Moroccan Factory Fire Kills 55 on Eve of Workers Memorial Day
by James Parks
The deaths of 55 workers in a fire at a mattress factory in Casablanca, Morocco, over the weekend, is a chilling reminder of how dangerous our workplaces can be. Today is Workers Memorial Day, the day workers around the world honor those who died on the job and reaffirm their commitment to make all workplaces safe.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reports that more than 14 million people are taking part in some 13,000 activities today to highlight the plight of the more than 2.2 million workers who die every year and the 160 million more who become ill due to unsafe work and unsustainable forms of production.
The Casablanca blaze, which began on the ground floor of the Rosamor Ameublements, quickly engulfed the four-story building, trapping workers on the top floors, witnesses told the Associated Press (AP).
Published reports say an angry crowd outside the four-story building accused the factory owner of blocking the doors and emergency exit. Firefighters said many victims were trapped in the building’s spiral stairwell. Rachida Darif, a 29-year-old worker who escaped the blaze, told the AP many deaths occurred on the third floor, where women sewed:
We ran to the door. It was blocked, to the elevator, it was blocked. Then, oops, the lights went out.
She said she saved herself by crawling through a space to the roof, then jumping down to a neighboring building that was under construction. She used a construction cord to lower herself part of the way.
Nearly 100 of the factory’s 150 employees were on site when the fire began and it took more than 100 firefighters more than three hours to bring it under control, local government officials said.
Local residents told Reuters News Service they broke down a wall to drag people from the building, most of them women and girls, but others remained trapped on the upper floors and cried from the windows for help.
In the United States, some 5,840 workers died from workplace injuries in 2006, compared with 5,734 in 2005. Yet even as more workers are being killed on the job, employers who are found to have violated federal safety laws in fatality cases are paying as little as $750 in penalties for each death, according to the latest edition of the AFL-CIO’s annual report Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.
Released last week, the 17th edition of the national and state-by-state profiles on worker safety and health in the United States shows a continued and significant increase in fatalities among Latino and foreign-born workers. The year 2006 is the most recent year for which U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures are available.
The report shows that each day in 2006, 16 workers were fatally injured on the job and more than 11,200 were hurt or made sick. But the price workers pay for toiling in dangerous jobs climbs even higher when the tally includes the 50,000 to 60,000 workers who die every year from occupational diseases.
The tragedy in Casablanca points to the need for safer workplaces worldwide. ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder says in a statement:
Good occupational health for all workers remains a barometer for the capacity of workers to engage with their employers for solutions to a wide range of current world problems that require production or workplace changes, from climate change and environmental protection to public health. The degree to which workers’ health is protected in our society will always reflect the value we attribute to human existence itself.
The Moroccan fire is eerily similar to the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, the second deadliest workplace disaster in American history, exceeded only by the World Trade Center in 2001. In 30 minutes, the Triangle fire took the lives of 146 workers, mainly Italian and Jewish immigrant women in their teens and early 20s.
The Triangle fire broke out on March 25, 1911, on the top floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Firefighters arrived at the scene, but their ladders weren’t tall enough to reach the upper floors of the 10-story building. Trapped inside because the owners had locked the fire escape exit doors—ostensibly to prevent workers from stealing—workers were burned alive or jumped to their deaths on the sidewalk. The next day, 15,000 shirtwaist workers walked out of their workplaces and demanded a 20 percent pay raise and a 52-hour workweek.
Tags: Morocco , Casablanca , Workers Memorial Day , Triangle Shirtwaist Facto , Death On The Job , Job Safety , Workplace Safety , Union , Unions , Labor
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