Confined Space Closes Down

I suppose it’s to be expected that from time to time real life has to take precedence over blogging. It happened to me, it’s happening to Kevin Hayden, and now Jordan Barab is giving up Confined Space to take a job with the House Committee on Education and Labor. I’m glad that if we have to lose him, we’re at least losing him to a different part of the fight instead of illness or financial difficulties or – worse – the corporate dogs of legal warfare. For almost four years, Jordan has been, if not the only, certainly the strongest voice in the blogosphere standing up for workers’ rights in a time when they were being taken away by a government that was little more than a subsidiary of the corporatocracy.

To say “he will be missed” is like saying we’d miss food if we didn’t eat for a year. He showed a lot of us – including me – how blogging could be used to enlighten, educate and enrage. When I started my first blog – Omnium – in Sept of ’03, I knew almost nothing about it. I came from the BBS’ where posting was a discussion, an argument, a fight, and usually degenerated from there into chaos or endless repitition. I was frustrated and scattered. I knew I had things to say but I had no focus. I was all over the place.

Then Phaedrus, of the old No Fear of Freedom (long since departed from blogtopia as well), opened my eyes to a reality I’d been afraid to face: because I was working-class, I didn’t think anybody would take me seriously. I was ashamed of it. Ashamed of what I did for a living, ashamed of being poor, ashamed that I wasn’t Number 1 like we’re all supposed to be. Phaedrus showed me my own anger, anger I’d buried deep, and I reacted by starting another blog, the original Trenches. In my first commentary there, I wrote:

Those of us at the bottom of the income scale are involved in a war. It is not a war of bullets, mortar shells, bombs and tanks, but it is a war just the same, and people are dying. We didn’t start this war. It is not a war with us but a war on us. We didn’t ask for it, we don’t want it, and if we could we’d sue for peace. It is not a war we can win in any final way, ever. We are outgunned, overmatched, and trapped in a swamp. The enemy controls our food, our shelter, our health, and our livelihoods. He rarely shows pity, breaks every truce within hours, and chips away at us every day as if we were emotionless blocks of ice he is hoping to whittle down until we just melt away.

We have only one thing going for us–there’s lots more of us than there is of him.

That war and the victims of it were what I wanted to write about. For a long time I didn’t really know how. Phaedrus’ style didn’t suit me, much as I admired it, but I was having difficulty finding my own. One of my earliest posts concerned workplace deaths in Massachusetts, and that led me to Jordan’s site. I read it avidly, learned a lot, and slowly began to evolve a style that was somewhere between him and Phaedrus – I sometimes think of it as “wonky-tonk”: half information, half moral outrage. Jordan taught me that one was as important as the other.

But tutoring bloggers like me was the least of his contribution. Jordan tracked corporate malfesance in the workplace wherever he found it and laid it out for everybody to see. As he writes in his final post, he knew the MSM wasn’t going to do it.

[Y]ou’ll never learn from the evening news that we have more fish and wildlife inspectors than OSHA inspectors, or that the penalties from a chemical release that kills fish is higher than a chemical release that kills a worker. Not many are aware that workers are often afraid to complain about health and safety hazards or file a complaint with OSHA. Almost no one understands that OSHA inspections are so infrequent and penalties for endangering workers are so insignificant that there is almost no disincentive for employers to break the law. Employers are almost never criminally prosecuted for killing workers even when they knew they were violating OSHA standards.

You know these things. But most Americans – including our political leaders — don’t have a clue. And most of this nation’s newspapers and other media aren’t helping.

If we do know these things, many of us only know them because Jordan told us. I knew workers were dying on the job from neglect and corporate disinterest in safety, but until Jordan started his Weekly Toll feature, a listing of workplace deaths each week, I had no idea how bad it was. To read down through that seemingly endless list every week, to realize that virtually all the deaths recorded there didn’t have to happen, was to have your eyes opened to the real cost of your ignorance: other people’s blood. Jordan again:

Writing this blog became a learning experience for me as well. Not just that it forced me to keep up with what was happening in the world of workplace safety, but the Weekly Toll (thanks Tammy) and the thoughtful and angry notes and comments I received from the families and friends of those killed in the workplace, brought me closer to the human tragedies faced by thousands of American families every year. Confined Space provided a place for them to tell their stories, stories that are almost never heard in our newspapers, magazines, radio or TV. And with that came a renewed sense of meaning and inspiration — raw energy – to challenge the low priority that the politicians and media in this country give to workplace safety and workers’ health and lives.

Confined Space was a learning experience for all of us. Its absence leaves a hole in the blogofirmament bigger than a collapsed star. We’ve got big boots to fill here, and it isn’t going to be easy. The issues are still out there, people are still dying, and the corporatocracy still doesn’t give a rat’s ass. If it’s going to be stopped, we’re going to have to stop it.

We need to make it clear that the right to a safe workplace wasn’t bestowed upon us by concerned politicians or employers who were finally convinced that “Safety Pays.” The right to a safe workplace was won only after a long and bitter fight by workers, unions and public health advocates. It was soaked in the blood of hundreds of thousands of coal miners, factory and construction workers. And the current movement to transform the agency into nothing but a coordinator of voluntary alliances is a betrayal of that promise and those lives.

The workplace may have changed over the years but the issues – and the injuries and deaths – have not. The corporatocracy remains as committed to ignoring the health and safety of its workers as it ever has, and the bottom line is still the only thing they pay attention to. If you doubt that for even a second, go read Jordan’s series’ on the BP explosion or last year’s mine disasters. All preventable, all unnecessary, all due to corporate cultures that worshipped profits above lives. There’s still a lot to do, and that’s the last thing Jordan asks of us.

Do me just one more big favor: keep informed, stay angry and keep raising hell.

I’ll do what I can. I owe him that much.

Addendum: From the LabourStart newsletter:


“Confined Space” at is one of the very best examples of a trade union blog, focusing on health and safety issues. Launched in March 2003, it’s been a contender in recent years for the Labour Website of the Year. Last year it placed third in the international competition — the first weblog to make our top ten.

But its prolific author, Jordan Barab, who has posted 2,800 articles in four years, has announced that the site is closing down. This is a genuine loss for the labour movement. Jordan’s moving on to work in the US Congress, and we wish him well. But the web needs more sites like this one.

It’s no substitute for “Confined Space,” but you might want to check out (and publicize) LabourStart’s special health and safety news page, here:

Have a great weekend.

Eric Lee


3 Responses

  1. Christo0her

    This was one time where I have to agree to disagree

  2. […] Mick Arran: Dispatch From the Trenches […]

  3. Thx for information.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: