from The National, 03 December 2014, from Bhopal
The campaign for justice for survivors of the world’s worst industrial accident in Bhopal, India, 30 years ago today has been backed by a powerful alliance of trade unions and city councils from Scotland.
A delegation of six trade unions, including Unite, Unison and Communication Workers Union, is in Bhopal this week to show their solidarity with the local communities who have been fighting to make the US chemical giant, Dow, pay for the horrific accident.
Shortly after after midnight on 3 December 1984 a highly toxic gas, methyl isocyanate, leaked from a tank at a pesticide plant in the middle of the crowded city of Bhopal. The regional government put the immediate death toll at 3,787, but local people say the real number was more like 8,000.
The gas seared the lungs, and burnt the eyes of anyone exposed. In the three decades since, campaigners say 25,000 have died from chronic diseases caused by lingering contamination, and 150,000 are still chronically ill.
At the time of the accident, the plant was owned by the US company, Union Carbide, which was bought by Dow in 2001. Since then Dow has been targeted by campaigners and become embroiled in a series of court cases seeking compensation.
Scottish trade unionists marched with Bhopal survivors holding pictures of the loved ones they lost on Monday, and last night joined a torchlight commemoration of the dead. They will be taking part in a mass protest rally in Bhopal today.
The trade unionists brought messages of support from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling and Falkirk councils. A motion has also been lodged in the Scottish Parliament by the SNP MSP Bill Kidd accusing Dow of refusing to accept responsibility for the catastrophe.
Addressing a rally of hundreds of people in Bhopal, Sam Macartney from Unison in Glasgow, lambasted the company. “Just because you change your name from Union Carbide to Dow it doesn’t mean that you can escape responsibility for this terrible disaster,” he said.
Robert Mooney, from the Community union and a member of the Scottish Trades Union Congress disabled workers committee, told the rally that unions were asking the Scottish government to put pressure on the Indian government to get a just settlement from Dow.
Eurig Scandrett from University and College Union in Edinburgh pointed out that if trade union concerns about safety and corner-cutting had been listened to by Union Carbide, the accident would never have happened. “Instead companies blame the workers and put their profits above the health of workers and the safety of the environment,” he said.
“The people of Scotland and across the UK will not forget Bhopal and will continue to offer our solidarity.” There is a plaque commemorating the lives lost in the Bhopal accident at Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.
The Scottish Hazards Campaign, which aims to improve health and safety at work, is also represented in India. “We are here because Bhopal remains the worst industrial disaster of our time,” said the campaign’s spokeswoman, Kathy Jenkins.
“But even more we are here because the commitment, strength and endurance of the people of Bhopal provide inspiration to all of us to continue our struggles for safe workplaces and clean environments in Scotland and throughout the world.”
Dow accepted that the 1984 gas leak was a “terrible tragedy”, but accused campaigners of rewriting history. “Dow was never in Bhopal nor is there any assumed liability as misrepresented by some groups,” said the company’s spokesman, Scot Wheeler.
“Dow acquired the shares of Union Carbide Corporation more than 16 years after the tragedy, and 10 years after the $470 million settlement agreement was approved after review by the Indian Supreme Court in 1991. As Dow never owned or operated the Bhopal facility, any efforts to directly involve Dow in legal proceedings in India concerning the 1984 Bhopal tragedy are inappropriate, misguided and without merit.”