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Issue #1551      13 June 2012

Culture & Life

Deaths at work and rockets on the roof

Australia is the driest continent on Earth. Britain is generally recognised in Australia as one of the wettest places on Earth. So it was with much ironic mirth that Australian media reported recently that southern Britain was in the grip of that most Australian of natural phenomena, drought.

What our capitalist media did not give any attention to was why such a wet country could be suffering from water shortages. GMB, the British general union covering water workers (amongst others), was not so inhibited. GMB has called on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons to demand that Thames Water and the other private water companies supposedly servicing the South East of England explain why they closed 25 bulk water storage reservoirs in the region, leaving rainfall running off into the sea while the area was being subjected to drought restrictions.

Despite being seemingly ever-present, less than one percent of Britain’s rainfall is collected and stored for human purposes. GMB has also previously asked why Thames Water has not developed the disused Severn Thames canal to bring water from the Severn River into the region. At present water in the Severn just runs off into the sea.

Gary Smith, GMB National Secretary for Water, told British media: “Storage and transfer are two of the main elements of water resource management: one to move water from times of plenty to times of shortage; the other to convey water from places where it is plentiful to places where it is in short supply ... .

“It cannot be repeated often enough that there is no shortage of water in Britain.”


Did you know that globally two million men and women die every year as a result of work-related accidents and diseases? Bosses and the governments that do their bidding tend to ignore these deaths or – if forced to acknowledge them – try to pass them off as the result of employee negligence (i.e. blame the victim) or as attributable to some other cause unrelated to their employment. But it won’t wash.

Such a huge death toll can’t be ignored or brushed under the carpet or buried under obfuscating paperwork and idle government promises. Internationally, there’s even a Workers’ Memorial Day each year devoted to this scandalous situation, with the motto “Remember the dead, fight for the living!”

And with capitalism trying to alleviate its declining profitability by cutting back on everything that does not directly contribute to profit, cutbacks to occupational health and safety staff and procedures are almost inevitable. To justify these cutbacks, capitalist governments in various countries are resorting to fudged figures and deception to hide the real situation.

The official figure for people killed in work related incidents in Britain last year, for example, was a mere 171. But the giant union Unite says that figure is “a myth” and puts the real number at closer to 1,400.

But of even greater significance, according to Unite, is the largely unreported number of people who die each year from occupational diseases such as cancers caused by negligent exposure at work to hazardous substances such as asbestos, chemicals and dust. Estimates put this figure in Britain alone as being between 20,000 and 50,000 men and women.


You’ve got to hand it to capitalism: it never misses a trick when it comes to cutting staff and providing a business opportunity instead. In civilised countries, people who are recently released from prison or those serving community service sentences are regarded as being on probation and are required to report regularly to their appointed probation officer. The latter checks up on how they are going, whether they are keeping themselves out of trouble or are experiencing trouble, and is expected to give help and advice calculated to help the person to not offend again.

It is a system fraught with flaws, but at least it is a system. In the US, a country with a dismal record in criminal justice, they are doing away with probation officers, replacing them with electronic machines. Hundreds of the “biometric reporting” machines are in use. People on probation report in by placing their hand in the machine which recognises their fingerprint. They don’t get much in the way of advice or assistance, needless to say, but then that is no longer its role: it is basically just ticking them off on an attendance roll.

But it saves on wages by dispensing with probation officers, so it must be good, eh?

The system is now being introduced into England, under the reactionary Con-Dem government of David Cameron.


Cameron’s government is also the one that recently leafleted residents of an East London housing estate advising them that it planned to install a “Higher Velocity Missile system” on top of their block of flats to protect against a possible terrorist threat to the London Olympics. The Ministry of Defence leaflets assured residents the missiles posed no threat to people living on the estate, but some residents were unconvinced and wondered why the missiles – if really thought necessary – could not be sited on the roof of one of the multi-storey banks that tower over that part of London. Surely they would provide a much better vantage point?

I suspect their owners have more clout, however.

Of course, if Britain stopped trampling on the rights of people in developing countries, stopped arming unpopular murderous regimes, and stopped trying to rebuild the British Empire on the backs of the poor countries of the world –pillaging their resources (as in Libya) and arrogantly trying to tell them how to run their lives (as in Zimbabwe), or helping the US to invade them (as in Afghanistan) – there would be no reason or excuse for terrorists to attack Britain.

But that is probably too subtle a thought for capitalism to cope with.  

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