Activists Challenge Russian Asbestos Stakeholders
With whistles, masks, hazmat suits, banners and a megaphone, British citizens today demonstrated in London outside the Russian Embassy. The world's first public manifestation denouncing Russia's asbestos policy was a colourful and vibrant affair that benefited from the active and noisy participation of construction workers, dockers, asbestos widows, trade unionists, health and safety campaigners, NGO representatives and concerned citizens, all of whom had personal knowledge of the devastation caused by Britain's use of asbestos. The issue was of such import that even high-ranking Russian officials left the Embassy to show their support; see photo below of "President Putin" and his posse of look-alikes.
April 26 was chosen as the date for today's landmark protest to coincide with International Workers' Memorial Day (IWMD), traditionally marked on April 28, which this year falls on a Sunday. To draw attention to the appalling behaviour of Russian asbestos stakeholders it was decided to hold an IWMD 2013 demonstration outside the Russian Embassy. Previously, IWMD had been marked by British asbestos activists with activities at the Canadian High Commission but as production of asbestos has ceased in Canada, the focus of attention has transferred to Russia, the world's biggest asbestos producer. Today's manifestation was organized jointly by the GMB trade union, the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) and the Asbestos Victims' Support Groups Forum UK. In their Press Release, the organizers condemned Russia's:
leadership of a global asbestos propaganda campaign that targets governments and consumers in developing countries where neither workers nor members of the public have any protection from hazardous exposures to asbestos.
People taking part in the activities represented a range of civil society sectors including for labor, the GMB, Unite and UCATT trade unions, for asbestos victims, groups from Manchester, Liverpool and Cheshire and for campaigning organizations and NGOs representatives of IBAS, the London Hazards Centre, the Joint Union Asbestos Committee and the Pensioners Committee.
The GMB's John McClean was the first speaker. Remembering all those whose lives had been lost to occupational injuries and diseases, McClean highlighted the deadly price paid by workers for society's use of asbestos. We are outside the Russian embassy in wealthy Kensington to protest Russia's deadly sale of asbestos to the Asian continent. Calling for financial investment in order to achieve a just transition for asbestos-dependent communities, McClean concluded: We are here to remember the dead and fight for the living not just in the UK but across international borders.
John McClean, second from the left, Laurie Kazan-Allen on the right.
Pointing her finger at the Embassy windows, IBAS Coordinator Laurie Kazan-Allen said:
We are here to hold to account a government which colludes with a deadly industry that is willing to say and do anything to prevent the flow of asbestos roubles from drying up. In Britain we are free to stand up for what is right; selling deadly asbestos to people in developing countries is an abomination.
Bill Lawrence, a ban asbestos campaigner of long-standing, was equally forthright in his comments; he highlighted the controversial shipment of Russian asbestos through EU ports. Both he and John Flanagan, from the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Group, pledged to continue efforts to have such shipments outlawed.
As to be expected on an April day in London, we had just about every weather condition imaginable but fortunately the preponderance of our time in Kensington was spent in the sunshine. Despite some initial hiccups regarding the positioning of the demonstration (see Blog: When is a demonstration not a demonstration), the protest achieved its goal: the ban asbestos campaign has Russian asbestos stakeholders firmly in our sights. 2012 was the last year of Canadian asbestos production; within just a short while we hope to see the end of asbestos mining in every other producing country. An asbestos-free future is possible.
April 26, 2013