Murdered at Work: The Deepwater Horizon Massacre

by R. Shoalgrass

Murdered at Work: The Deepwater Horizon Massacre

A lot of people are losing sight of the poor eleven people who lost their lives… Let the people across this goddamn country understand, people got killed here! Understand? And if it’s not from gross negligence, it’s at least negligence. We’ve got commercial fishermen out there that came in the other day that could have got killed. So we need a body count before BP steps up.

– George Barisich, President of the United Commercial
Fisherman’s Association, at a protest in Jackson Square.
As quoted by Democracy Now!

The eleven workers murdered in the BP rig explosion left this earth with little public outcry. Corporate negligence has been documented.

According to the New York Times, BP was aware that the casing they used on the well was “the riskier of two options” and that it “might collapse under pressure.” BP also declined to test the strength of the cement used in the well with a common cement bond log test. Profit was valued above the safety of the workers. To call this an industrial accident would be a misnomer. It is a result not of mismanagement but of intentional disregard for safety, the same disregard with which BP killed 15 and injured 170 in the Texas oil refinery explosion in 2005, also caused by negligence for worker safety. In that case, BP ended up pleading guilty to charges of violating the Clean Air Act.

The brunt of this oil geyser and coming ecological destruction will be felt by the poor and working people of Louisiana. The fishing communities will continue to be devastated both economically and culturally. The cleanup workers have already been sent to hospitals with breathing problems from “chemical irritation.” Workers have said that BP is not providing them with necessary safety materials. NPR has reported the health problems happening here and now mirror the ones that occurred during cleanup of the Exxon Valdez spill.

Alaska Community Action on Toxics put out a report in 2004, the fifteenth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, stating

What we didn’t know about oil then is killing us now: hundreds, and potentially thousands, of workers from the 1989 cleanup are suffering from debilitating respiratory difficulties, central nervous system problems (e.g., memory loss, brain fog, headaches), and heightened sensitivity to chemicals. Many have had to alter their lives and work to accommodate their illnesses. The oil companies have used their massive profits not to offer solutions to these catastrophes or safety to their workers, but instead to hire lawyers and effect legislation that can shield them from responsibility. Over 20 years later they have still not solved these health issues.

The deafening silence on the part of the media, the government, BP and the country at large in regard to the 11 murders is frightening. Washed away by the overwhelming ecological destruction, madcap plans to stop the well, and vague promises to hold BP accountable made by the federal government, these deaths have largely been left out of discourse. While there is much to talk about right now, and many problems to be solved, we must remember the cry of the Industrial Workers of The World: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” If these eleven workers can be killed without a response, then none of us are
safe at work. This disaster comes on the heels of 25 coal miners murdered by the negligence of Massey Coal. The message sent to working people is clear: it’s okay for corporations to kill you.

This is not the work of one particularly evil corporation, this is capitalism as usual. Profits are the only driving force of corporations. The history of industrial capitalism is one of countless so-called accidents. Only when the working class has more power in their own hands will they be safer. Labor reforms have occurred not because of thoughtful or benevolent politicians but because of the threat of an organized and angry working class.

The workers on Deepwater Horizon should not be viewed as passive victims. According to an article by AP reporters Michael Kunzelman, Mike Baker, and Jeff Donn, workers had clashed hours before the explosion with a Scrooge-like management unwilling to use the proper materials to ensure safety. The workers resisted using materials they considered to be cutting corners. They stood up for themselves and the rest of us in the Gulf, but they lost the battle to a BP official who told them “This is how it’s going to be.”

The article paints a haunting picture of the moment of disaster,
illustrating the need for decision-making to be in the hands of labor:

“As the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig burned around him, Chris Pleasant hesitated, waiting for approval from his superiors before activating the emergency disconnect system that was supposed to slam the oil well shut at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

The delay may have cost critical seconds. When Pleasant and his co-workers at rig owner Transocean finally got the go-ahead to throw the emergency disconnect switch, they realized there was no hydraulic power to operate the machinery.”

The lack of control over decision-making and the strict hierarchy that kept him from making a quick decision prevented this worker from protecting the rig, the gulf, the workers, and everything else threatened by this disaster. We can only guess how things would have gone differently on a worker-controlled oil rig. The world has never seen one, nor is it certain that a classless society would make the decision to serve affluence by taking the great personal and ecological risk of drilling 5,000 feet underneath the water. What is certain is that for our own safety, our own lives, and for the protection of the ecological systems on which we depend, we must take up the struggle for workers’ power fought aboard the rig in the hours leading up to the Deepwater Horizon massacre.