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International Socialism, June 1976


Steve Faith

Oil: A Worker’s Guide ...


From International Socialism (1st series), No.89, June 1976, pp.27-28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Oil, a Workers’ Guide to Health Hazards and How to Fight Them
British Society for Social Responsibility in Science
(9 Poland Street, London Wl) 75p
(for Trade Unionists, 50p for 10 or more copies)

Oil Over Troubled Waters:
A Critique of Oil Developments in N.E. Scotland

Aberdeen Peoples Press (167 King Street, Aberdeen) 75p.

The new BSSRS pamphlet on the hazards of oil (and these are hazards in any industry where heavy machinery is used) is an excellent piece of work. It is a natural successor to Pat Kinnersly’s The Hazards of Work. It deals with one specific killer in great detail and with great clarity. BSSRS have already produced a pamphlet on noise as a health hazard and let us hope that the series continues. We can help by getting these pamphlets into as many industrial workplaces as possible.

The oil pamphlet is a success in three ways. First of all, it shows in horrific and graphic detail, the medical profession’s subordination to power and profit. Now that may be a fact that is well known but the pamphlet’s description of the history of scrotal cancer and the neglect to control its cause in mineral oil should still shock both the most hardened revolutionary and the most bigoted reactionary.

We should also realise that a cancer causing agent – oil – is released into the air from hundreds of thousands of machines in Britain. For example, the BSSRS pamphlet reports that the machine that makes Cadbury Milk Tray releases one pint of oil per day into the air and into the lungs of women workers.

Secondly, the pamphlet is a success in that it excellently describes the castration of reformism in the face of this killer. The trade unions blindly accept the government’s ‘safe’ level of oil release (5mg/m³ which is 5mg/m³ too high) and they even pretend that this level is maintained in most industries. (In fact, most employers will not put in the relatively cheap equipment to control oil mists.) And overall, the unions play down the risk – a TUC publication claims: ‘The rate of cure for scrotal cancer (caused by oil) is over 90 per cent in cases found early.’ Alas, cases are not found early and two thirds of those with scrotal cancer die. But trade union leaders can rest easy and complacent.

Finally, the pamphlet is a success in showing how to fight this killer and those who allow and tolerate it. The only minor reservation that I have is that more science should have been included in the text rather than leaving it for an appendix called Oil – What is it? BSSRS know that it is part of their job to provide the whole range of facts to the working class, which includes technical ones. In summary, a very fine piece of writing which those of us in the labour movement must match up to in terms of distribution.

The Aberdeen Peoples Press’ booklet, Oil Over Troubled Water, deals with part of the story of capitalism’s latest beanfeast ‘The Oil Boom’. The booklet has brought together a mass of useful information and it is matched by occasional flashes of good analysis.

An example of the booklet’s value is the unique chronicle of events around the attempts to unionise the oil rigs. We discover that when local AUEW and Boilermaker officials (both in the CP) did eventually get moving and set up a North Sea Oil Action Committee, the best that they could do was to announce ‘We are putting forward the kind of proposals that the government can accept’! But the authors of the booklet lack the ability to fully analyse capitalism’s manoeuvres over oil or the political initiatives that the working class can make in the area. They do, for example, recognise that the North Sea Oil Action Committee could be fantastically powerful if it gets recognition (if the government allows it to), but what about the potential of a shop stewards’ committee offshore?

Furthermore, the authors are somewhat naive on certain issues. They are soft – soft on the government, on the unions, and, despite a very good analysis of the SNP, they are soft on the Scottish Labour Party!

Despite this (and the excessive libertarian emphasis on local conditions and community action) this is a publication of much value in a little known area of British industry.

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