June 17, 1958 seemed like any other day for 18 workers making their way to the construction site that would inevitably take their lives. They were busily constructing the Second Narrows Bridge connecting North Vancouver and Vancouver. A grave miscalculation by bridge engineers resulted in a collapse of several spans, which sent 79 workers an estimated 30 metres into the Burrard inlet below. In 1994, the bridge was renamed the Iron Workers Memorial to commemorate the 18 construction workers and one diver that lost their lives on that dark day of which we will never forget.
Workplace safety in Canada has come leaps and bounds in the last century. Injuries are becoming unacceptable with a newly developing safety culture that eliminates the old-school thought that sometimes “stuff happens”. Every accident is now being deemed avoidable if the proper precautions are taken. Accidents, such as the one which took place in mid June of 1958 on the Second Narrows project, are now an extremely rare event.
Unfortunately, not all who go to work in the industrial and construction world are as privileged as we are here in Canada. Fortune.com has reported that a scaffolding collapse in Fengcheng, China, killed 74 workers on November 24, 2016. That is well over three times the number of workers killed in the Iron Workers Memorial disaster, and yet in a country riddled with industrial accidents, it is just becoming another day in the office. In the same article, it is pointed out that in the first six months of this year 14,136 workers lost their lives in Chinese workplaces.
Here in British Columbia we sometimes think things are somewhat abysmal. Our governments are not living up to their promises, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing, unions are under attack, the economy just isn’t what it used to be and our environment is being threatened by pipelines, dams and excessive logging. We do have our issues that desperately need to be addressed, but take any one of these issues and I’m sure the people of China are experiencing it ten-fold.
We are all the same, we all bleed red, we all feel pain and we all deserve the same rights regardless of the geographical place we just happened to be born. Social media has made the world a flat and tiny place. It has made it possible for us to easily connect with one another despite living on separate continents and yet for some reason we are choosing to remain divided and distant. China needs a union voice for its workers, they need the same rights and benefits that we receive here and they need us to help them attain it.
Not only do they need these things, but we need them to have it as well. Many of the problems we face here in B.C. are relating to the expensive labour market that comes with safety regulations, a middle-class paycheck and benefits. This discrepancy between first world labour costs and third world labour costs is partially to blame for the loss of our manufacturing jobs, information technology jobs and all other jobs that used to be done here and are now being outsourced to China or India.
So, what is the solution? Some have decided to take out their aggression on foreign workers, and insist we need to take these jobs back. They blame immigration for our slow job market and continue to drive a wedge into a relationship that should be blossoming and growing strong. Corporations would love for us to continue down this road of blaming each other and competing fiercely for work; what they don’t want to see is a global amalgamation of the labour market.
We are all workers, and the solution should not be to take back from them but instead to give to them. Let’s give them a voice, give them representation, give them a safe place to work; let’s give them unionism. Helping them is not just the right thing to do socially but it is also an investment in our own way of life. Due to the continuing decimation of the middle class, I believe eventually all workers will be treated equally; and if we continue divided and competitive against one another, we will all be treated equally horrid. If we unite and stick up for each other regardless of race or demographics, then we will all, eventually, be treated both equally and fair.
At first glance it seems there is very little we can do to help this situation, however when we realize that lasting change happens from constant minute forces there are quite a few small things we can do. Aside from using social media to spread messages of love, acceptance and inclusion of all people, we can also reach out and show support for the existing labour movement in China and other developing nations. Research and find an organization you see as worthy and encourage your union local or community group to support it. We can also lobby our government to increase our standards for importing. The “Made in China” label is fine only if the workers manufacturing these items are given proper safety considerations and are being treated with fairness and dignity.
Those 74 Chinese workers who lost their lives last month were not the only victims of this accident. Each of these men were fathers, sons and husbands whose families will morn their deaths the same as we would mourn if we were in their shoes. This is not some distant event that we should be able to disconnect ourselves from, it reflects a problem that we as a human race are suffering and we as a human race need to fix. If we choose to ignore it and remain disconnected, it will be our children and grandchildren that will endure a similar fate and our children and grandchildren will have a far more domestic and far more severe problem to fix.