I am in Manchester for a European Studies conference - it's an interest of mine, especially studying the attitude of left-wingers and trade unionists to Europe. Since I don't agree with them most of the time on this issue, I took it upon myself to learn about it. While still heavily outnumbered, at least I can argue with people from a position of vastly superior knowledge (in the UK that is not hard)!
I helped to organise this conference and got sent out this morning to buy a present for the member of staff at Salford University who made most of the practical arrangements. I wound my way by tram from Salford Quays to St Peter's Square, admiring the vast acres of brownfield sites, which are being turned into heritage museums and dockside apartments - although there can only be so much demand for these things!
I bustled through St Peter's Square, and in the Manchester Peace Garden came upon a clutch of banners. A strike? No, it was a ceremony to mark Workers' Memorial Day when trade unionists 'remember the dead' and rededicate themselves to ‘fight for the living’.
The people there included the partners (mostly women) of people killed in workplace accidents, representatives of unions including the construction workers' union UCATT and the firefighters' union FBU, and campaigners who fight for compensation for people dying from asbestos-related diseases.
A comrade of mine Rob Dawber died from mesothelioma in 2001, aged 45 (a year more than my age now). He had inhaled asbestos fibres while working on the railway, long after British Rail knew that working with asbestos was dangerous. Rob wrote the screenplay for Ken Loach’s film “The Navigators”. I didn't always get on with Rob, but I'm proud to remember him today. He was a battler for working people, an active trade unionist in other words.
In the recesssion employers want to cut through 'red tape' but, surrounded by old mills where people fought bitter battles with their employers for 'health and safety', to save their limbs and lungs from injury, including those of children, I am thinking of Rob and all the trade unionists who fight to put safety before profit in workplaces everywhere.