International Workers Memorial Day 2021 - Liverpool Event
11 am 28th April, Titanic (engineers) Memorial
We Remember The Dead And Fight For The Living
This is a report of the day's events and the video of the memorial ceremony can be found at the bottom of this report. If it starts automatically, scroll down to it and hit pause:
On every 28th April, designated as International Worker’s Memorial Day, we remember those who have died because of the criminal neglect of their employers in dereliction of their duty of care to their employees. This year, we remember too, those who have lost their lives to the Covid-19 pandemic and due to our government’s negligence in its first duty to protect the Health, Safety and welfare of the people of this country.
In the UK over 160,000 people died of Covid-19 of which over 14,000 were workers.
In particular we remember those who have given their lives in the NHS and Care Services so others may live, and those who died because of their work.
Merseyside workers have died whilst caring for their loved ones, caring for the elderly and sick, working in the NHS and care services, building both Mersey Tunnels, constructing buildings and manufacturing products and providing services.
Today’s International Workers Memorial Day was an even more sombre event than previous year’s commemorations, given the backdrop of the appalling loss of life from Covid-19 in the UK:
+Over 160,000 people dead from Covid+
This year, we remember too, those who have lost their lives to the Covid-19 pandemic and due to our government’s negligence in its first duty to protect the Health, Safety and welfare of the people of this country.
But the solemnity and sadness of the day was further added to as we remembered the passing of one of Liverpool’s great trade unionists, and public figures – Tony Mulhearn – who died from an occupational disease contracted at work in the print industry which damaged his lungs slowly over a life of work.
Tony passed away on 7th October 2019.
Trade Unionist and Health and Safety campaigner, and later councillor, Tony Mulhearn died of a lung condition - Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis - caused by work exposure to Carbon Tetrachloride.
Tony’s family attended today's event to see the unveiling of a plaque of remembrance which bore his words, spoken at the last IWMD event he attended juts six months before he passed away:
“Those who put profit above worker safety, should never go unchallenged” – Tony Mulhearn IWMD 2019
Today’s IWMD 2021 event was organised by the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group and several Merseyside Trade Union Branches and supporting organisations who also helped to fund the plaque. The full list can be seen in the pic at the end of this report.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions the event was attended only by an invited group of people.
Amongst them were:
The event included:
+ A One Minute Silence at 11 am
+ Laying of Wreath in remembrance of the dead from the Covid Pandemic and Worker’s Deaths caused by their Employer’s criminal neglect of their Duty of Care.
+ Unveiling of a Memorial plaque for the Liverpool Trade Unionist, Safety at Work campaigner and political leader, the late Tony Mulhearn
+ Commemoration speeches including that of Tony’s son Joe.
+ Lone Piper’s lament.
The needless and avoidable deaths of workers continues across the UK to this day. Too many leave their homes to go to work, but never return home.
All of these deaths have one thing in common – they could have all been prevented had their employers adhered to their moral and legal responsibility to care for the health, safety and welfare of their workforce.
Today at this year’s IWMD event in Liverpool, a granite plaque to the workers who have died because of their working conditions and through work related illnesses, and bearing the words of Tony Mulhearn was unveiled.
His words, spoken at his last attendance at the 2019 IWMD event in Liverpool on 28th April will now always be remembered inscribed as they are on a memorial which will eventually be laid alongside that of the memorial to Tunnel Workers who were killed at work.
Following the one minute silence as the clock above the Liver Buildings struck 11 am and after the lone piper lament, the event was opened by Jamie McGovern from the CWU and IWMD Organising Committee.
He welcomed those in attendance, saying:
“I am from the Trade Union which represents postal workers, and this year we have lost many many colleagues sadly to Covid. During the minutes silence, I took time to remember those people as well.”
“We were tagged as being key workers during the pandemic. At the time it seemed to be a badge of honour, but the reality is that it turned out to be a badge of risk; and many of our people lost their lives to the pandemic.”
Turning to the plaque which has been two years in the making and which has been delayed from being laid in its rightful place next to the Tunnel workers memorial on the Strand, Jamie referred to the words from Tony Mulhearn quoted on the plaque:
“The actual words that Tony spoke in 2019, are more than words. I think it’s almost like a Trade Union mission statement – Those who put profit above worker safety, should never go unchallenged.”
Concluding Jamie said:
The plaque was then unveiled by Tony Mulhearn's son Tony.
Tony Mulhearn’s son Joe, spoke after the plaque was unveiled and people gathered round to read Tony’s words:
“Those who put profit above worker safety, should never go unchallenged” – Tony Mulhearn IWMD 2019
Joe said in commemoration to his father:
“On behalf of my brothers and sisters, I juts want to thank everyone, and to tell you how proud we are that our Dad’s final words that he said at probably one of his last campaign and outings is going to be used on such a momentous day and important part of the Trade Union calendar.”
Joe referred to the relevance of today’s event to his father’s passing which was caused by his work earlier in his life, when he contracted - Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. Only when he was a relatively fit man in his 80s did the disease catch up on him and then became evident.
The IWMD Organising Group presented Tony Mulhearn's (junior) youngest son Jack; with a copy of the 'Trade Union bible' - The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - which John Flanagan spoke of briefly before presenting the book to Jack:
"It is so important to ensure that this book is read by every worker. You won't get employers reading this."
"It really is a pleasure for me to present this book to Jack. In fact Ricky Tomlinson, Tony Mulhearn and others said it actually changed their lives after they had read it, and I can testify to that because it changed my life as well. It opened the door to what life is really about and it is about the construction industry as well."
Handing the book over to Jack, he said:
"I juts wanted to present this to Jack with all the heartfelt endeavors we have in the Trade Union movement."
Given the Covid restrictions had impacted on the event today, this was a rather smaller and more intimate IWMD Memorial ceremony than in previous years. But many of those attending via invite, were regular supporters and attendees at this annual event.
Usually, there follows a meeting with guest speakers; which sees many more workers, Trade unionists, and supporting organisations attending.
For today's event, those speaking were no less pertinent and spoke from the heart.
Up next to speak was Tony Rimmer from the CWU who knew Tony Mulhearn better than most in the Union.
In an warm and sometime emotional contribution to the event he started by reflecting on what the day meant for him, he recalled his time as a Telecomms engineer with the then Post Office Telephones shortly after he started as an apprentice in 1970; and how the death of a colleague he was working with, Dave Arthur had impacted him:
"We got called on a job on the Kirby Industrial Estate to go up on the furnace house roof to fix a telephone line. Unfortunately whilst we were up there, Dave fell through the roof and didn't survive the fall."
"Now that sadness was an early reminder to me and indicator to me as to what health and safety was all about and I will always remember Dave and other colleagues who have passed away; on this day."
Turning to the event's honouring of Tony Mulhearn, he spoke of his personal experience of working with him and on the work he did throughout his life:
"It is a great privilege for me to be asked to say these words and remember the words that he spoke on this day two years ago: Those who put profit above worker safety, should never go unchallenged - those words on that plaque soon to be mounted on the Mersey Tunnel ventilation tower, were we normally meet, Tony had the experience that whenever he was involved with anything, he could always come up with the words and they were always the right words to say on the day."
"I don't think there are enough towers and tall buildings in this city that would take all the words he has used over the years and the emotions and sentiments he expressed in them. But that ventilation tower, for me, will always be the Tony Mulhearn Tower."
Continueing his clearly heartfelt tribute, he then addressed in particular Tony Mulhearn's family in attendance, saying:
He thanked the IWMD Organising Committee for coming up with this initiative to honour Tony with the plaque which quotes his words:
"I'd like to thank John and Jamie and all the members of the organising committee for coming up with the great initiative of this memorial stone, which will honour Tony forever."
In closing, he gave his personal dedication to the life of Tony Mulhearn, by quoting the words of Dolores Ibárruri at the close of the Spanish civil war when the International Brigaders were leaving Barcelona in 1938
“You are the history, you are the legend, you are the heroic example of solidarity and democracy. We will never forget you.”
Bringing today's IWMD Memorial event to a close, the final speech came from Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group’s John Flanagan who referring to the media said that it's a disgrace that you will never read bout this event in the national media. But locally, it is a regular event in the local media that deaths at work are occurring.
"If you look in the local press - I get emails every morning telling me there is accidents and fatalities especially in the construction industry. It is a regular event particularly in the construction industry. There was a lad a couple of weeks ago, an apprentice electrician, helping to demolish a building; and he goes through the roof!
Now this is happening 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, and it still happening today. That's the reason why we are here today so we can campaign and try to at least minimise the amount of people killed at work."
He added: "It has got to be said. There are 5,000 people in this country dieing each year from an Asbestos related disease. Tony, was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, but you don't have to remember that, because it is a lot easier to remember the word Asbestosis."
He continued by saying that if a person is diagnosed with Asbestosis, the is a welfare benefit available, but if you are diagnosed with IPF; there is no such benefit.
"Now in our group, we are seeing more people being diagnosed with IPF instead of Asbestosis."
John then discussed the fate of ship building workers involved in the breaking up of old ships, and the fact that the laws state that when it comes to ship being broken up, they should be returned to the place in which they were built. However, now that is not done and the ships are registered under a 'flag of convenience' e.g. Panama, and the wrecks are sent to the likes of India were the hazards of such work are not addressed.
One such high risk yard is that of the Chittagong Shipbreakers in Bangladesh. Hundreds of workers die each year from Asbestosis as a result of the work they do without protection, with many of the ships coming from European companies including the UK.
Concluding today’s event John said:
“We meet every year to commemorate and remember those who have lost their lives at work or due to work”.
“It is an indelible stain on the conscious of any civilized society that you only have to search the local press of any area in the UK and you will find another tragic tale of a family scarred for life after losing a loved member of their family, Asbestos alone accounts for over 5,000 deaths per year in the UK.”
Video of Event
MAVS and sponsoring Trade Unions and organisations on Merseyside arranged for the granite plaque to be cut in memory of Tony Mulhearn whose life was dedicated to the health, safety and welfare of working people on Merseyside.
The Trade Union Branches that contributed to the making of the granite plaque were:
Merseyside Pensioners Committee
The plaque was made by Paul a stonemason from Green Meade Memorials. He helped the organising committee for the event to ensure they had the right form of Granite and that it would be in-keeping with the memorial stone to the Mersey Tunnel builders who lost their lives in doing so.
The plaque will be placed alongside this later this year and hopefully by the end of July.
For the evntual siting of the plaque on the Mersey Tunnel Ventilation shaft, Mr. Lee Haggerty, Architect, submitted and drafted the drawings/ plans to LCC Planning Dept Without cost.
Sponsoring Unions and organisations:
Source: All photos (c) Chris Ingram unless otherwise stated / Words: unionsafety / Sponsor Graphic: IWMD Organising Committee, MAVS / Video: Chris Ingram