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(en) Britain, Direct Action # 35 - ACTION & COMMENT: Workplace Bullying

Date Wed, 24 Aug 2005 09:10:40 +0300

The level of workplace bullying is now truly staggering. Research by
Manchester University found that 50% of people had witnessed
bullying at work; one in six had been bullied in the last six months;
and one in four had been bullied in the last five years.
Such a high level has severe implications for workers’ health. A
study, entitled ‘Workplace Bullying in Britain’, found that
each year 18 million working days are lost due to sickness caused by
bullying. This level of bullying puts paid to the partnership myth
peddled by employers and unions that the British workplace has
been transformed into happy teams of workers who cannot wait to
get to work to do their bit for the company and add to their personal
development. The reality is that Britain’s increasingly
deregulated workplaces are full of bullying managers using fear,
intimidation and guilt as tools to force workers to work longer and
harder for less. The result is a growth in stress-related health
problems like depression, severe fatigue and immune system


The reason for the rise in workplace bullying is not hard to find.
Under capitalism control of the workforce has always rested on
management intimidation. It is in their ability to fire workers who
refuse to follow orders that managers’ power ultimately rests.
And historically it has been the ability of workers to organise, using
their collective economic strength, to challenge management’s
use of intimidation to ensure ever-greater productivity and profit.
Unfortunately the last twenty years have seen the virtual collapse of
workplace organisation and, faced with less workplace resistance,
capitalism demands ever greater flexibility resulting in ever greater
insecurity. The result is a sense of powerlessness which makes it
hard for workers, collectively and individually, to challenge the
attitudes of even the most obnoxious of managers.

This situation is virtually the norm across Britain – a workplace
culture in which the sack is a constant threat creating a climate of
fear in which management bullying and intimidation thrives. The
message is driven home on a daily basis. As workers have no rights,
their only long-term future lies in putting the employer’s
interests first. Those who do not conform to this free market mantra
– those who have the nerve to go sick, or refuse to work long
hours, or even take their holidays – become branded as not being
team players. They find themselves marginalised, bullied and
punished, and ultimately driven out or sacked. The message is clear
– conform or face the consequences.

In the US and Japan where this free market inspired culture of
conformity is most successful, people now work longer than at any
time in the last 100 years. On average they only take 10 days holiday
each year. In the US prayer reading has been introduced to maintain
the ‘American way of life’ in the workplace. Hence the
workplace has become a flag waving environment where to question
management or to refuse to conform are seen not only as
undermining the company’s future prosperity, but also as
unpatriotic, ‘un-American’ acts. It is hardly surprising that
in such a poisoned atmosphere bullying is on the increase, not just
by management, but sadly by other workers too.

The only sure way to challenge bullying is for workers to challenge
management power by creating a workplace culture based on their
own needs as workers. Workplace bullying in all its cruelty will
ultimately only disappear in a democratically controlled workplace
where decisions are taken collectively, banishing for good the fear
and insecurity on which bullying thrives.

A Dangerous Development

It is proposed that 650 homes and a children’s nursery be built
on the site of the Turner & Newall factory in the Spodden Valley,
Rochdale, where asbestos was produced for over 100 years. Despite
this, the developer’s report, submitted to Rochdale council,
stated ‘of particular note is the absence of any asbestos

This is somewhat surprising given that exposed asbestos waste can
be found on the surface of the abandoned site, and this has been
witnessed by the local MP and councillors. Furthermore, former
workers witnessed, over a number of years, the dumping of
thousands of tonnes of asbestos into an old coalmine located within
the proposed development. This is confirmed by Turner &
Newall’s own records which show that by 1957, an average of
300 tonnes of dust were dumped on the site each year. Given the
extent of contamination, it must have taken days for the developers
to find a suitably uncontaminated scrap of land to test.

Should the Spodden Valley development go ahead there’s no
doubt that it will cost lives. Inhaling even small amounts of asbestos
can cause mesothelioma and lung cancer. After years of denial the
Health & Safety Executive has been forced to admit that there is no
safe minimum exposure to asbestos. Nor is it just those living nearby
that are at risk. Two million asbestos fibres can fit upon a pin head
and once airborne they can travel for miles. Scientific reports
estimate that living within 2km of a source of asbestos dust may
increase the risk of cancer by up to ten times. Yet the developers
plan to demolish 30,000 tonnes of asbestos factory, crush it into
rubble on site, and use it for foundations releasing clouds of asbestos
dust in the process. Unused rubble will be transported by road
creating yet more contamination.

The risk the development poses to the local population was
acknowledged by a Health & Safety commissioner and former
Turner & Newall manager, who called the felling of tress and
disturbance of soil on the site ‘sheer madness’, and
suggested that ‘with the potential amount of asbestos on the
site, no development should be built’. The fact that the
government and council did not force Turner & Newall to clear the
site of asbestos before selling it to property developers is an outrage.
To allow development on land awash with asbestos waste is to
further risk the lives of local people who, for generations, have had to
live with the horror of asbestos production. It is time for asbestos
deaths in the area to stop.

Local people have started the ‘Save Spodden Valley
Campaign’ to get the site cleared of asbestos before any
development goes ahead. Following a recent meeting with local
CWU reps the union has backed the campaign. The CWU has
agreed that members with both postal and telecommunications jobs
would be at risk, either when delivering mail or working to establish
communication services.

Contact the campaign on 01706 644774 or at

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