Friday, 26 April 2013

Fight like fighting hell itself for the living

International Workers' Memorial Day takes place this coming Sunday. I'd wager this isn't an event in many lawyers' diaries, but I'd also suggest that it should be. After all, this is an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured or made unwell by their work. It makes for a focal point, an occasion to highlight the avoidable nature of so many workplace accidents. It also serves as a rallying call for campaigns to secure improvements in workplace safety. A number of satellite events occur before and after 28 April, the official date of Workers' Memorial Day (which was started by the Canadian Union of Public Employees in 1984). There is one of great public importance today, in London: the world's first-ever asbestos demonstration outside a Russian embassy.

Workers' Memorial Day poster
Workers' Memorial Day Poster
Mary Harris "Mother" Jones

Why is this taking place outside the Russian Embassy?

The reason is simple.

From Russia, With Poison

In terms of land mass, Russia is the largest country in the world. Sadly, statistical evidence also shows that it is the largest producer of asbestos on the planet. According to, "In 2000, asbestos productions reached approximately 700,000 tons, much more than Canada and China. By the year 2008, mining produced more than one million tons of asbestos." That is a terrifying figure, especially given what the Western world has known for a long time about asbestos: namely, that it is a killer. Apparently, Russia's high production numbers stem from the city Asbest, where there is a seven-mile long mine with a width of one-and-a-half miles and a depth of a 1,000 feet. The city, located about 900 miles northeast of Moscow, has earned a tragic alternative name. It is also known as "the dying city", precisely because of its high rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

No wonder, when one learns that about 500,000 tons of asbestos is gathered from the mine each year.

A Dubious League Table

Russia lies in third place in the league table that no one should be in: that for asbestos consumption. China and India have the unenviable top spots.

As has it, "Russia has widely used asbestos in roofing materials, automobile brakes and insulation. About 3,000 asbestos-containing products have been labelled as safe by the Chief Sanitary Officer of Russia." Moreover: "Annual asbestos-related deaths were 10,400 in 2005. With little opposition towards the use of asbestos, Russia will likely continue to use and export this toxic substance."

A recent letter to the Russian Ambassador to the UK calling for an end to trade in asbestos met with no response. But thanks to this country's evolved democratic principles - which privilege freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest - something is being done. Those who oppose the production and export of asbestos will gather outside the Russian Embassy at 11.30am today in a demonstration which is supported by the GMB trade union, the Forum of Asbestos Victims' Support Groups UK and IBAS, as well as several other UK groups.

Time for Action

Protestors will urge Russia to leave its toxic and deadly asbestos in the ground. This is a worthy cause and I would commend anyone to take part peacefully in this demonstration.

Meanwhile, I hope not only that we continue the battle to rid the world of asbestos use but that those who otherwise haven't been aware of International Workers' Memorial Day will now put it in their diaries. After all, as Mary Harris 'Mother' Jones - the legendary American schoolteacher who became a leading figure in workers’ rights at the turn of the 20th century - advised, we should: "Pray for the dead - and fight like hell for the living."

The demonstration is on Friday April 26, 2013 for International Workers' Memorial Day and it will take place outside the Russian Embassy, 6-8 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QP at 11.30am.