US and World Politics

Vital Medical History Denied

Book whitewashed class war as cause of workers’ illness from coal to COVID

By Dr. Nayvin Gordon

Vital information published in the 1988 edition of a respected book on workers’ health was removed from the 2011, sixth edition of Occupational and Environmental Health, by Levy and Wegman.


  • “Conflict between the profit motive and individual fulfillment…. Workers’ desire for comfort, income, safety, and leisure is continually counterbalanced by the employer’s need for profit…. The drive for greater productivity…leads employers to seek the highest possible rates of productivity.”
  • “Twelve myths about work related disease:” Twelve ways in which business owners divert attention from their responsibility for causing disease including denial, disinformation, lies, and anti-scientific propaganda.
  • “A brief history of occupational health in the United States.…labor organizations in the 1870s and 1880s demanded the adoption of measures providing for the health and safety of those engaged in mining and manufacturing, building industries, and …for injuries.”
  • “…the Joint Board of Sanitary Control…was established as a result of a massive strike of garment workers...”
  • “…resurgence of the labor movement in the 1930s…again directed to occupational health problems forced the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act, required compliance with health and safety standards by employers.”
  • “...occupational diseases can almost always be prevented.…significant ideological and powerful political and economic forces oppose realization of a safe and healthy workplace for all.”

This whitewashed history denies readers the understanding of the causal relationship between social and economic forces and disease. History clearly documents how the organized struggles of workers led to improvements in health and working conditions, they were never given to the workers by the profit driven owners of business. The mass media is filled with reports of one corporation or another “putting profits over people,” but this has always been the case as clearly shown in “The Brief History of Occupational Health” that was deleted from the 2003 edition.

“The richest one-quarter of one percent of Americans makes 80 percent of all individual political contributions, and corporations outspend labor by 10 to 1.” (Profit Over People, Noam Chomsky, 1999) This overwhelming power influenced the government to weaken or eliminate unions with anti-worker regulations, leaving workers with less ability to force their demands for safety on the job.

Beginning in the 1970s industry mobilized and financed a propaganda machine based on misleading evidence about the science of workers’ health. It was called “The Business Round Table Corporate Action Committees.” Its avowed objective was to reduce government regulation, and stop the government from fixing the problem caused by the profit system. Continuing into the 1980s, denial and uncertainty were promoted by industrialists, bankers, and many politicians to deny and downplay science. Today “Nearly all leading corporations are part of trade groups that lobby for pro-business positions, such as lower taxes…limited government, free markets….” As a direct result of the pressure from industry, the government, which is heavily influenced by the political power of…. corporations, bankers, and the rich, has deregulated federal safety and health laws.1

What the government did

The government has weakened OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act), attacked OSHA whistleblowers, cut budgets, reduced the number of inspectors to weaken enforcement, and substituted corporate “voluntary” compliance. Denying, downplaying, and manipulating science that helps the 99 percent extends across the corporate world—from Exxon to Amazon, from Google to genetics, from plastics, pesticides, and opioids, to DuPont Chemical and nuclear power. They deny science and reason to protect profits and because it points to the urgent need for radical social, economic, political, and ecological transformation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has vividly revealed the brutality of a social system that callously allows millions to sicken and die from a preventable contagious disease. The corporate media and politicians make clear how they devalue life in the lust for profits. The Wall Street Journal wrote that eliminating COVID -19 is too expensive, yet they gladly allowed the government to

pour over one trillion dollars into Wall Street as pandemic assistance. The New York Times advocated for allowing COVID to spread because it is too costly to eliminate, yet they have no problem with the government giving the military one trillion dollars every year. The stock market and billionaires have almost doubled their wealth, but they will not allow a tax on the rich to pay for a public health infrastructure and healthcare for all.

A social system built on profit, greed, and selfishness of a tiny minority cannot fulfill the social needs of the vast majority. History has shown the truth of the words of the great Frederick Douglas, “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” To protect the health of the people it is time to demand an end to class war with the abolition of the profit system and the establishment of a system built on the vast social needs of the 99 percent. This can be achieved by the formation of an independent, militant, working people’s movement to establish a healthy egalitarian society—social, political, and economic equality for all.