‘Remember the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living’

Posted on April 10, 2018 at 04:45 PM

Mother Jones
Mother Jones

Frank Vaughan of Congress reflects on the importance of Workers’ Memorial Day and what unions can do to help mark the event this year

It was the passing of the Occupational Safety & Health Act in the United States more than 45 years ago that paved the way for what we now know as Workers’ Memorial Day.

The ground-breaking legislation sought to ensure that employers provided workers with an environment free from recognised hazards, such as exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions.

The Act became law in the US on April 28, 1971, prompting the AFL-CIO (the main union federation) to declare that 28 April should henceforth be marked as a commemorative day for those who had died or been injured at work.

The concept was later endorsed by trade unions in Canada leading the government there to declare April 28 as a National Day of Mourning, for those lost or injured at work. To this day, the Canadian flag flies at half-mast from sunrise to sunset, on all federal government buildings.

Today up to 80 countries worldwide mark Workers’ Memorial Day with many now designating April 28 as a day of official commemoration.

In Ireland, Workers’ Memorial Day received official state recognition in 2015, courtesy of the then Minister for Business & Employment, Ged Nash TD. It is now a truly national event, marked annually by Congress, Ibec, the Health & Safety Authority and government.

Nonetheless, the basic purpose of the day remains unchanged: to commemorate those who have died or been injured because of their work.

We still have too many people who die because of accidents at work – a total of 47 people in 2017 – while many more are affected by occupational illnesses. Some of these illnesses can prove fatal while many others suffer from both physical and psychosocial disorders arising from their work.

Alongside our commemoration therefore, we also try to use the day to increase awareness and to commit ourselves to creating safer workplaces. 

This explains our use of the motto based on the famous words of Cork-born, US union activist, Mary ‘Mother Jones’: Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living.

Trade unions are a key force in protecting workers and raising the safety bar to ensure people can return home safe and well after their day’s work. There is no room for complacency and we need to continue this work.


What Can You Do?

Congress has marked Workers’ Memorial Day for many years, with trade union events being held in Dublin and Belfast.

This year, in 2018, Congress is asking all affiliated unions, trades councils and the Congress Centres Network to get involved.

April 28 2018 falls on a Saturday and there are many ways in which you can contribute to marking the event.

We want to encourage unions to support the event through social media and have created special posters and other resources, that are available to download here.

You could arrange for your General Secretary or Executive Members to have their photo taken with the special poster and post it to Twitter with an appropriate message. Suggestions include:

Workers safety is everyone’s business

Organised workplaces are safer workplaces

Remember the dead; fight like hell for the living

Or you could customise your own message to highlight issues in your own sector. Ask public figures and others in organisations to do the same and support this awareness-raising.

We are asking participants to post their images and contributions in the week leading up to April 28 (April 23 onwards)

Please remember to use the hashtag #WorkersMemorialDay

April 28th presents an important opportunity to remember and to consolidate everyone’s focus around a single day. Please mark the date in your calendar and make the commitment to contribute as best you can.


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