Injuries, disease and death are the common experiences of many Canadian workers–and undoubtedly workers in all countries dominated by the power of a class of employers. This is so since, on the one hand, profit is the driving force of human life in such societies (see The Money Circuit of Capital for an explanation of this). On the other hand, workers in such a society are themselves costs, on the same level as the machinery, buildings, computers, raw material and other objects they use to produce commodities. The pandemic has shown this, unfortunately, to be the case, especially in the United States, as workers have been sacrifice in order to open up an economy dominated by a class of employers.
Even apart from the pandemic, the fact that human beings are both living beings and self-conscious living beings is used by the class of employers in order to obtain as much profit as possible in the shortest possible time. To do so involves a reduction in the costs of production by reducing the number of workers or by reducing the costs of the means of production. By intensifying work through the reduction of the number of workers to the bare minimum, employers produce conditions that can easily result in injury, disease or death. By focusing on cutting costs to the maximum by, for example, not purchasing necessary safety equipment, employers also produce conditions that can easily result in injury, disease or death.
This situation is not generally recognized by capitalist governments or states. The sacrifice of workers for the benefit of the class of employers is often hidden–with the implicit or explicit collusion of the capitalist government or state. Thus, Bob Barnetson points out, in The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, page 173:
The purpose of this book was to examine how Canadian governments prevent and compensate workplace injury, who benefits from this approach, and how they benefit. The first four chapters suggest that governments do a poor job of preventing injury. The use of ineffective regulation appears to represent intentionally prioritizing profitability over safety. And the state has contained the ability of workers to resist this agenda by shaping the discourse around injury and the operation of these systems. Examining injury compensation reveals how seemingly neutral aspects of claims adjudication and management financially advantage employers and limit the ability of workers to resist unsafe work.
Together, this analysis suggests that the prevention and compensation of workplace injuries are not solely technical or legal undertakings, but intensely political ones that entail serious consequences — most often for workers. This conclusion is quite upsetting. But the facts are difficult to dispute. Whatever the drawbacks of Canadian injury statistics, they demonstrate that hundreds of thousands of workers are injured each year on the job. This raises two fundamental questions. First, why are so many seriously injured every year? And, second, why don’t governments do something about it?
Unions, of course, do seek to protect workers from the more vicious forms of health and safety violations. However, although the intentions of union reps may be praiseworthy, should we not wonder why they fail to question the basic source of injuries, disease and death in workplaces in modern society: the existence of a class of employers that uses human beings as means for purposes not defined by those who work?
All radicals should ask union reps the same questions: “First, why are so many seriously injured every year? And, second, why don’t governments do something about it?” They should also ask them: Why do union reps use such clichés as “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” “fairness,” “fair labour laws save lives” when the situation workers face, whether unionized or non-unionized, is indecent, unfair and unjust–a situation that leads to so many injuries, diseases and deaths?