From: Le Monde diplomatique <email@example.com>
To: Le Monde diplomatique <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Death by work
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 2003 11:08:32 +0200 (CEST)
THE International Labour Organisation (ILO) has just published a report (1), largely ignored in the press, claiming that every year 270 million employees are injured worldwide in accidents in the workplace and 160 million affected by work-related illnesses. The report reveals more than 2 million workers die on the job each year—5,000 people killed by their work every day. These statistics, the report makes clear, are an underestimate (2).
In France, according to the Caisse nationale d'assurance maladie (CNAM), 780 workers are killed annually in the workplace (that is more than two a day). These figures are also an underestimate; there are around 1,350,000 work accidents a year (3)—3,700 victims every eight-hour day, and eight injured every minute.
The defenders of workers' rights used to call this exaction in the name of economic growth and competition a blood tax (4). We should remember that phrase when we come to look at the current debate about pensions and retirement, and consider the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers worn out and tossed on the scrap heap when they reach the end of their working lives. They are often deprived of the opportunity to enjoy their pensions at all because, though life expectancy has increased, there has also been (as an outcome of worsening workplace hazards) an explosion in illnesses that most afflict older people age: cancers, cardio-vascular disease, depression, strokes, loss of sensory perception, arthrosis, senile dementia, Alzheimer's.
This makes the present attack on pensions all the worse; the attack has been coordinated and driven by forces of globalisation (5), such as the G8, the World Bank (6) and the OECD (7), all of which have been attacking social security (8) and the welfare state since the 1970s. The policy has been picked up by the European Union, where prime ministers and governments of both left and right (Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin in France) decided, at the Barcelona Summit in March 2002, to push back the retirement age by five years. This is a serious step backwards and an abandonment of plans to build fairer and more balanced societies.
While employees are getting poorer, wealth is still concentrated at the top: 30 years ago an employer received about 40 times the average wage of a worker. Today an employer earns a thousand times more (9) and can look forward to the day of retirement with equanimity. This is far from being the case for ordinary employees, especially teachers.
Hundreds of thousands of teachers in Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, Austria and France have been striking to protest against the dismantling of the pension system. The system does need reform for at least two reasons: the active working population is shrinking while the number of retired people is increasing; and the economic weight of pensions, today equivalent to 11.5% of GDP in France, will rise to 13.5% in 2020 and 15.5% in 2040, to become a major expenditure for the state.
Despite the stock market crash, which has wiped more than 20% off the value of pension funds, the option of financing pensions by savings has not been ruled out. All the more so because the full cost of reform of the contribution-based system will fall on employees, as if it were merely a technical problem of no consequence for society as a whole. All the variables—the amount and period of contributions, the age of retirement, the final amount of a pension—are systematically being changed to the detriment of employees and incomes. No alternative solutions have been considered, such as calling on society for a contribution, or taxing profits.
It is considered normal in France that two workers lose their lives at
work every day, and eight others are injured or fall every minute in
the cause of private enterprise. But it is not considered
normal that companies and capital should be called upon to put
more into the pensions of their employees. It is not surprising that
workers are angry.
(2) See report Safety in Numbers: Suggestions for a World Culture of Safety at Work, International Labour Organisation, Geneva, 28 April 2003.
(3) Les Echos, 7 November 2002.
Les accidents du travail. L'impôt du sang. 19 décembre
1906 in La Guerre sociale: Un journal contre, Les Nuits rouges,
(5) The relationship between pensions and globalisation is close: in the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom contributory pension schemes feed the giant pension funds that have become central players in the new world of finance capital.
(6) See the World Bank report Pension Reform in Europe, http://publications.worldbank.org/e.... On its offensive against social security see http://forums.transnationale.org/vi....
(7) El País, Madrid, 20 May 2003.
(8) The Chadelat Report, published in April, promises a radical challenge to the sickness benefit system. It aims to dismantle and privatise the social security system. See the text of the report at http://www.ladocumentationfrancaise....
9) Libération, 21 May 2003.