"Remember the dead; fight like hell for the living”
The Occupational Safety and Health Act in the US became legally effective on April 28th 1971. This significant piece of legislation sought to ensure that employers provide employees with an environment free from recognized hazards, such as exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions.
The American trade union confederation, AFL-CIO, used the passing of the Act to declare that 28 April should be marked as a commemorative day for those who had died or been injured at work. In 1984, the Canadian Union of Public Employees did the same in Canada. This led, in 1991, to the Canadian federal government declaring April 28 to be a National Day of Mourning. Various official commemorations are held to this day, and the Canadian flag is flown at half-mast from sunrise to sunset on all federal government buildings.
The idea has spread globally over the years and up to 80 countries now mark Workers’ Memorial Day, many of them with official recognition by the state. Everywhere, the purpose is the same. We seek to commemorate those who have died or been injured because of their work.
While every year we still have too many people who die in accidents at work many more are affected by occupational illnesses. Some of these prove fatal while countless others suffer from both physical and psychosocial disorders arising from their work. Alongside our commemoration therefore, we also try to use the day to create awareness and to commit ourselves to creating safer workplaces. This is why we use the motto based on the words of Cork-born Mary “Mother” Jones – Remember the dead; fight like hell for the living. [see box] Trade unions have been the crucial force in the past in protecting workers and raising the 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.
Congress has marked the day for many years, with trade union events being held in Dublin and Belfast. In 2015 our commemoration was given official backing in the Republic when the then Minister for Business and Employment, Ged Nash T.D, called on the HSA, employers and public bodies to join with Congress in making the day a truly national event henceforth. This joint cooperation has continued every year since.
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 to this most important challenge.
Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (1830? — 1930)
"Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."
Irish-born Mother Jones was a champion of the country's weakest and neediest during the period of America's great industrial growth. For countless workers she was both goad and inspiration in their struggles to organize for mutual protection. Her flaming rhetoric and fearless campaigning helped swell the ranks of the United Mine Workers, who called her the Miners' Angel. With the look of an angel and the tongue of a mule skinner, she tramped the land, venting her searing invective against the shame of child labor and worker exploitation. A magnificent scold, she was a ringing voice on behalf of miners' colossal struggles in West Virginia, Colorado and Pennsylvania. Jones suffered imprisonment, personal attacks and unbelievable hardships for her efforts to ease impoverished lives.
US Department of Labor