Framework of Flesh: Builders’ Labourers Battle for Health & Safety
Humphrey McQueen
Ginninderra Press.

Despite a rather unexpected title, McQueen’s book is about a fight for better working conditions, especially Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S). It is about the role that industrial accidents, deaths, and injuries play in capitalist economies driven by management, its ideology of managerialism, profit-maximising imperatives, and the real bottom line. McQueen’s book tells how employers, management, states and trade unions deal with OH&S.

Today, the managerial prerogative remains a strong feature. The unwillingness of employers to provide a safe working environment forced unions to demand worker control. The Frontier of Control (Goodrich, 1920) became the central issue of conflicts between employers and trade unions. Meanwhile, trade unions also influenced politics and states to introduce stronger OHS legislation protecting workers, resulting in several OHS laws. During the 21st century, this became a contentious issue for trade unions because increased state regulation in conjunction with state inspectors sought to replace trade union’s own inspections at building sites by moving such responsibilities onto state bureaucracies.

The book interprets new re-regulated anti-labour and anti-OHS laws by answering three questions. Could giving a freer hand to management account of ‘killing no murder’, that is, the killing of a worker that is not a crime? None of those in authority took the appropriation of surplus value through the disciplining of labour-time as the pivot for analysis. Instead, the pressure on lawyers to display a mastery of case law enmeshes radicals in an ideology that they set out to unravel. Nevertheless, some disparaging attempts were made to locate legal processes within the dynamics of capital expansion as ‘economic determinism’.

In sum, McQueen’s book is written by a journalist with a highly enjoyable non-academic writing style. It has been written by a critical trade unionist for trade unionists who dare to think beyond the confines of the current legal structure on OHS. By linking industrial deaths and injuries to the way capitalism operates, McQueen’s exquisite work highlights the role OHS plays in a capitalist economy discussing the core question of ‘why industrial deaths is not considered murder’ under a social-political and legal system that is operated by the Servants of Power.

Thomas Klikauer, University of Western Sydney
BUIRA News, 68, January 2010, pp. 13-14.