by Martin Odoni

So, did Jeremy Corbyn really say it? Did he call Theresa May, “Stupid woman” at Prime Minister’s Questions today?

Well, judging by slow motion replays of the moment of Corbyn’s irritated muttering, the answer appears to be No. It looks fairly clear to me that the word Corbyn uses begins with the letter P, and probably the first letter of the second syllable too, suggesting that, as his spokespeople claim, he was saying, “people”. He was referring to the childish hooting and catcalling from the Tory backbenchers.

But it amazes me the barefaced effrontery of so many anti-leftists that this is causing such a furore. Say Corbyn did call May a stupid woman; so what? This was PMQs, for Pete’s sake! It was the House of Commons! Of all the childish abuse, personal insults and schoolchild moments-of-mockery that happen in that most juvenile of debating forums day-in-day-out, Stupid woman is the one that everyone is getting their underwear in knots over? Seriously? All right, so the utter pig’s breakfast May has made of Brexit kind of indicates that she is indeed a stupid woman, but whether it is a fair description or otherwise, is this really causing so much fury?

Well of course not. No one really cares, it is of course being used as a distraction from the shambles of Brexit and the serious threat to the Prime Minister’s position, even from her own party. And given the Tories were saying only on Monday night that they would not indulge a Vote of No Confidence debate in the Prime Minister, apparently due to regarding it as some kind of a waste of time, it is pathetic how much time they are instead happy to waste on this. Apparently a man muttering under his breath is a more urgent issue than the Prime Minister carrying the whole country over a Brexit cliff. What a country we live in.

But let us for a moment indulge the theatrical whining from the Conservatives. This means they are getting self-righteous about ‘misogyny’.

The Conservatives?

The Conservatives, only a little over a week ago restored the whip to two MPs who had been suspended for acts of sexual depravity against women, and were still under investigation. One of them is an alleged rapist.

Tory MPs restored to Parliament while under investigation for sexual depravity

Charlie Elphicke and Andrew Griffiths have not been cleared yet of serious sexual misconduct.

The Tories are also the party who gave us one-time (and one-dimensional) Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who has merrily talked about having Theresa May “chopped up in bags in my freezer”.

And then of course, there is the small matter of Boris Johnson, with his charming history of patronising female colleagues while he was Mayor of London.

(EDIT TO ADD: And then there is this little gem from ‘Spreadsheet-Phil’ Hammond to Andrea Jenkyns. And this hot little number from David Mundell to Yvette Cooper. Or this delightfully not-very-female-friendly policy from no less a figure than the Prime Minister herself.)

This is the party lecturing the Labour leader on misogyny? For real?

Among Corbyn’s treacherous troops, I expect Jess Phillips to jump on the Tory bandwagon for about the one hundred-thousand-million-billionth time. (Why on Earth is she even in the Labour Party?) Given her own tendency to joke about “knifing” Jeremy Corbyn, even symbolically – doubly tasteless in light of the assassination of Jo Cox – it would probably be advisable that she kept her foul gob shut instead. But when did she ever listen to sensible advice?

All of this outrage though, from the right. And the further right they are, the more outraged their reaction. The half of the spectrum that always bemoans ‘political-correctness-gone-mad’ is once again blowing its top about being ‘offended’. They never seem to notice the irony.

In other words, the Tory sneers at political correctness, as ever, translate as, “It’s only wrong to be offensive when you’re offending us.”

So careful now, Jez, and careful, everyone else. We have no wish to hurt the Tories’ feelings while they send homeless people to their deaths, do we?

Stupid woman - everyone loses their minds

The Joker making more sense than anyone in the real world, as usual.

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by Martin Odoni

I see a lot of people on social media at the moment – especially supporters of the Scottish National Party – have still not figured out the real reason many of the smaller parties are pushing for Labour to call a Motion of No Confidence in the Government. Jeremy Corbyn did call a Motion of No Confidence in the Prime Minister last night, but only such a Motion in the whole Government can trigger a General Election.

Some are trying to argue that Corbyn is being either cowardly or indecisive, and that he lacks the courage of the leaders of the smaller parties, like Nicola Sturgeon, Vince Cable, Caroline Lucas et al. In reality, these other leaders are being no braver or more decisive at all, and nor are they, on this evidence, noticeably honest. That is a particularly sad reflection in Lucas’ case, who historically has tried hard (not always successfully, it must be conceded) to avoid fighting dirty.

Opposition leaders trying to beseige Corbyn

The leaders of the smaller parties are trying to beseige Corbyn with demands for a Motion of No Confidence in the Government

Now what a lot of people are missing is that, if a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons wants there to be a No-Confidence Motion in the Government, all they have to do is call one. There is no restriction on any Member, bar the Speaker, from calling such a Motion. They do not even have to be a party leader, let alone the leader of the Opposition, to call one (although only a Motion from the Leader of the Opposition is actually binding). So when Sturgeon, Cable et al try to insinuate cowardice or half-heartedness on Corbyn’s part, they are carefully avoiding all mention of the fact that what he is refusing to do is precisely what they are also refusing to do. And Corbyn is not being indecisive. He has decided not to table the Motion yet. Deciding not to do something differs sharply from not deciding whether to do something.

So why are the smaller parties pressing for Corbyn to ‘do their dirty work’ for them? Well, there are two reasons; –

The lesser reason is that if, or rather when, the Motion is voted down – which Tory and Democratic Unionist MPs have made clear will happen – the MP who called it gets most of the opprobrium for it.

But the second and more important reason by far is that the smaller parties all know that Labour’s policy, agreed at the Party Conference in the Autumn, is to try and force a General Election as a first resort if they can, and if they cannot, switch to trying to force a second referendum on Brexit.

At present, the smaller centrist/leftist parties mostly want a ‘People’s Vote’ (as a second referendum has been recently renamed in the vain hope that it sounds less controversial) only, but know they have no hope of forcing one without support both from Labour MPs, and from Remainers in the Conservative Parliamentary Party. Therefore, the smaller parties want to push Labour into calling a Vote of No Confidence when they know it cannot be won, so that Labour is then compelled by its own policy commitments to move on to supporting the second referendum. (If the other parties table the Motion themselves, it will not be a ‘Labour motion’ and will therefore be unlikely to trigger the policy-switch in the Labour Party.)

This has nothing to do with ‘greater SNP/LibDem courage’ or ‘Labour indecision’, and everything to do with cynical, theatrical politics, and trying to crowbar another party into co-operating. This cynicism is just as prevalent among the smaller parties as it is among Labour and the Tories.

What a clever move by Corbyn!

December 17, 2018

by Martin Odoni

Jeremy Corbyn tonight tabled a Parliamentary Motion of No Confidence in the leadership of the Prime Minister. The timing and the wording of the move were just brilliant.

Brexit VONC motion tabled

Corbyn tables a Motion of No Confidence in the Prime Minister

Corbyn appeared to have veered away from such a Motion during the course of today’s debate over Theresa May’s failed Brexit discussions in Brussels late last week. He appeared to use it as a threat at first today, in case May continued to resist setting a date for the vote on her (obviously-already-doomed) Brexit deal. After she set the date (sort of) for the week commencing the 14th of January, the threat appeared to have been withdrawn. However, just as the media were heading on a very predictable tirade of Corbyn chickens out! headlines, right at the end of the debate, he went and tabled the Motion anyway, and in the process clearly caught the Tories completely by surprise.

The move was a moment of inspired political cunning. By tabling it so late in the day, he did not give May a chance to have the last word – not that she was likely to have known what to say anyway – and that would explain why she scarpered from the House of Commons in such a panicked rush. (Who is chickening out really, media people?) But Corbyn also worded the Motion, not against the Government, but against the Prime Minister herself. This was genius.

After last week’s wholly-unimpressive victory for May in a party Confidence Vote, Corbyn knows that over a hundred Tory MPs do not want her to remain in charge. By tabling the Motion in this form, he has presented the Conservative backbenchers a way to support him in the vote without bringing down the Government, making them likelier to back it.

This means that May knows that she is now in dire, dire trouble, and if the Motion succeeds, Corbyn will not only have outlasted two Prime Ministers in his time as leader, he will also have brought one down.

Who could be so stupid as to claim he is not an effective Labour Party leader after that?

by Martin Odoni

Following on from what I wrote last night about the Vote Of Confidence in Theresa May (and please consider that many a football manager down the years has received the dreaded ‘Vote-Of-Confidence’ from their clubs, and look what usually still happens to them in almost no-time-at-all); –

On social media, I am seeing that a lot of Labour supporters in particular seem really disappointed that May was not voted out last night. That is an understandable instinctive reaction, but they are not thinking things through. If May had lost, that would have given the Conservative Party a possible way out of the mess they have mired themselves in. A really uncomfortable and messy way out, but navigable. What happened instead has in fact intensified their log-jam. The odds were always strongly against May losing the vote, and with the actual numbers involved, last night really was the worst possible outcome of the vote for the Tories; –

The ideal result for them would be an overwhelming vote of support for May, probably, as it would be ideal for party unity and reinforcing her authority.

But the next-best would have been for May to lose outright. That way, the party could at least elect a new leader, who will be given a nice Honeymoon period without serious opposition and whom the ranks could unite around, and with whom the Democratic Unionist Party might have been able to do business again.

As last night has turned out though, the Tory Party got an indecisive victory for the incumbent, of the type that falls precisely between two stools for them. If the leader of the Conservatives survives a No-Confidence-Vote within the party, there cannot be another one for twelve months. So now, the Tories will, for at least a year, have to keep following a Prime Minister whom the DUP no longer trust (because she has negotiated a Brexit deal that leaves a serious chance of there being a Hard Border in the Irish Sea, despite her repeated assurances to them that she would not), and whose credibility has been seriously undermined by having over 33% of her party vote for her to go.

So last night has done exactly what most Tory opponents should have been hoping for; the DUP are now in the corner all the opposition parties have been waiting for, while at the same time May is now completely hamstrung by over a hundred rebels on her own backbenches who have tasted real blood.

This leaves the DUP in a ‘no-further-hedging-possible’ scenario, in which they have to decide once and for all whether they are going to keep the Confidence-&-Supply Arrangement with the Government going. They must now seriously consider supporting a Parliamentary Vote of No Confidence in the Government, if one is called. Because if they do not support it, they are stuck with May’s Brexit plan until long, long after time runs out at the end of March. They will be powerless to prevent the dreaded ‘Backstop’ if May is still in 10 Downing Street in April 2019.

And some Tory rebels on the Brexit-extremes may even contemplate supporting it too, for the same reason.

In short, this was a really good outcome for opposition parties, and it makes the possibility of forcing a new General Election stronger, not weaker.

SO FEEL ENCOURAGED! THE MAY-HEM COULD SOON BE OVER.

Miles May Hem

The evil Miles May Hem, from the MASK cartoons

by Martin Odoni

Theresa May has tonight survived the Vote of No Confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party, as she was expected to. But it was not as decisive as I expected.

Confidence In Theresa May vote

The result of the Tory Party ‘Vote of Confidence’ in Theresa May, December 2018

Now I am certainly not going to go crazy here and suggest that this is a disaster for the Prime Minister. A victory by as little as one vote would not be that. However, this is not really a good result for May either. Reports on BBC radio suggest she was told the final vote tallies in advance of the formal announcement. My suspicion is, what with her cowardly penchant for censorship, she was quietly wishing that the announcement would be restricted to the fact that she won, and that the ‘final score’ would not be read out. Because it was genuinely startling to hear just how many of her MPs voted against her.

Recalling John Major’s re-election as Tory leader in 1995 against John Redwood; Major won that contest with around one-quarter of the Parliamentary Party voting against him. This was considered an adequate but unimpressive, fairly indifferent showing. It gave him enough authority to see out his full term as Prime Minister, but no one was exactly in awe of his victory.

Likewise here, May won but with over one-third of the party voting against her, and during a Hung Parliament at that.

Now, May was almost certainly never going to lose tonight, the opposition to her from within her own ranks was never likely to be high enough for that, but I for one was expecting the vote against her to be no higher than about sixty. I expected most of the opposition to her to come from the lunatic-Brexiteer-fringe of the Parliamentary Party, and no matter what Jacob Rees-Mogg likes to bluff about it, there really are not that many of them.

Instead, I was genuinely startled to hear that the vote against May was almost double my expectation, thus in treble digits. Or to put it in a way that expresses proportion, over thirty percent of her Parliamentary Party do not believe in her. This Government was already weak and unstable due to the Hung Parliament, and it is now incontrovertibly exposed as brutally divided too.

The margin is not actually narrow, but it is far narrower than it was expected to have been, and the sharp intakes of breath that could be heard all around when the score was announced showed that many Tories themselves are shaken by it.

NOTE: One can make comparisons with Jeremy Corbyn’s victories in the Labour Leadership contests in 2015 and 2016 and argue that the similar proportions show him to be just as weakly placed. But that is not really comparing like-with-like, as tonight was a formal consultation of the party on the performance of the leader, not an actual contest. And the rules for electing the Labour leader are very different from the ones to elect a Conservative leader.

This all leads to some interesting possibilities. We can be sure the Democratic Unionist Party were hoping for a change of leader, so they could resume the post-Election Confidence-&-Supply Arrangement without having to continue dealing with the Prime Minister who lied to them and came back from Brussels with precisely the type of agreement that they cannot support. They would have wanted a new leader elected who would not allow the notorious ‘Brexit Backstop’ arrangement that would effectively establish a customs border in the Irish Sea. But Arlene Foster will instead be frustrated that May will stay as Tory leader for at least another year as things stand. So the DUP will have a very big decision to make in the event of another Vote of No Confidence, this time one in the Government itself in the House of Commons.

Come to that, judging by this result tonight, there may even be some Tory MPs who would now contemplate supporting such a motion too. Significantly less likely, but not as impossible as it seemed this morning.

by Martin Odoni

Drowning on dry land

It is the thirty-fourth anniversary of the world’s deadliest industrial disaster. It happened in December 1984, in the region of Madhya Pradesh, in the heart of India. A factory owned by the Union Carbide Corporation, and located in the industrial city of Bhopal, was producing a pesticide called Sevin (real name ‘Carbaryl’). One of the ingredients in this pesticide was one of the most toxic compounds ever discovered on Earth – methyl isocyanate, or MIC.

Bhopal

The Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, before the site had to be abandoned due to the 1984 gas tragedy.

Not long after midnight on Monday 3rd December, gas was detected leaking from the complex network of pipes that threaded their way throughout the plant. Gauges in the control room registered a massive surge in pressure in storage tanks below ground, and the storage rooms directly above the tanks were becoming unnaturally warm. The concrete floor was starting to shake.

Released MIC was rushing in super-heated gaseous form through the maze of pipes. There were several safety mechanisms in its path. The first was a ‘vent gas scrubber‘, which was designed to filter out and extract toxic particulates from escaping gases, mixing them into a payload of caustic soda, which would render them inert. The second was a ‘flare tower’ that could burn discharges of escaping gas. Neither of them activated when workers tried to switch them on.

Over forty tonnes of vaporous MIC surged unobstructed from the factory’s ventilation outlet into the open air, forming a gigantic toxic cloud that gradually spread and returned to the ground across the residential district of the city.

MIC reacts violently with water, heating up and expanding. Unaware of the accident at the plant, thousands of Bhopali inhabitants were breathing in the gas, which reacted with the moisture in their lungs. Their bodies’ immune systems responded by sending blood to the lungs, carrying antibodies to fight off the toxic substance. But with the lungs filling with more and more blood in response to such high concentrations of MIC in the air, it became impossible to breathe.

In one night, well over three thousand people died of, in effect, drowning on dry land.

Investigating the disaster

Subsequent investigation found that one of the three storage tanks below ground, designated ‘E610’, had been over 75% full of liquid MIC; Union Carbide’s own safety guidelines stipulated that the tanks should never be filled above 50% of capacity. Further, one of the three tanks was supposed to be kept empty, to be called into action only as a back-up in exceptional circumstances. But the investigations found that all three of the tanks were in full-time use instead. Guidelines, at least those applying in Europe, stipulated that the total amount of MIC stored on one site should not exceed half a tonne. But in India, no such guidelines were in force, and the amount stored at Bhopal was not far short of 70 tonnes. The cause of these ‘serious irregularities’ (to put it politely) was a recent downturn in the market. Demand for Sevin-Carbaryl pesticide was down, and so production had been slowed in response. This had led to a backlog building up in the plant of the raw materials to create it, and with nowhere else available to store up the backlog, the excess MIC had simply been pumped into the already-over-the-limit storage tanks.

Analysis of the storage area of the factory found massive cracks had formed in the concrete floor into which the storage tanks had been built. These cracks indicated the enormous heat and violent vibrations caused by a very powerful chemical reaction inside E610 that must have shaken the tank out of its position – even though the concrete floor had previously fixed it in place. Study of the tank found that the emergency pressure-release valve in its outlet pipe was ruptured. Dozens of tonnes of MIC gas therefore escaped the tank in a powerful rush into the venting system, and surged through the maze of pipes, out of the factory, and into the open air. Worse, a refrigeration unit, used to keep the MIC’s temperature at zero degrees centigrade, had been periodically switched off earlier in the year in a bid to cut power costs.

These discoveries were alarming, but did not explain how the MIC in E610 had evaporated. More investigation not only revealed how it happened, but also unveiled a picture of astonishing negligence, penny-pinching and habitual casualness.

MIC – a highly reactive compound

The likeliest explanation for the MIC evaporating was that it had reacted with another substance, and the likeliest candidate for that substance was, as mentioned above, water. That danger was well known of course, and the factory had been designed to keep water away from MIC stores at all times. Union Carbide had chemical plants of this type all over the world, and had worked with substances like MIC for many years, without disaster striking. The usual safety systems had been installed at Bhopal to prevent any contaminants getting mixed in with the MIC. But could there have been a way that water had been allowed to get into E610?

Well, yes there was. One routine problem that would surface regularly was one of the processing units located near to the storage tanks becoming clogged with chemical residues. The only way to get the system cleared of the clogs was to ‘flush them out’, which meant ‘power-hosing’ water into the unit’s inlet pipes. The pressure produced by the high volume of water would rapidly wash the residues away.

This technique was made easier but more dangerous by an unfortunate ‘short-cut’ decision made by plant managers, who a few months earlier had introduced new inlets that fed into the pipe network covering all sections of the plant from the control room. This allowed the factory staff to clear clogs in any part of the system from the same place, without having to lug lots of hoses and pumps around the buildings first. But it also connected the storage tanks into the same network, potentially allowing a pathway for water to reach and contaminate the MIC.

It later emerged that the plant workers had flushed out the pipes less than three hours before the disaster.

Union Carbide entrance

Not very enticing, is it?

Failed safety features

Now the pathway to the MIC tanks did have a safety feature called a ‘slip-blind’. This was a circular metal plate that could be inserted into the join between two lengths of the pipe, sealing off the path to the storage tanks and isolating them from any water in the network for the duration of the cleaning process.

Unfortunately, the maintenance worker whose job it was to make sure that slip-blinds were in position during cleaning work had been laid off a few months earlier – again, to cut costs. On this night, none of the other workers remembered to get the plate fitted before cleaning began.

The MIC tanks themselves had an extra protective feature that might just have stopped water from getting inside. They were pressurised with heavy nitrogen gas above the surface of the MIC. Due to the weight and high concentration of the nitrogen at the top of the tank, this created a barrier that was strong enough to hold back water.

Sadly, over the previous few weeks, workers had been unable to get E610 to pressurise, due to an apparent leak in the input valve. No one reported the fault, no one had located the leak, and no one had therefore got around to fixing it. In all probability, no one was ever going to. So there was no nitrogen seal to block the water either.

It is estimated that as much as 500 kilogrammes of water flowed into tank E610. Small amounts of iron, probably micro-fragments of rust lifted from the interior of the ageing and corroded pipes, were washed into the tank along with the water. Water and MIC react. When impurities like metals are caught in the mix, the reaction is a lot more violent. Hence the violent shaking of the tank causing the concrete around it to crack.

“Sabotage,” you say?

Union Carbide has always maintained that it was not responsible for the MIC leak, blaming the ingress of water into E610 on sabotage. The story that the late-Warren Anderson, the then-Chief Executive of UC, always put about was that a disgruntled employee had maliciously introduced the water into the system, removed the slip-blind from the inlet pipe, and damaged the nitrogen pressure valve. Even today, Union Carbide – now a part of The Dow Chemical Company –  still has this version of events published on its website.

This story neither tallies with the evidence, nor has ever been backed up by anything Union Carbide did in subsequent years. Given that the corporation asserts that an employee had committed an act of malicious sabotage that killed thousands, you would imagine it would have gone to great pains to identify who this employee was, establish his motive, and get him prosecuted. In thirty-four years, none of these have transpired. Not even any clear evidence to support the notion of deliberate damage has ever been presented by Union Carbide, or by Dow. It even seems mildly implausible that an employee inflicted all this damage without any of his colleagues even noticing him do it, or that UC might have found any evidence and not broadcast it from the rooftops.

Moreover, even were it accepted as an accurate explanation, it is highly debatable whether this story would even begin to get the company off the hook anyway. The problem with the story is that, while it offers a possible explanation for how water got into E610, it does not really address anything that happened afterwards, which was no less important.

As the MIC overheated and evaporated, under high pressure it surged through the outlets into the open air. But there were three more essential safety features between the tanks and the open air, and none of them was working.

Union Carbide - Gates of Death

Entrance to a Union Carbide chemical plant

More failed safety features

The aforementioned vent gas scrubber, a fairly large, bottle-shaped tank, was undersized for the scale of the factory, and could only really neutralise small leaks and discharges. Even so, that might still have lessened the scale of the tragedy. However, it was offline anyway, and workers later admitted that for weeks beforehand, they had not seen any sign from the instrumentation that it was working properly. No explanation has ever been offered by Union Carbide for why it was not working. If that was sabotage too, why did the saboteur wait until weeks after he had shut down the scrubber to feed water into the MIC tanks?

The MIC gas passed, completely unobstructed, through the scrubber.

The second line of defence, the flare tower, was a large, chimney-like structure near the final outlet of the pipe network. MIC is highly flammable. So, working a little like a gas cooker lighting up, the flare tower would project a small barrier of flame into the path of the MIC, and that would burn up just about all the gas before it could escape into the air.

Tragically, the flare tower was not working either. A four-foot stretch of pipe, not far below the burner on the flare tower, had become corroded, and was becoming increasingly unfit for purpose. It had finally been removed from the outlet a couple of months back, and no one had gotten around to purchasing and fitting a replacement – once more due to cost-cutting and staff shortages. The MIC gas therefore escaped largely around the burner rather than through it.

One last feature might have at least mitigated the tragedy. As MIC reacts with water, it also dissolves in it. Therefore, a mechanised hose system was positioned at the foot of the vent outlet. Water could be sprayed into the escaping plumes of MIC, absorbing the toxic chemicals and bringing them back to Earth without allowing them to spread.

Yet again alas, when the workers deployed the hoses, they found that the mechanism was not powerful enough to spray water to a sufficient altitude actually to reach the gas escaping from the outlet.

Apparently, Union Carbide had instructed the factory management to upgrade the hose system several years earlier. But at the same time, UC had also demanded that operating costs be cut in response to the market downturn. Cutting costs and upgrading systems simultaneously were a pair of contradictory objectives too far, and the management were compelled to choose one or the other. They chose cost-cutting, and so the hose system remained unchanged.

The failure of necessary safety apparatus between the storage tanks and the outside world was critical in causing the disaster, and Union Carbide has no scapegoat for that. How the water got into the MIC tanks, be it by sabotage or by ineptitude, is one matter. But it does not affect the reality that all three of these lines of defence should still have been working and they were not.

A scene from Hades

There was nothing left to stop the forty-plus tonnes of super-heated poison gas from escaping. The 3,000 deaths on the first night were just the beginning of the tragedy. Over the coming months, the death-toll increased to at least 8,000, and the tragedy continues right up to the present day, with the long-term death-toll by some estimates standing as high as 30,000. Dead people, and even dead animals, lined the roadsides for days afterwards, like a scene from a Biblical apocalypse. The local hospital and clinics were overwhelmed by enormous numbers of patients arriving and begging for treatment, either for breathing problems, or for pain in the eyes caused by MIC reacting with moisture from their tear-ducts.

Bhopal funeral pyre

Fire wood ran short in the days after the tragedy, and so mass-cremations had to be carried out on the many, many bodies, to prevent the spread of disease.

It was not just the numbers that were a problem. The medical services had no way of treating the poisoning. Many of the doctors in the city had never even heard of methyl isocyanate. Some assumed the gas was ammonia or even phosgene, both of which were among the chemicals used in the factory. So when the patients complained of the painful irritation in their eyes, the doctors attempted to treat them with eye-drops. Unfortunately of course, eye-drops are aqua-based solutions – principally made of water. So the water in the eye-drops immediately reacted with the MIC in people’s eyes, making it turn even hotter and more abrasive, making the problem even more damaging and painful.

All the warning signs of disaster had been there

This underlines Union Carbide’s negligence, and probable corruption, throughout its handling of the Bhopal facility. The firm had set up the factory in 1972, and knew at the time that it would be using chemical and technological combinations that had never been properly tested before. As a minimum safety precaution, the company should have informed the local emergency services of all the chemicals being deployed there, and made certain that they were supplied with appropriate medical resources to treat human exposure to them. In twelve years, the company had done neither, while it had increasingly compromised safety standards at the factory in order to cut its financial losses. As the plant fell into increasingly poor levels of maintenance, there had been five serious accidents with escaping gases in just three years leading up to the Tragedy, with no corresponding effort to correct the problems that had led to them. The routine dumping of chemical waste products in a nearby lake had also seriously polluted the local water supply. Pressure gauges were frequently ill-calibrated, giving inaccurate readings. Small leaks in containment and conduit facilities were a regular occurrence. Meanwhile, machinery and other apparatus across the factory were becoming rusty and fatigued. After a worker at the plant died of phosgene poisoning in 1981, a local journalist called Rajkumar Keswani began investigating the factory, and was appalled at what he found. He published his findings in Bhopal’s local magazine, Rapat, in which he berated the people of Bhopal to, “Wake up… you are on the edge of a volcano!

In short, all the warning signs of an impending disaster were clearly there. And they were ignored.

Union Carbide runs away

The number of people exposed to the MIC poisoning, and therefore suffering injuries, was well in excess of half a million. And the land in and around Bhopal was so saturated by the toxic fallout that it remains highly poisonous even today. The plant was soon abandoned by Union Carbide. The organisation was clearly not eager to get involved in the enormous task of trying to clean up the hellish mess it had created. The derelict factory still stands now, slowly rotting and corroding, looming over the surrounding city like a sleeping dragon waiting to let out another breath of murderous fire. Even the expense of dismantling the plant was clearly considered too much for Union Carbide.

Bhopal Union Carbide derelict

The abandoned Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, left to rot by the company after the disaster that killed thousands.

This is an ongoing tragedy, not a sad-but-inconsequential event from over three decades past. It is now entirely commonplace for babies born in the vicinity of Bhopal to have serious birth defects and abnormalities. The water supply is still very badly contaminated, but locals have to carry on using it, as they have nowhere else to go, and no other source of water for many miles. Tests carried out on samples of water taken from Bhopal suggest that the mercury content alone could be as high as nine hundred parts per million. If that sounds like a tiny proportion, consider that an intake of 0.11 parts per million of mercury is considered excessive, at least for children. And that is before we take into account all the other toxic impurities.

Dow’s and Union Carbide’s almost-childish resistance to responsibility is ongoing. Dow has tried to disown the responsibility on the grounds that it did not purchase Union Carbide until 2001, seventeen years after the Tragedy, and so what happened was nothing to do with them. (Dow has since merged with DuPont Chemical to form the world’s largest chemical-producing conglomerate.) Union Carbide tried to avoid prosecution in India on the grounds that it was not an Indian company but an American company, and therefore did not operate under India’s jurisdiction. At the same time, it tried to avoid prosecution in the USA on the grounds that the Tragedy happened in India, and therefore did not happen under US jurisdiction.

After much of this petty legal wrangling, in 1989 Union Carbide reluctantly paid a settlement of $470 million, plus $17 million to help fund a new local hospital to treat long-term victims of the poisoning. These payments, amounting to about $1,000 per death and $500 per injury, were conditional on Union Carbide being legally immune to any further criminal prosecutions in connection with the Tragedy, and were agreed by the Indian Government without prior consultation with the surviving victims. The payments survivors have received do not even come close to covering the costs of the medical treatment that they will have to receive for the rest of their lives, and have done nothing to detoxify the soil or water supply across the city. The Indian Government, cravenly acting as chief apologist for a rich, powerful multinational corporation that it does not want to risk upsetting for fear of losing its investment, frequently claims that there is no ongoing poisoning in Bhopal, an absurd claim that is completely at variance with all evidence.

Bhopal protesters

The Indian Government has repeatedly caved in to Union Carbide’s abrogation of responsibility, angering many of the survivors.

The campaign for justice

The global campaign for justice for the victims of Bhopal is huge, and with very good reason. It was the most profound and inexcusable example of corporate negligence in the history of Mankind, and the incredible destruction it has caused could take literally centuries to clear up naturally. Tens of thousands of lives have been permanently ruined by the poisoning, and many thousands more lives were ended outright by it. Union Carbide’s endless stalling tactics and evasions of guilt have been utterly contemptible, veering between fictitious claims about sabotage, and untrue legal smokescreens about debatable jurisdiction. Bhopal demonstrates not only human tragedy, but also the inhuman danger posed by corporate power. In the corporate world, money is more important than people, and so profit is more important than safety. Having compromised safety to reduce costs at its pesticide plant, Union Carbide then once more tried to avoid paying the much, much higher costs in necessary compensation after the inevitable disaster to which it led. This not only demonstrates the myopic stupidity of excessive focus on money, it also shows the inhuman void of empathy in corporate forces.

Bhopal proves, in short, that corporate power does not serve humanity, it enslaves humanity, and it sacrifices humanity, in the pursuit of riches. If Union Carbide and the Dow Chemical Company ultimately get away with this crime, humanity will be accepting that subordination to corporate power.

So please. Help stop that happening.