Workers’ Memorial Day

International Workers’ Memorial Day is observed on April 28th. It is also called International Commemoration Day (ICD) for Dead and Injured or sometimes just Worker’s Memorial Day, though the acronym for this, WMD, has other connotations.

IWMD is an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work, and highlights the fact that most workplace incidents are not ‘accidents’ but the largely predictable result of failures by organisation to have proper safety procedures and training. It promotes campaigns and organisation to fight for improvements in workplace safety under the general slogan for the day ‘Remember the dead – Fight for the living.’

The day was inaugurated by the US AFL-CIO in 1970, and was later taken up elsewhere. In Canada parliament made  April 28 an official Workers’ Mourning Day in 1991. Since 1989 it has been celebrated in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa and it came to the UK in 1992, being adopted by the Scottish TUC in 1993, the TUC in 1999 and the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive in 2000. The ILO, part of the United Nations, recognised Workers’ Memorial Day and declared it World Day for Safety and Health at Work in 2001.

Since 2010, Health and Safety standards in the UK have dropped and the system of safety inspections greatly weakened as a part of a government drive against what they call ‘red tape’. This means workers’ lives are now at greater risk than for many years.

This slackening of regulations appears to have been an important factor in allowing the Grenfell Tower disaster to take place. Rather than face tough fire inspections and have to make improvements they paid a contractor to make less strict inspections that would allow highly dangerous situations pass without comment.

Among the speakers at the main London remembrance at the statue of a building worker on Tower Hill was Moyra Samuels of the Justice4 Grenfell campaign, and after wreaths were laid and the event ended, some of us travelled to Notting Hill for another brief ceremony close to Grenfell Tower.

Most of those who take part in this event are building workers, as the building industry is one of the most dangerous in the country. Because of the way that statistics on work-related deaths are compiled, most are not recorded as such. In particular many thousands of work-related deaths occur annually from cancer following exposure to materials such as asbestos and other carcinogens. There is typically a 20 year or so period between exposure and death, and it is usually hard to show a definite causal link in an individual case, though overall figures may be clear.

International Workers’ Memorial Day
Workers’ Memorial Day Grenfell vigil

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