“If the sugar refining company won’t save me, who’s gonna save me?“, Peter Garrett cynically implores in this quintessential anti-corporate anthem. Midnight Oil was an internationally renowned Australian band, famous for their activism, and this song topped the charts across Western Europe and North America.
The workers of the Wittenoom asbestos mines were given the classic Hobson’s choice by the mine-owner Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR) Limited: labor in the mines and develop lung cancer or don’t get “pay in your pocket” or “food on the table tonight”.
The mine was not immediately shut, even after it was discovered that blue asbestos was poisonous to the miners. Due to the number of people that contracted fatal illnesses as a result of this operation, this is widely regarded as the greatest industrial disaster in Australian history.
Aside from its social message, it is perhaps the only song I have heard that derides the concept of shareholder wealth maximization:
The candy store paupers lie to the share holders
They’re crossing their fingers they pay the truth makers
The balance sheet is breaking up the sky
(I have to confess though, there is a certain irony in the fact that it was the representative of a large multinational petroleum company that showed me this video during a lecture!)