We are a nation that loves its heroes, even if most fade unknown to their deaths, protecting capital in a laissez faire system. When we flip a light switch, we take it for granted that the room will be illuminated, without understanding that people die for that to take place.
Who can forget the firemen who entered the twin towers on September 11, 2001? I recall the irony of TV talking heads who were surprised at how dangerous is the job, their not understanding that firemen are killed every month in the USA in attempting to rescue people as buildings collapse on them, year after year after year.
And medical personnel, led by millions of nurses charging into the microbial hell of the current pandemic, are dying by the thousands. I recall talking to a nurse just a month before the epidemic hit, asking her how at ease she was seeing sick people daily from whom she could contract any number of diseases. Nurses know that on any day they can be exposed to something deadly by simply doing their job.
Most of the working class heroes who give their lives in providing us with goods and services do so without the public being aware of how dangerous is their profession.
5,250 workers died in their workplaces in 2018. Loggers had the highest number of fatal accidents per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers—97.6.
I have watched electrical workers climb icy utility poles in winter storms to restore power. One unlucky move and they are fried as they slip and slide with hot wires dangling beside them. On average, one electrical worker dies each day so that we can flip that switch and get light.
Often, workers die in workplaces known by their bosses to be unsafe. But in a capitalist nation, profit is the most important thing, and spending money on making workplaces safer is not a high priority. CEOs almost never go to prison, no matter how many of their workers die in known to be unsafe workplaces.
In 1971, OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was created, with lofty goals of making workplaces safer in the nation. But like all attempts to regulate the nastiness of capitalism, its promise was snuffed out by campaign financing from Big Capital.
The two corporate political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are financed by some of the most unscrupulous capitalists on the globe—defense cheats, polluters and banksters among them. This money is provided to political campaigns to ensure that sycophants will be put in charge of regulatory agencies like OSHA, sycophants who will do the bidding of Big Capital on behalf of the billionaires and corporations that run the USA like a private plantation.
The last thing Big Capital wants is an agency telling their corporations to make workplaces safer, because that might come out of profits, the only thing Big Capital cares about. Listen and you will hear CEOs saying “I work for my stockholders.” They do not work for a clean environment, a safer world, or anything decent. Corporate “journalists” who do not agree soon find themselves unemployed, so become their rapt stenographers.
Which is why Americans are surprised when a big event happens in which large numbers of working class people are killed doing their jobs. How many knew that the government was not prepared for a contagious virus and had not stocked adequate protective gear, allowing thousands of medical personnel to die?
Big Capital did not fund the elections in order to have tax dollars go to stockpiling emergency supplies, despite warnings from the scientific community. Instead Big Capital got tax credits, tax reductions, and access to a rapidly depleted treasury, their only goal in allowing minimal government to function.
Working class heroes continue to die every day to make our society function. They deserve better, but as far as corporate media are concerned, this is all top secret. The important thing, they tell us, is how wonderful the stock market is performing for the few, at the expense of the many.
Jack Balkwill has been published from the little read Rectangle, magazine of the English Honor Society, to the (then) millions of readers USA Today and many progressive publications/web sites such as Z Magazine, In These Times, Counterpunch, This Can’t Be Happening, Intrepid Report, and Dissident Voice. He is author of “An Attack on the National Security State,” about peace activists in prison.