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HOME  > Past issues  > 2007 June 20 - 26  > 'Life-risking lawsuits'
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2007 June 20 - 26 [LABOR]
column 

'Life-risking lawsuits'

June 20, 2007
- Akahata 'Current' column

“I wondered if we could actually win in a suit against the state. It’s a dream come true,” said Yagisawa Yoshiaki in tears. He is the secretary general of the plaintiffs’ group seeking government responsibility for lung diseases they are suffering due to tunnel construction work.

The plaintiffs agreed with the government to settle the case on condition that the government will take preventive measures against lung disease.

Pneumoconiosis, a lung disease, is recognized as the world’s oldest work-related disease. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates, who is often referred to as the father of medicine, examined a mine worker who had difficulty in breathing due to the disease.

In “The Condition of the Working Class in England” published in 1845, Friedrich Engels wrote, “in part from the bad, dust-filled atmosphere … there arise numerous painful and dangerous affections of the lungs, especially asthma ...”

Calling the disease “yoroke” (stagger), Japanese also have long been afraid of it. In the Meiji Period (1868-1912), there was a saying, “Mine workers can live for six years, furnace workers eight years, and their wives 50 years.”

The government and construction companies should have known the risk to health. Until recently, however, they failed to take sufficient preventive measures.

Patients of the lung disease have difficulty in breathing. They cannot sleep at night due to coughing and phlegm buildup. The disease progresses even after they quit working as miners. Their former colleagues have died one after another. They indeed have risked their life for the lawsuits.

When we go through tunnels on the bullet trains or highways, let us remember the workers who used to work there covered in dust.

The plaintiffs forced the government to promise to make it mandatory to ventilate tunnel construction sites. In return, they have withdrawn the claim for state compensation.

“We want the eradication of pneumoconiosis, not money.”

The government must not make their earnest desire and goodwill be in vain.
- Akahata, June 20, 2007
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