On April 17th, two days after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the West Fertilizer plant in Texas exploded. Fifteen people are known to have been killed, close to 200 were injured, and 150 buildings and homes were damaged or destroyed. Many people remain unaccounted for and it is feared that the death toll will grow far beyond 15.
For days, we were witness to non-stop media coverage of the events in Massachusetts, culminating in the arrest of Dzokhar Tsarnaev. Once Tsarnaev was in custody, our television screens were alight with footage of local residents celebrating happily in the streets, complete with chants of “USA!” Though media coverage of the events in Texas was extensive, it was nowhere near that of the pursuit and killing of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the arrest of Dzokhar Tsarnaev.
The possibility that the bombing in Boston was the work of international terrorists was a major theme from the outset and the primary reason for the huge disparity in coverage of the two events. US officials and media pundits have besieged us for years with the notion that we are at war, surrounded by enemies – they’re even in our midst! – so let’s be sure those SWAT teams have plenty of firepower, and by the way let’s find another country to invade.
The explosion in Texas, on the other hand, was far less newsworthy because it was a workplace accident and workplace accidents happen all the time. And that’s precisely the point: they happen all the time. The massive BP oil spill is just three years in the past, yet it is largely forgotten by the punditocracy. Never mind the massive ecological destruction and the eleven people who died as a result, or that not one single high-ranking BP executive or US government official has been charged, let alone tried or convicted, for their deadly negligence. It’s old news and, more importantly, it’s business as usual.
Similarly relegated to the “no longer newsworthy” file is the Massey mine explosion, which also occurred three short years ago and killed 38 miners. As with BP, no high-ranking Massey executives or government officials have been brought to trial or convicted, though the trail of deceit, cover-up, documented negligence and possible bribery, as in the BP case, is long enough to fill a phone book. Some degree of justice is still possible in the Texas case but it certainly won’t come as a result of any government or judicial vigilance. In all of these cases, as in hundreds if not thousands of others of similar magnitude, so-called oversight bodies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency that are so weak as to be a joke. Higher-ups who underfund and obstruct the work of such agencies are thus complicit each time a workplace blows up or burns to the ground.
In the case of the West plant, OSHA had not done an inspection there since 1985. In addition, the company was illegally storing large quantities of highly explosive materials in violation of EPA regulations and about which it lied to the EPA to avoid compliance. And the bending of already lax local zoning laws for a favored corporation made it possible for this massive time bomb to be located near a school, a hospital and hundreds of homes. Such criminal laxity is necessary, we are told, otherwise companies will move production elsewhere, as Wal-Mart and others moved production to plants such as the one in Bangladesh that recently collapsed, killing several hundred workers.
We can anticipate that cries of outrage about state interference with “free” enterprise will continue unabated despite the deaths in Texas – indeed, despite the thousands who die each year at or because of their jobs. No matter that more people in the United States die each year from workplace accidents and illnesses than from lung cancer – if people don’t want to get blown up or burned alive at work, they should get rich and become capitalists like those who own BP, Massey and West Fertilizer. Business is business, after all, and profits trump all, including human life.
In no way is a business-controlled state such as we have in the US the answer or the solution; however, in a period of unbridled corporate tyranny, the state can serve as a buffer between the Super Rich and the rest of us, depending on how well organized we are. The EPA and OSHA, not to mention Social Security, Medicare and hundreds of other life-improving laws and programs, came into being precisely because large numbers of people stood up in opposition to the corporate agenda. The key to turning the tide against the depravity of the business class and their lapdogs at Fox and General Electric TV is more such organization.
If we organize and build movements to sufficient strength, perhaps those responsible for workplace explosions that kill people will get the same treatment that other violent sociopaths get, no matter their Brooks Brothers suits and Ivy League degrees. If they resist being brought to justice, perhaps they will be hunted down by SWAT teams and people will celebrate their arrests in the streets. And perhaps some day, those who really menace us and the rest of the world – corporate elites – will be rendered so weak as to be incapable of doing any more harm.
Andy Piascik of Bridgeport writes for Z Magazine and www.zcomm.org