Over the past week and a half, there were at least three fatal acts of workplace violence around the United States. A small town in Pennsylvania, Orlando, and San Francisco were all victims of a “disgruntled employee” opening fire on fellow or former co-workers before committing suicide. By covering these stories incessantly, however, the corporate media is sending the message that the biggest threat to workers is the violence of other workers. This narrative is complete garbage for a few reasons:
1). Each day, an average of 13 people die from traumatic job-related injuries. The fact that most workers die as the consequence of unsafe working conditions draws very little, if any, national attention. In 2014, 4,821 people lost their lives in preventable tragedies such as exposure to harmful substances, major fires, and oil rig explosions. Latino/as, immigrants, and elderly people are most likely to be victims. During that same time span, 417 people, or 11.6%, lost their lives via homicide. This means that the negligence and recklessness of corporations are the primary killers of workers, not “disgruntled employees.”
2). The AFL-CIO estimates that 50,000 people died from occupational diseases in 2014. Every day, 137 people died from chronic illnesses directly related to the biological, psychological, and ergonomic conditions of the workplace (i.e. carcinogens, repetitive motions/weights, anxiety, etc). These statistics dwarf the reality and narrative of rampaging employees in the workplace. We are infinitely more likely to die at the hands of our employer. Consider the general refusal to implement a universal healthcare system – which would alleviate workers from high-cost, low-coverage plans. Workers are disposable.
3). We need to expand our understanding of violence. People tend to reduce violence to abusive or forceful actions that harm a person physically. But it is important to understand that violence is embedded in our institutions, our way of life, and way of being. It shapes our personal sense of “I” and collective sense of “we”. Therefore, violence is so natural that it is often unnoticed.
4). That being stated: capitalism, as an economic system that determines who works for whom and under what conditions, is a structure of violence. It is made possible by bloodshed. Therefore, the phrase “workplace violence” is both redundant and misleading. By adding the term ‘violence’ as a modifier to ‘workplace’, the message is that there is a version of non-violent capitalism. But the words are synonymous: the workplace is violent, and violence maintains the workplace.