Professor Anthony Seaton reflects on how, throughout his career, the UK’s EU membership has enabled the funding of research which continues to have a profound effect on workers’ health today. He urges us to remember that when voting next week.
We are about to be faced with a vote that will determine the future of the society in which we live. Are we to remain as an integral active part of the European Union or are we to go it alone? Here is one of the reasons that I shall be voting to stay.
You will all remember that Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979 and remained in that office until 1990. It was not a good time for working people and the economic consequences of her politics have had a profound effect on our lives ever since, with the neo-liberal economics leading to a huge gap between the rich and the poor and economic crashes across Europe (and in the USA where her philosophy came from).
Coincidentally, over the whole of that period I was head of British Coal’s Institute of Occupational Medicine which became a world-leading centre of research into prevention of work-related disease. I spent much time going to Luxembourg to argue for money for our research, money that had partly come from UK and partly from Germany, France and other countries.
As a result of the millions that we brought back we were able to carry out research that led to huge improvements in the safety and health of mine workers and also build up expertise that allowed us to make important contributions in many other areas of workers’ health. Among other things, the work led to recognition of chronic obstructive lung disease as a specific result of coal dust exposure and thus compensation for many mine workers. Even after the demise of British Coal and the UK deep coal industry, the Institute remains as a non-profit charity continuing its mission of shedding light on environmental hazards to health and prevention of disease.
Remember, all this happened during the rule of a UK Government that would hardly be regarded as a guardian of workers’ rights. It happened because we had a strong voice in Europe. It was an example of how influential we can be in the scientific field and in the fight for workers’ rights. We still have a strong voice, though you wouldn’t know if from the debate currently raging. Please think of this when you vote.