximize total production and profits at the expense of life and limb. Miners in the dwindling coalfields of West Virginia face the highest death rate in the industry as bosses lay off miners and drive to squeeze maximum profit from those who remain by going after their unions and safety protections.

Government “regulators” are kept toothless by the bosses and politicians to which they are beholden. Since 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has only filed charges against 84 companies for workers’ deaths. Over that period, 390,000 workers were killed on the job, OSHA reports.

Only the working class and its allies have an interest in organizing production to protect life and limb, not maximizing profits. The only way to gain more control over safety and health is to employ the collective power of working people. We need to organize unions and to use union power to fight for control over working conditions and the safety of others.

Related articles:
Profit drive of oil, rail bosses behind train wreck in ND
Garment workers fight for higher wages in Cambodia:
Protests subside after government crackdown
On the Picket Line
Boeing Machinists ratify 8-year concession contract
New pattern of struggle developed in partial recovery of 30s
Congress divided over extension of benefits for long-term jobless
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