UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The not so glorious picture of Chilean Mines‏

Cameron as expected leapt onto the passing bandwagon of public emotion at the rescue of the Chilean Miners trapped underground for two and a half months. Who amongst us could fail to be moved by the spectacular rescue and humanity of the situation. But there is a deeply disturbing picture that is not the ‘glorious picture’ described by Cameron in Prime Minister’s Question Time today that should serve as a salutary reminder that unions must still battle on health and safety . We must not allow the profiteers to compromise the health and safety of workers in exchange for profit.

In the first eight months of this year, 31 Chilean miners died in accidents caused by cave-ins, electrocution, explosions, asphyxiation and falls from heights. Sadly the death toll rises with profits in the rush for the greedy mining firms to exploit high metal prices. When the prices drop the rush is less and the risk lowered. Sadly for the families of the San Jose miners they had exercised a choice to work at the mine, that though known to be risky, compensated workers with slightly higher wages.

A typical capitalist exchange that uses the workforce as an expendable commodity. Sadly Lord Young who is reviewing health and safety for this Con Dem government is one of the apologists bowing to Sun reader mentality when he talks about ‘ Elf and Safety’.

In Young’s speech to Tory party conference the bloated men in pin striped suits cheered loudly as he warned of councils ‘banning pancake races and cheese rolling’.

But this has always been a tactic of the right wing – dismiss and ridicule health and safety regulations because they get in the way of business. There is nothing funny or amusing about workers being put at risk of avoidable accidents. There is nothing funny about workers each year losing their limbs or lives in industrial accidents. Weakening regulation is not about making business work better it is about making it easier to profit at the expense of the workforce.

Yes society has become more Americanised and litigious but should that be a reason to weaken worker rights? Government can act judiciously to limit vexatious or mischievous claimants who trade on genuine accidents but that should not be thrown into the same pot as those companies that clearly put profit before people. Cameron’s hypocrisy stinks. If Cameron’s business cronies have their way it will not just be Chilean Miners who are in need of spectacular rescues to preserve life and limb.

The health and safety ‘review’ needs to be exposed for the right-wing sham that it is. Let’s hope in place of Hollywood exploitation of a news worthy story these men now lead the way to campaign for the closure of Chile’s most dangerous mines.