Remembering Karen Silkwood: A Modern Heroine for Workers, Gone but Never Forgotten

alewitz silkwood mural

Mural by Mike Alewitz, 1994, dedicated to Karen Silkwood’s memory.


Today, February 19th, 1946, Karen Silkwood was born.  If she had not been the victim of a still mysterious crash on November 13th, 1974, she’d be 68 years old today.

Ms. Silkwood was a chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee Fuel Fabrication site in Oklahoma.  Silkwood was a member of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union and was later elected to her local’s bargaining committee, being the first woman chosen to that position. (from wikipedia).

Silkwood’s life was cut short on the night of November 13th in an auto accident, the fault of which has never seen resolution.  Many facts point to the possibility that Kerr-McGee had a part in her death in order to silence the results of her building work about the safety violations of the Kerr-McGee plant.

Kerr-McGee finally settled with Silkwood’s family after her death regarding her high levels of plutonium in her blood from her work at the plant.  This only after a historically long court battle and finally an appeal all the way to the United States Supreme Court in 1979 by the company that refused to pay or admit any wrong-doing in her death.  A settlement was finally reached with the family.

Silkwood’s life and legacy of fighting against corporate power should serve as inspiration for all future works.  Corporate power has increased in this country by leaps and bounds since Silkwood’s efforts to challenge the shady practices of Kerr-McGee that put worker’s lives in danger for the sake of profit.  The outright hostility and disregard for human life of corporate capitalism is repeated over and over again in the millions of stories and struggles of workers in this country and across the globe.

We can never assume for a minute that any corporation as the safety of the workers as their primary goal in operations; its not.  Their primary goal, as according to the requirement of capitalist competition, is to make a profit and expand operations.  The toll taken to workers on the front lines of producing a profit for companies is seen as an impediment, not a part of, the model of profit and production.

Let us never forget the sacrifice of Karen Silkwood and work always with her legacy as our inspiration.

For more about Karen Silkwood see the links below:

Wikipedia summary: Karen Silkwood
PBS Frontline special: Nuclear Reaction, The Karen Silkwood Story
A television mystery show telling her story: Karen Silkwood, A Life on the Line

h/t Linda Horan, a strong sister dedicated to worker justice in New Hampshire


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