Was health and safety a strike issue? Workers, unions and the body in twentieth-century Scotland

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In February 1949, 5,000 or so asbestos miners downed tools and went on strike in a dispute which centred on excessively dusty working conditions which were considered inimical to the health of those breathing this toxic mineral into their lungs. This occurred in the mining town called Asbestos in Quebec, Canada, where Irish migrants were amongst the strike’s participants. The Catholic Church was drawn into the conflict, with the nearby Archbishop of Montreal supporting the strikers and organising fund-raising which quickly accumulated over $500,000. After a long, bitter and violent five-month struggle the strike was defeated and the men returned to working in the dust. Two decades or so later, in the 1970s, the legacy was evident in uncontroversial medical evidence of spikes in asbestos-related disease deaths amongst Canadian asbestos miners. This episode is revealing because it appears to be such a rare occurrence: a workers’ strike explicitly over occupational health where a substantial number of employees were responding directly to the threat towards their bodies of the labour process, the work environment and the materials on which they worked.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-33
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Irish and Scottish Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2017


  • occupational health and safety
  • strikes
  • Scotland
  • twentieth century
  • financial compensation
  • acceptable level of risk
  • coal mining


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