WHAT WE THINK
February 28, 2003 | Page 3
TWO TERRIBLE nightclub tragedies dominated headlines around the country last week. In Chicago, security guards' use of pepper spray to stop a fight in the crowded E2 dance club set off a stampede down a narrow stairway to the front door. Twenty-one people died in the crush of human bodies. Less than a week later, in West Warwick, R.I., a rock band's pyrotechnics display started a fire that incinerated The Station nightclub, killing 97 people.
Naturally, people everywhere want to know why these nightmares happened, and the mainstream media obliged with lots of coverage. But for every fact that we learned about the cause of these catastrophes, there were other questions left unanswered, and even unasked.
Like, for example, if the City of Chicago really wanted E2 shut down as unsafe, as it now claims, why did building inspectors visit the nightclub only during the day, when it was locked up, instead of at night, when it was open several times a week? Why did news footage of the scene outside E2 show Chicago cops standing around, while people still stuck inside--all of them young African Americans--begged to be rescued?
And in West Warwick, how could a building that could pack in 350 people be considered "too small" under Rhode Island law to require that it be refitted for a sprinkler system?
The tragedies in Chicago and West Warwick are very different. But they do have some things in common--above all, ways in which people's lives were put needlessly at risk, for financial gain. Is there any reason why Rhode Island law doesn't require sprinklers in public venues like The Station--but for the question of the cost eating into the owners' return on investment? Why doesn't the City of Chicago have building inspectors to check on nightclubs at night--if not because of the pressure of budget cuts?
If these kinds of questions sound familiar, it's because they get asked all the time under capitalism--a system organized not around what will keep people safe and healthy, but what will make a small number of people the largest amount of profit.
Even in the pampered NASA space shuttle project, budget cuts and outsourcing appear to have contributed to the Columbia disaster. Then there are the 17 fatal accidents each day at a workplace somewhere in the U.S.--smaller-scale disasters that usually remain unknown, except to the family and friends of the victims.
How many of these lives would be saved if employers weren't driven by the pursuit of profit to demand more and more work from fewer and fewer workers, to cut corners on safety and maintenance, to use cheaper but more dangerous materials.
Such accidents aren't accidental. They are inevitable product of a system that doesn't really care about human beings--that is organized around profit and power. That is a system that needs to be replaced--with a socialist society where the highest priority would be on creating the conditions for all people to live safe and fulfilling lives.