Wednesday, March 26, 2003

The results that I got back from my chemist (at around 4.00 pm) were a bit ambiguous: the sample we had sent had the chemical composition of asbestos and some physical tests produced results consistent with it being asbestos. That was all he was prepared to say: it was definitely a mineral fibre and most likely to be asbestos, but his tests weren't conclusive. There weren't in his opinion, too many other things it was likely to be but he couldn't say that in a responsible scientific report. By this time the situation, and the discussion about it had become very heated indeed. In other departments that were in the building, union meetings were being held where representatives of other unions were passing on advice from their state offices that I was possibly just scare mongering.

In the end I reached a compromise position with my manager: any staff from our office who wanted it would get temporary redeployment to another office, pending the results of a more thorough analysis, by a government laboratory, of the evil grey shit that had ruined my Friday. I put my name on the list of those to be re-deployed (it was a solidarity thing, more than anything else), and went home for a fraught weekend. As the buiding's IS activist had helpfully informed me, I had put my personal credibility on the line: if the results of the official analysis went against me I would be shown up as, well, a scare monger. On the other hand, if the results confirmed what I believed from the my chemist's report I would be personally vindicated as a bona fide working-class hero. I was also worried about the bill for the chemist's analysis: I'd told him to bill it to me, so I might be out of pocket for the better part of $200. This was back in the days when Australia still had a currency worthy of the name. If nothing else, it shows how quickly the political can become very personal. As it has in much of the debate on the war.

It wasn't until the next Tuesday that the final results came in from the government lab - the stuff really was asbestos, amosite asbestos to be precise. Not, thankfully, the blue stuff of Wittenoom fame. So, for what little it was worth, I was personally vindicated and the union agreed to pay the lab bill. It's occurred to me while I've been writing this post, that there's been time since the dispute took place for me to receive the ultimate vindication: someone who worked in that building may finally have come down with an asbestos related illness. If so, I don't want to know about it.

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