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(en) Ireland, Working Class Resistance #6 (WCR) of Organise!* - Asbestosis – a capitalist disease

From Al <klasbatalemo@yahoo.ie>
Date Sat, 3 Jul 2004 20:15:14 +0200 (CEST)

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Asbestos is inert, non-conductive, flexible and
strong. It insulates well and doesn't burn. It is the
padded protection offered by oven gloves in the home,
and in industry, has been applied in thousands of
different products, from brake to pipe lining.
Asbestos is also a killer: the fatal by-product of a
capitalism which puts profit before protection, the
price of shares before the value of human life.
> What is asbestosis?
Asbestos breaks down as thin needles under a
microscope. Unseen by the human eye, they float in air
and water for decades before eventual inhalation or
consumption. These needles then enter the lungs, and
congeal into a hard grey lump, affecting breathing and
causing inflammation of the heart. The most familiar
disease associated with asbestos, Asbestosis, has been
linked to thoracic and pulmonary cancers and to
Mesothelioma (a cancer of the outside lining of the
lung). Victims of such diseases are the twenty-first
century moral equivalents of the Victorian
chimney-sweep. In the UK alone, asbestos-related
deaths are presently estimated at 3000 a year.

Asbestosis –a history

The first commercial production of asbestos began in
the 1870s in the U.S.. By the beginning of the 20th
century the first cases of Asbestosis were reported
and, in 1929, the first known asbestos lawsuit was
filed in the U.S.. In 1930, the Raybestos-Manhattan
Company x-rayed 126 workers and discovered that 67 had
contracted Asbestosis and 38 had signs of it. Medical
journals gave increasing attention to the phenomenon
of Asbestosis from the 1930s onwards, although this
did little to stop the global spread of the disease.
In the south of Ireland, asbestos continues to be used
in pipe insulation in hospitals, schools, Telecom
Eireann, the ESB and Irish Ferries. In the 1970's
there was huge and successful opposition to the
establishment of a Raybestos-Manhattan manufacturing
plant in Ovens, Co. Cork. In August 1999, the Dublin
government revealed that they were facing dozens of
claims from workers whose health had been damaged by
close contact with asbestos in conditions where no
prior warning had been given or protection taken. In
Co. Louth, residents of the village of Togher, already
facing the dangers of toxic pollution from the
Sellafield plant in Cumbria, called for an immediate
enquiry into the dumping of asbestos waste at
Boycetown and Simonstown dumps. In Kildare, it was
discovered that the local council had allowed cement
sheeting containing asbestos from the old Irish Ropes
factory in Newbridge, which was burnt down, to be
discarded in the Silliot Hill dump, much to the anger
of the residents of nearby Kilcullen. The ESB in
Portarlington have recently been attacked for dumping
20 tons of asbestos into a local bog.

North of the border, the main culprit has been
ship-builders Harland and Wolff. Hundreds of workers
have already died from asbestos-related diseases while
the British government (Harland and Wolff was in
public ownership at the time) prepares itself for
claims in excess of £100m. Thousands of others,
exposed to asbestos fibres from years of exposure in
the hulls of ships, are dying slow painful deaths.
Even though asbestos was banned in the early 1970s,
the latent nature of the disease means that its
affects are felt long after fibres have entered the
human body.
Frankie Houston, from Belfast, was one of those
ship-builders diagnosed with asbestosis. He told the

"No foreman or manager in my time ever said that there
was asbestos in here and that you had to watch
yourself. There was no mask provided and there was no
extractor fan to take it away. We didn't know it was a
danger. To us it was just something that broke

Making claims

As many as 20,000 people worked in Harland and Wolff
following World War II and it is estimated that more
than 1000 cases have already been settled.
Compensation payments made under the Pneumoconiosis
Etc., (Workers' Compensation -Northern Ireland) Order
1979 are now in line with inflation, but not everyone
is ‘lucky' enough to pass on a bit of money to their
loved ones after they die. The reasons for this are
delays caused by the sheer numbers of claimants
exposed to asbestos in the workplace, and the long
latency period for the disease which means claims may
occur many years after an incident or employment. This
in turn can compromise insurance premiums. Added to
this is the incumbency on the victim to prove that
asbestos-related diseases were ‘reasonably
foreseeable' by the employer. Big business, of course,
is not averse to covering its tracks, or if it is
unable to, punishing organisations for daring to stir
up trouble. The Occupational & Environmental Diseases
Association (OEDA) a registered UK charity (that a
charity needs to exist to do makes clear the apathy of
government) which helps victims of Asbestosis, has had
its grants stopped by the Association of London
Government (ALG) for the reason that the London
programme is "very limited in depth and scope” (?).
Many companies, such as First, Turner and Newall
(T&N), once one of the world's largest asbestosis
companies, prefer voluntary liquidation rather than
compensating victims.

Asbestosis –the future

The number of victims of asbestos-related diseases is
set to peak in the year 2020. As libertarian
communists, Organise! believe it is essential that all
workers are provided with satisfactory health and
safety conditions. We believe effective action must be
taken to raise awareness of this killer. If you have
any information about the use of asbestos in your
workplace, do not hesitate to contact us.



>From the pages of Working Class Resistance #6 (WCR),
regular bulletin of Organise!.

To distribute WCR in your area, contact Organise! at


* [Ed. Note: Organise! is an anarchist federation.]

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