Workers’ Memorial Week: Remembering, honoring and strengthening resolve in support of workplace safety and health
By LIN NELSON
(April 26, 2021) — Death, disability, disease — from hazards endured on the job. This is not a new issue. For a long time we’ve known that work can be hazardous, uneven in its impacts and challenging to respond to. Right now, in this COVID era, the workers’ health movement reminds us that workplace health and safety should not be a sideline, but a central issue for social justice and public health.
The roots of this problem goes way back… to the earliest mining and metals work, in agriculture and in industrial production.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission has declared safe and healthy working conditions to be a fundamental human right, while pointing to the continuing violation of that right around the world, including in the United States. We know this right exists, but we still need to strategize how to bring attention to the hazards, how to make systemic responses have traction, and how to protect those who step out as whistleblowers.
The launch of Workers’ Memorial Week — for the last week of April — is not only a needed remembrance, but a rededication to not only restore some of the original intent of protective public systems, but to build back stronger. This can only be done by building support for publicly understood and applied science, by sharing the evolving science in accessible ways, by supporting the exchange of knowledge, and by taking on the science-doubters like Tucker Carlson, among many.
Legendary labor leader Tony Mazzochi was a champion of building strong links between science, public health practice, labor and community. Those of us in the labor and public health movements need to continue in his footsteps — with a strong focus on movements — on-the-ground, in-the-streets actions that remind people of the hazards that are faced by their families, their neighbors and their communities.
Here in Washington, remembrance was powerfully demonstrated in the fall when farm workers gathered to honor one of the workers lost to COVID: David Cruz.
Last week the Evergreen State College hosted its annual Farmworker Justice event, deepening knowledge of what has been endured in the fields and packing houses.
On April 13, the City of Olympia approved a proclamation commemorating the last week of April as “Workers Memorial Week.” We can hope that this week is the beginning of a renewed dedication to workers’ health and the health of communities.