I Was a Worker and I Will Not Be Forgotten

Below is the text of the speech given by Sue James to the Injured Workers' Day Rally. Sue James is the Coordinator of a project, along with General Electric retirees and their families, on the retrospective exposure to toxic chemicals at the GE plant in Peterborough.

This is my accounting but sadly it reflects what many of the clusters across Ontario have lived through and died from throughout the decades.

I was a worker and I will not be forgotten. They cannot take away my memories and all that I witnessed.

I stand outside the factory that was home to me for 40 years and my father before me. Now closed and shuttered after over 125 years. It now stands vacant and is a testament to its toxic legacy. Imprinted in my memories are my colleagues, friends and family members who bore the brunt of multiple carcinogens over a long period of time and have suffered the consequences as have their families. Imprinted in my mind is the acrid smell of welding and the blue smoke that accompanies that process, the pungent odour of PCB's, epoxies, trichloroethylene, PVC's and cured resins hot out of the ovens, rancid metal working fluids, grease, oil and solvents that could make your eyes water or take your breath away. The sounds of overhead cranes with sirens blaring, lift trucks constantly moving, diesel transports running awaiting their loads, grinding metals and the dust floating in the air if the sun could find its way through the grime on the windows.

No protective equipment, no proper ventilation systems. We trusted we would be okay, but sadly this trust has been destroyed and we continue to be betrayed by our former employers and Ontario's compensation system. I was a worker..... We will not be forgotten. No matter the sector you work or worked in we have borne witness to injury and death and watched as employers choose profit over human lives.

An occupational illness is an event or exposure that occurs in the workplace that causes or contributes to a condition or worsens a preexisting condition. Occupational disease claims are grouped into four major categories: long latency illnesses, noise induced hearing loss, chronic exposures and effects, and acute exposures and effects.

It's hard to grasp the true size of the problem, because official statistics count just a fraction of suspected occupational disease cases every year. They are inherently flawed, because they only include accepted disease claims from provincial compensation boards. According to the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada, which collects stats from those boards, occupational disease kills between 500 and 600 Canadians a year.

Many epidemiologists say that's less than ten per cent of the actual death toll.

In January 2020 Dr. Paul Demers completed his report "Using Scientific Evidence and Principles to Help Determine Work-Relatedness of Cancer." In that report he listed several recommendations that address the adjudication of complex claims in the short, medium and long term. To date nothing has changed. Injured workers continue to be caught in a cycle of inaction.

Will we ever break the deadly pattern of studying the issue and responding with platitudes rather than acting upon these recommendations? I am deeply offended by the treatment of workers by the powers that be.

The threads that join us will forever be unbroken, as we are bound together in grief, loss and pain, as were the generations of activists who came before us, the ones of today and the ones who will follow. Righting this ship cannot be a quiet process, so on this June 1, 2021, the day of injured workers, please join together as one voice and refuse to be silenced. Speak out for your right to a fair and just compensation system...Join me in saying...We are mad as hell and we are NOT going to take this anymore! There will be No peace until there is JUSTICE FOR ALL injured workers.

(Photos: WF, CUPW, ONIWG)

This article was published in

June 7, 2021 - No. 54

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