Mourn for the Dead.  And Fight Like Hell for the Living
Workers Memorial Day, 2016

April 28, 2016


Mother Mary Jones was an invincible activist for all working people, especially children.  She often spoke those words to inspire us to keep fighting for justice.  Today is the 28th annual Workers’ Memorial Day, to honor people killed or injured at work.

Each year, dangerous conditions kill thousands of workers throughout the world – as many as 150 per day just in the United States.  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.

Background and History
We observe on April 28 because it’s OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was founded on this day in 1971, thanks to intensive lobbying efforts by American labor unions.  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 much 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 105th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 workers died because the company owners put profits before people.  It took sixty years for Congress to repudiate such callous behavior, when they enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

That attitude persists today. In fact, right now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and congressional Republicans 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.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4,821 workplace deaths in the US in 2014 and 179 in Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh’s Event
The Allegheny County Labor Council, the United Steelworkers, and the Labor and Religion Coalition of Western Pennsylvania sponsor Pittsburgh’s annual event, which took place today in Market Square, Downtown Pittsburgh. 

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale remarked that, until Congress created OSHA, companies routinely lied and hid evidence of workplace injuries and illnesses.  They didn’t want the public to know how dangerous many occupations were.  It’s hard to hide deaths and injuries in hazardous jobs like construction, mining, and manufacturing, but they concealed and obfuscated reports of occupational illnesses like black lung, mesothelioma, and cancer for decades.
He noted that the public would be furious, and demand action, if 150 people died of a virus each day.

The ceremony also included remarks by local labor historian Charles McCollester, activist Donna Puleio, ACLC President Jack Shea, Roman Catholic Bishop David Zubik, and Pittsburgh OSHA Director Christopher Robinson, along with music by “Labor Troubadour” Mike Stout.  The service ended with the traditional ringing of the memorial bell for each local resident who died on the job during the past year. 

About 125 people took a break from work to honor those who can’t go to work anymore.  
Perhaps you’ll join us next year.

As the event poster says,
     “On Workers Memorial Day, we will continue that fight.  We will fight to create good jobs

      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 Republicans or corporate executives to behave properly on their own. 

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 remember those who died along the way. 
Keep up the fight for those who follow us.

WE ARE ONE       

For more information:
Labor Unions:  Myths and Facts

Bureau of Labor Statistics
Mother Jones
Workers Memorial Day
US Department of Labor
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
Allegheny County Labor Council
United Steelworkers of America

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