|Linking Labour History and Environmental History|
|In this paper, I will discuss the importance of linking labour history with environmental history.
In his book Hazards of the job. From industrial disease to environmental health science, Christopher C Sellers states that “without industrial hygiene, post-war environmentalism, Beck´s “Risk Society”, and Silent Spring would have remained unimaginable.” When Rachel Carson wrote her famous book, “the warning signs had long been there, in the damage that laboratory-derived chemical processes had wrought on workers once transferred from the test tube to the assembly line. Carson´s grim specter had first materialized in the turn-of-the-century American workplace.” In his book, he thoroughly examines work done at work places by medical experts during the 20th century in the USA. Some of them “extended their studies beyond factory and mine, the work-place became less of an environment uniquely prone to abnormalities than a microcosm of the wider world – a prototype for the Environment.”
Apparently, some of the issues concerning work environment are also exactly the same as problems concerning the external environment. I will take an example from Skelleftehamn in Northern Sweden. There is a great industrial plant called Rönnskärsverken, which extracts different metals. The plant has heavily polluted the environment through emissions of arsenic. In 1976, all workers that had been on the plant more than three months, and who had started working between 1928 and 1966, were examined by the department of Social Medicine at Umeå University. The results showed a death rate that was considerably higher (18 per cent) than the average population. The average length of life was two years shorter than that of the average population. The apparent explanation was that the workers were exposed to arsenic. A similar examination was undertaken in the 1930: s, but this was largely ignored by the authorities and the company board. However, the examination done in the 1970: s could not be ignored, and it also revealed that many of the dangerous processes still remained. In the paper, I will examine the strategies developed by the Swedish Metal Workers Union to deal with the problems caused by arsenic exposure.
At the congress in 1977, environmental issues were discussed by the Metal Workers Union. One motion that was submitted pointed out that producers of chemical products should be forced to prove how these could be destroyed, and that there ought to be legislation against poisonous discharge. The union should work for international cooperation against pollution. The board of the Metal Workers Union answered that environmental pollution was due to the free forces of the market, and that there was a connection between the internal and external environment:”The external environment is connected to work environment. The point of contact is very evident especially when speaking of chemical substances. Through approaching the chemical problems at the work places, we will many times also be able to improve external environment.” In the paper, I will further explore these discussions, in which member of the union linked work environment with the external environment.|