Saturday, May 02, 2009

'We can't bring my son back - but we can fight for the living'

BALOONS go up above Tower Hill to remember workers killed in construction.
Union fears their number may soar, as firms try to cut corners in recession.

Outside HSE, civil servant union reps with Construction Safety Campaigners and on right, Linda Whelan, whose son Craig was killed in a site explosion.

IT'S been a busy week, with some sombre reflections, but the weather was bright for it, and so was at least one piece of news for this weekend. The watchword connecting us was SOLIDARITY!

A week ago, a march and rally-cum-fete in the Islington/Kings Cross area of London celebrated the 175th anniversary of the Great Demonstration when 100,000 working people gathered at Copenhagen Fields to demand release of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs, transported to slave labour in Australia for trying to form an agricultural workers' trade union.

Yesterday, we marked May Day with the traditional march and rally in Trafalgar Square. There were Iranian left-wing exiles and Iraqis, Turkish workers and Tamils, the latter calling for an end to the Sri Lankan government's onslaught on their people. Spiky haired youths and white haired pensioners marched and mingled together. Postal workers marched opposing privatisation of Royal Mail, and workers from Visteon who had been occupying their plants protested the theft of their jobs, pay and pensions.

By the end of the day, we had some good news. The unions representing the Visteon workers reported victory in the fight for decent redundancy terms at least.

Between weekends, on Tuesday, it was International Workers Memorial Day,April 28,when we remember those killed or injured in workplace accidents, or because of industrial hazards, and pledge to fight for the living. Various activities were arranged around Britain. In London, we gathered on Tower Hill, by the memorial to the Unknown Building Worker, where wreaths were laid, and black balloons released for those who have lost their lives - 72 in the building industry in the past year. We marched behind the banner of the Construction Safety Campaign and several unions, pausing at a McAlpine site where two were killed recently, before going on the Health and Safety Executive offices, where some staff were waiting to greet us. Then on to a rally by City Hall.

Among the speakers who made an impression was Linda Whelan - not a union leader or political figure, in the usual sense, but a mother who had journeyed down from Crook, Co.Durham, to tell us about her son Craig. Her boys had been brought up to be hard-working and independent. Craig was away from home, in Nottingham, but always kept in touch. He was only 23 when he was sent to work on a contract at Carnaud Metal Box, in Bolton. Craig and his workmate, Paul Wakefield, were killed by a fireball in a chimney they they were dismantling.

It was on May 23 2002. Rather than go to the trouble of erecting scaffolding to take down the chimney from the outside, the company had decided it would be cheaper to do it from inside. There were warnings of potentially explosive chemicals being present on the site, but the firm still sent Craig and his workmate back into the chimney to use cutting equipment.

As a result of the fatal explosion, three managers at the firm were charged with corporate manslaughter but in the end received only a fine. Seven years later, Linda is still fighting for justice for Craig, but also for others. At a meeting in the Manchester Hazards Centre she helped launch Families Against Corporate Killing, FACK.
"We can't bring Craig back but we can fight in the hope that we can save someone else's life."

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