International Workers Memorial Day 2016 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen

 

 

On April 28, 2016, the Hartlepool Trades Union Council joined with other labor federations, trade unions and campaigning groups around the world to commemorate International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD). Despite a cold wind blowing in off the North Sea, the day’s activities were informative, productive and reinvigorating. In the years that IWMD has been observed in Hartlepool, this was judged to be the best one ever. That this is the case was down to the efforts of Edwin Jeffries, President of the Hartlepool Trades Union Council (HTUC), his union colleagues and their civil society partners.

 


From left: Peter Walker (UNISON) and Edwin Jeffries (UNISON, President HTUC).

With wreath laying ceremonies for students and the public, a health and safety seminar, a dedication service at Christchurch, the premiere of a film for IWMD 2016 and a buffet lunch, participants had a multitude of opportunities to learn and interact with the experts and each other.

The theme for IWMD 2016 was “Strong Laws – Strong Enforcement – Strong Unions,” a subject which was addressed by Professor Andrew Watterson in his presentation entitled: “The degradation of workplace health and safety in the UK and what can be done through strong agencies, strong laws, strong enforcement and the role of the trade unions.” Watterson condemned the “abysmal leadership” of the Health and Safety Executive and highlighted the advantages of the Scandinavian model which showed that good health and safety policies produced not only healthier workers but also higher profits.

 


Andrew Watterson.

Other speakers highlighted the impact in Europe, Asia and Australia of the deadly effects of asbestos exposures. Dr. Greg Deleuil, the medical advisor of the Asbestos Disease Society of Australia, focused his remarks on the impact of Cyclone Tracey 1974 which turned the city of Darwin, Australia into a “city-sized asbestos contaminated demolition site.” While many of the effects of the exposures experienced by residents will never be known, cases of asbestos-related diseases have already been diagnosed amongst members of the clean-up crew. In her contribution Chris Knighton MBE spoke of the death of her husband Mick just a few months after he had been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the signature asbestos disease. In his memory, she began the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund which has, to date, raised 1.2 million for mesothelioma research. Highlighting the role Britain played in the development of asbestos technology, Laurie Kazan-Allen said:

“The same excuses advanced to prolong the use of asbestos in Britain are still being promoted by vested interests in countries where asbestos use remains legal. The dimensions and severity of the British asbestos experience should be more than enough to convince a reasonable person that humanity has the right to live in an asbestos-free atmosphere.”

Dealing safely with the millions of tonnes of asbestos-containing products incorporated within the national infrastructure is a difficult but mandatory requirement. The methods used by Hartlepool Borough Council to achieve this were explained by Rachel Price. Answers provided by the speaker about the Council’s responsibility for asbestos in academy schools were informative. Under the current situation, unless an academy contracts the Council to undertake the monitoring and auditing of asbestos material on school premises, this work will be farmed out to alternative contractors.

 


Rachel Price.

After the seminar, delegates made their way to a memorial service at Christchurch in Church Square. They entered the building to the sound of a lone Scottish piper and were greeted with scores of floral tributes carpeting the lobby floor.

 


Speakers at the Memorial Day Remembrance Service included Reverend Janet Burbury and Reverend Nick Moore, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Matt Wrack, poet Jules Clare and seminar speakers Andrew Watterson, Chris Knighton and Laurie Kazan-Allen.

 


From left: Edwin Jeffries (President HTUC), Chris Knighton, Matthew D. Wrack (FBU), Laurie Kazan-Allen, and Dr. Greg Deleuil.

The wreath laying ceremony was a visual demonstration of the feelings stirred on a day when millions of lost lives were commemorated. Dozens of floral tributes were placed under two trees in Church Square which stand as monuments to Workers’ Memorial Day – the plaques hung on the framework surrounding these trees bear the slogan: Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living.

 


April 30, 2016

 

 

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