Three decades after the world’s worst industrial accident, unions and campaigners are still fighting chemical companies for justice.

Chingari Trust candlelight vigil at Neelam Park, Bhopal on December 1st 2015. Children attending the trust's rehabilitation centre hold candles to mark the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster, honour all who died or have since passed, and express solidarity with all those suffering the effects of Bhopal's twin disasters. Photo: Giles Clarke, Getty Images Reportage. Not to be used without prior permission Bhopal Medical Appeal.

Chingari Trust candlelight vigil at Neelam Park, Bhopal on December 1st 2015. Children attending the trust’s rehabilitation centre hold candles to mark the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster, honour all who died or have since passed, and express solidarity with all those suffering the effects of Bhopal’s twin disasters.
Photo: Giles Clarke, Getty Images Reportage. Not to be used without prior permission Bhopal Medical Appeal.

Our children were babes in arms when I left for Bhopal in January 1985, four weeks after the world’s worst, single-incident industrial “accident” to make a World in Action documentary called “The Betrayal of Bhopal”. And today 31 years later, thanks to a decent diet, good housing, free education, the National Health Service and all the love and effort that we were able to put into them, they are healthy human beings, with hungry minds and strong bodies, kind hearts and compassion.

The children of Bhopal have not been so lucky.

Because of choices made by an American multinational which wanted to lie its way out of its responsibilities and which used its immense financial resources to engage in a lengthy jurisdictional dispute.

And because of an Indian government which reached an inexplicably poor “full and final settlement” that is neither full nor final nor fair, the Betrayal of Bhopal has continued for another three decades.

Three decades so far.

Local people of courage and integrity have fought for justice throughout those long years . And they have been joined by unforgettable people in their thousands around the world who refuse to wipe memories of injustice and disaster from their minds and who give generously of their time and money to help the poisoned and the poor of Bhopal.

Among the most articulate of their supporters a super-continent away was a greatly gifted man who died last year – the former political prisoner, journalist and author from Uruguay, Eduardo Galeano – who somehow managed to tell the whole complex, dirty and shaming story of Bhopal in 208 words, which we publish below.

Contacted through the magazine New Internationalist for whom he regularly wrote, Galeano gave the Bhopal Medical Appeal permission to read his words aloud at meetings and include it on our website – bhopal.org.

The only condition was that we should mention that these words of memory came from his book “Mirrors”.

Since this extraordinary book is genuinely full of wonders, and hope for a better world, this is something we were and are only too happy to do.

Powered by a belief in justice as unshakeable as Galeano’s, supporters of the Bhopalis and the Bhopal Medical Appeal have run many marathons, raising consciousness and money for the free clinics on Bhopal called Sambhavna and Chingari whose running costs and expansion are funded by the Bhopal Medical Appeal.

But in 2016 we need, desperately need, the help of all trade unionists and activists who can spare a little of their precious time.

This is because the deal-makers, downsizers and hedge funds are circling.

Not content with merging Dow Chemical with Union Carbide the better to deny liability a few years ago, they have further gigantic plans.

By mid year 2016 they are planning to merge two of the biggest chemical companies on earth into one mega megalith. By June 2016 Du Pont and Dow will transition into DowDuPont. And then within a few months they will de-merge – forming three separate companies.

Corporate lawyers, rentiers, speculators and bankers will doubtless further increase their opulence by this re-organisation associated fees and share deals. And doubtless tens of thousands of workers, mainly in the United States, will lose their jobs in a frenzy of what some are pleased to call downsizing.

Here at the Bhopal Medical Appeal we have another additional and equally pressing concern. We fear that the merger process will be structured to make it still more difficult for the wounded people of Bhopal to get justice, appropriate medical care and proper information abut the poison cloud that was let loose upon them three decades ago.

Inexcusably this is still being withheld by Carbide-Dow.

We also wonder if the many other sites these chemical giants have polluted around the globe will be abandoned Bhopal-style as a result of this latest merger.

Faced with these challenges and following a trade union delegation from Scotland to Bhopal in 2015, the Bhopal Medical Appeal decided to support the launch of Trade Union Friends of Bhopal.

So far the following union organisations have signed up with Trade Union Friends of Bhopal.

  • Unison South Lanarkshire
  • Unison Glasgow Housing Branch
  • Unison West Lothian
  • Unison East Renfrewshire
  • Unison Lothian Health Branch
  • Unison Stirling
  • Unison Southern Region Environment Agency
  • Unite Edinburgh NFP
  • Unison Police Staff Scotland BranchUnison Mid-Yorks Health Branch
  • Unison Glasgow City Branch
  • Irvine Trades Council
  • Unite Edinburgh NFP
  • Unison Police Staff Scotland Branch
  • Communication Workers Union, Scotland 1 Branch
  • National Union of Journalists Edinburgh and District

We hope that everyone connected with Union Solidarity International will demand justice for Bhopal in the form of proper compensation, lifetime medical monitoring and a thoroughgoing clean up of the entire contaminated site which remains an un-remediated toxic hotspot which still poisons local people and stunts their children to this day 31 years on.

With thanks and warm regards to all those who fight for justice wherever they may be.

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Bhopal

– by Eduard Galeano

“In the middle of the night, people woke up to a nightmare: the air was on fire.
The year was 1984, and in the city of Bhopal, India, a Union Carbide Corporation factory exploded.

None of the security systems worked. Or better put: profitability sacrificed safety by imposing drastic cost reductions.
A crime termed an accident killed many thousands, and left many more ill for life.

In the south of the world, human life is priced according to supply.

After a lot of tussling, Union Carbide paid three thousand dollars for each person it killed, and a thousand for each left incurably ill.

Its prestigious lawyers rejected the demands of the survivors, arguing that illiterates were incapable of understanding what their thumbprints had signed.

The company did not clean the water or the air of Bhopal, which remain contaminated, nor did it clean up the earth, which remains poisoned with mercury and lead.

Instead, Union carbide cleaned up its image, paying millions to the priciest makeup specialists in the world.

A few years later, another chemical giant, Dow Chemical, bought the company.The company, that is, not its account book: Dow Chemical washed its hands, denied any responsibility in the matter, and sued the women protesting at its doors for disturbing the peace.”

 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Laurie Flynn

Laurie Flynn is an investigative journalist and chair of the trustees of the Bhopal Medical Appeal.

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