Mourn for the Dead. Fight for the Living

Thursday, April 28 marks the 23rd annual Workers’ Memorial Day. Each year, dangerous conditions kill thousands of workers on the job. Those hazards create illness or injury for millions more. Since 1989, the AFL-CIO has observed April 28 as a day to “mourn for the dead, fight for the living.” Labor unions and workers in nearly 100 countries observe the day.

The AFL-CIO chose April 28 because it is the anniversary of the founding of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration . This year marks OSHA’s 40th anniversary. OSHA is the arm of the U.S. Department of Labor that oversees workplace health and safety issues. Thanks to the labor unions, American working conditions have progressed a great deal in the last hundred years, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Since most of the products that we buy are manufactured overseas, we should remember that those cheap prices often come at a high cost. China and other third-world countries don’t have strict – or sometimes any – health and safety regulations. That’s one reason why their products are so inexpensive.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 workers died because the company owners put profits before people. It took sixty yearsfor Congress to repudiate such callous behavior, when they enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Yet that attitude is still prevalent today. In fact, right now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Republican Committee are vigorously pushing their agenda to repeal the laws that protect your life. They want to return to the good old days of unrestricted child labor, absence of safety standards, sweatshops, and robber barons – all so they can pocket more cash.

Last year, BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and goooshed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for three months, because the company’s executives put profits before people. On April 4, Deepwater Horizon’s owner, Transocean, gave its executives BONUSES for their “exemplary safety record”. I’d love to see what a bad record looks like.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics , there were 4,340 workplace deaths in the US in 2009; 42 of those workers lived in the Pittsburgh region.

The Allegheny County Labor Council, the United Steelworkers , and the Labor and Religion Coalition of Western Pennsylvania sponsor Pittsburgh’s event. It will take place in Market Square, Downtown Pittsburgh, from noon to 1:00 p.m. This year, author, activist, and Special Assistant to the President of the Utility Workers of America, Stewart Acuff, will deliver the keynote speech. The event will include appropriate music, additional remarks, and ringing the memorial bell for each local resident who died on the job. Take a break from work to honor those who can’t go to work anymore.

As the event poster says,
“On Workers Memorial Day, we will continue that fight. We will fight to create good jobs in this country. We will fight for the freedom of workers to form unions, to have a voice and bargain for safe jobs, respect, and a better future. We will demand that the country fulfill the promise of safe jobs.”

The only way to fulfill that promise is to strengthen OSHA and workplace health and safety regulations. We’ve already seen that we can’t trust corporate executives to behave properly on their own.
Please join us.

WHAT: Worker’s Memorial Day Observance

WHERE: Market Square, Downtown Pittsburgh

WHEN: Thursday, April 28, 2011 Noon to 1:00 p.m.

WHY: Show our government officials that we the people DEMAND safe and healthy workplaces.

So the next time you don’t get hurt at work, please remember the struggles of people who fought for your health and safety, and please remember those who died along the way. Keep up the fight for t hose who follow us.


For more information:
• PA Wants to Work
• Occupational Safety and Health Administration
• WATCH OUT AMERICA. They’re Coming For You Next
• If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, find your local event here.