Labor Advocate Online

KC Labor Newsletter
Week In Review, March 27, 2005
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by Bill Onasch, webmaster,

Bloody Petroleum
On the eve of the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire fifteen perished in an explosion at BP’s refinery in Texas City. This town is of course the site of the worst ever American industrial accident. In April, 1947, 581 were killed, and 3,200 injured in a series of fires and explosions that started on a ship loading fertilizer at a Monsanto plant.

The refinery, built by Standard/AMOCO, and acquired a few years ago by British Petroleum, has seen its share of blood, including recently. In 2001, a subcontract employee died after falling into a tank that had been shut down. Last September two were burned to death and another severely injured by superheated water while trying to remove a valve from a high-pressure hot water line without first relieving pressure in the line.

After investigating a March 2004 massive explosion at the BP facility–fortunately no fatalities in that one–the OSHA inspector commented, "BP Amoco had the experience and knowledge to prevent this accident, yet allowed hazardous conditions to develop." The Public Interest Research Group said figures from OSHA show BP had more than 3,500 accidents and spills from 1990 to 2004--the most of any company nationwide.

Granted, refineries are inherently dangerous and occasional accidents are inevitable. But the current profit drive by Big Oil is making them much more unsafe than they need be.

It takes a ton of money, and about seven years lead time, to build a modern refinery. The industry has doggedly resisted such major capital expenditure. The last new refinery in the United States opened in 1978. To keep up with record demand for gasoline existing refineries have to run flat out and are now operating at over ninety percent of capacity–about as high as they can go.

Maintenance is deferred as long as possible–and then done frantically by roving outside contractors who get both less pay and less training than the permanent party union workers. As Texas City once more grimly confirms, this is a formula for disaster.

Scholarly Colorado Scouts Search For Sign Of Indian
Embattled tenured University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill got some good news and bad news this week. University officials reluctantly concluded that the First Amendment bars them from firing Churchill for controversial remarks about 9/11. However, they held out hope that they may still be able to give him the axe if they can prove that he’s not really of Indian heritage as he claimed at the time of his hiring–and, of course, continues to aver.

USLAW To Host Tour Of Iraqi Trade Union Leaders
US Labor Against the War will be bringing leaders of three major union formations in Iraq to the United States for a solidarity tour May 6-22. Details can be found by clicking here.

Send a Message to Baghdad–Of Solidarity
The Federation of Worker Councils and Unions in Iraq is holding their second conference in Baghdad April 2. They would appreciate messages of solidarity which can be sent to:

No Wood Gifts Please
No, I didn’t forget that this month marked the fifth anniversary of the web site. We went online on International Womens Day, March 8, 2000. That first day we had eight visitors. We now average about 1900 hits a day.

We cranked up at a time when large numbers of working people were just discovering the Internet. We aimed at being "an Internet port-of-entry for working people," providing links to a wide range of resources on other sites. We still do.

But, as time passed, we expanded into other areas: the Daily Labor News Digest; analysis and opinion in Labor Advocate Online; hosting pages for the Kansas City Labor Party and KC Labor Against the War. Early on, Mary Erio agreed to answer workplace safety and health questions from visitors. Doug Bonney began putting together Know Your Rights.

We have initiated or co-sponsored some worthwhile public events such as the Labor and the Law conference in June, 2001, Worker Rights At Home and Abroad conference last March, and the upcoming Future of American Labor conference next month.

We began with the notion that most of our traffic would come from the KC local area. That hasn’t been the case. Not only do a majority of our visitors come from across the USA; a substantial number are from other countries. We’ve gotten hits from at least 48 countries. This month the top ten countries with fifty or more hits are: Canada, Japan, Britain, Norway, Australia, Peru, Holland, Mexico, Germany, and South Africa.

Our top ten visited pages are: home page, unions, news, Future Of American Labor conference, law, Social Security, Know Your Rights, organizing, Labor Advocate, women’s rights, history.

Since the webmaster’s retirement we’ve been able to occasionally hit the road to cover events first-hand. We hope to do more of this as personal commitments–and finances–allow.

By tradition, the fifth anniversary is wooden. But we’d just as soon you not send us any wood. If you do want to help support the site there are three practical ways:

You can shop the KC Labor Store.

You can send us a one-time financial donation (through PayPal buttons on the home and news pages.)

Or, best of all, you can sign up for a monthly ten dollar-a-month sustainer (there’s a separate PayPal button for that.)

The first five years have taken a lot of work and a fair amount of money–but we enjoyed almost every minute of it. With your interest and support we hope to continue the project awhile longer.

That’s all for this week.

This weekly column in Labor Advocate Online is also available by e-mail. Send a request to: