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A Capitalist Crime against Humanity

Are you one of the 1 in 7 destined to suffer or die from this epidemic of capitalist killing? Three thousand people murdered in a year across the UK. A quarter of a million will die before 2020 across Europe. Meanwhile, millions of people are being killed across the world.

Surely, this needs a global response from a US-led multi-billion dollar action with full mass-media coverage. Surely, Tony Blair and George Bush should declare war on the ‘terrorists' who are causing this. Not a chance.

What kind of terrorist could keep up this murder rate? What sort of killer virus can be responsible? The mass murderer is capitalism, the killing machine is operated by the multi-national corporations, and the weapon they are using is asbestos.

It has been well-known for a century that asbestos kills. The first proven case of death due to asbestos appeared in the medical literature in 1924. Since then, capitalism has done all it can to hide the truth from workers.

Although asbestos is banned across Europe, it is still widely used. Even though it is well-known to be a mass killer, multi-national corporations are actively promoting and forcing workers to produce and use it across the developing world. This is simply a cold collective decision by capitalist bosses to murder people and make profit from their deaths.

With 60 people a week dying of asbestos-related disease every week in Britain alone, the figures are stark. But once you add in the facts it gets much more stark. It is preventable. Its ongoing effects are caused by capitalist greed. Far from attempting to sort out the problem, capitalists have consistently done all they can to deny, disguise and lie about it. Wherever they think they can get away with it, they continue to claim that asbestos poses no danger. Wherever they can, they still force workers to work with asbestos.

Given the number of people dying each year, the term ‘crime against humanity' springs to mind, especially when you consider that the number of people dying and disabled will never be accurately known. The extent to which asbestos has damaged people's health was recently exposed at a conference in Berlin. A Belgian study based on post-mortem examinations in the period 1998-2000 found evidence of asbestos damage to the lungs in 14% of the population – that is 1 in 7 people! Asbestos is linked to numerous respiratory diseases which either go unrecorded, or are not linked to the true cause.

Recently, there has been some apparently good news on the asbestos front. Turner and Newall, the biggest asbestos producers in Britain, who employed 25,000 workers at one point, has now been wound up by its parent company in the US.

But good news is not always what it seems. The company has only been put into liquidation as a blatant means of avoiding current and future claims by those dying and the families they leave behind. Such claims have not only come from workers and ex-workers – in fact, the first successful claim against T&N was brought by a resident who was unlucky enough to live near one of their sites.

Lawyers working for claimants were dismayed at the ease with which T&N were allowed by that workers' friend, the Labour government, to secure liquidation as a means of avoiding ongoing damage claims. As if this wasn't bad enough, following the liquidation announcement it came to light that T&N had no insurance cover. It has been illegal not to have such cover under Health and Safety legislation dating back to 1979.

The killing extends beyond both asbestos plant workers and nearby residents. As many as 1.5 million work-places in Britain contain asbestos in some form or another, including all sorts of buildings - offices, warehouses, shops, etc. Every time a floor board is lifted, an alteration is made, or the heating/air conditioning is switched on, asbestos fibres could be disturbed and get into people's lungs. Yet the danger posed by it is rarely mentioned. Legally, every employer should have carried out a risk assessment, which includes assessing the asbestos risks. In reality, they often ignore the law. Anyway, even when they knowingly expose workers, typical fines are as low as £1,000.

Given the number of people affected by asbestos, this is a truly terrorist act against workers. If you are waiting for war to be declared by governments or other business chums on such acts of corporate terrorism, forget it. This is a war we can only win by taking on capitalism ourselves.

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