Today marks International Workers’ Memorial Day, honouring those of our class who have been killed or maimed due to the dangers they face at work.
The coronavirus pandemic has made this year’s Workers’ Memorial Day a particularly sombre affair. At 11am this morning, a minute’s silence was held across the country to remember the fatalities that have been seen in almost every industry - from health workers in the NHS, to bus drivers and shop workers.
This morning I took part in a minute’s silence to remember those workers who have tragically died in the coronavirus pandemic. The nation will not forget you. pic.twitter.com/6yV5PCINyM— Boris Johnson #StayHomeSaveLives (@BorisJohnson) April 28, 2020
These deaths are touted as “noble sacrifices” by the Tories and their friends in the capitalist press. The same language is deployed as towards the soldiers who died at Verdun during the First World War.
There can be no doubt that workers have risked their lives in order to keep such services running. However, if their deaths are to mean anything, we must also be clear as to why these deaths have happened - and continue to happen.
The blame for this firmly lies at the feet of the very same Tory government that now stands eulogising these people.
Profits put before lives
At all times, the overriding concern of the Tories is to ensure that the profits of the capitalist class they represent are protected. The pandemic is no exception to this rule.
Even now, the capitalists are applying pressure to end the lockdown prematurely. The bosses’ representatives in the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce are demanding ‘clarity’ on when exactly the government intends to end lockdown - on when they will be allowed to resume their merry money making.
Some big high street chains - such as Greggs, B&Q and Timpsons - have jumped the gun, and have unilaterally decided to reopen on a trial basis. It is hard to see how a sausage and bean melt constitutes an ‘essential service’; nevertheless, workers’ lives will be risked so as to allow for their sale.
Elsewhere, construction bosses have risked the lives of their workers since day one of the pandemic. We had numerous reports from workers in the construction industry, highlighting the farce of social distancing in environments where it simply isn’t possible to do so.
We echo the call from the Blacklist Support Group campaign for all non-essential sites to be shut immediately, with workers sent home on full pay. Furthermore, the major construction companies should be top of the list when it comes to bringing in nationalisation and workers’ control.
TUC: Get off your knees!
The trade union leaders, meanwhile, have been quiet as mice. When they have spoken on the issues facing workers, they have made sure to call for government ‘co-operation’. Frances O’Grady, in particular, has latched onto the idea of a ‘National Council for Reconstruction’. The TUC general secretary is desperate to gather the unions and big business together, so that the government can “bring us into the room and listen to our ideas”.
The TUC leaders must stop this craven compromising behaviour immediately. The TUC represents organised labour throughout Britain. It should be organising workers to take action, not begging the Tories simply for the chance to be listened to.
The transport unions, teachers’ union, and the CWU postal workers’ union have shown the way forward, advising their members not to return to work unless the measures put in place are to their satisfaction.
This is the kind of stand that the TUC should be calling for across the board. Workers are being asked to put themselves in harm’s way in order that workplaces may reopen. But it should be those same workers who decide if it’s actually safe to do so - not the bosses, whose only real concern is their profit margins.
Nationalisation and workers’ control
The new Labour leaders are unfortunately also in on the act, with Starmer echoing big business’ demands for an ‘exit strategy’ at a time when the death toll is still rising.
People I’ve seen demanding to see what an exit strategy looks like:— Rachael Swindon (@Rachael_Swindon) April 26, 2020
Right-wing headbanger MPs
Right-wing media types
Trumpian British people
And Sir Keir Starmer.
At least 811 people died from #Covid_19 yesterday. Let’s get a grip first please.
Instead, Labour should be calling for all non-essential production, such as construction sites, to be shut down - and to stay shut until the necessary PPE and testing is in place to safely restart society.
Currently there is a woeful shortage of the protective equipment needed. Labour should be demanding the expropriation of production facilities in order to provide this.
In addition, the bureaucratic hindrance of privatisation and outsourcing in the NHS must be completely removed and reversed. It is clear that the profiteers of private healthcare cannot be relied upon to provide the necessary safety equipment for frontline NHS staff. Nurses, doctors and medical staff - not consultants and out-of-touch management - should be in control.
All of this highlights the need for nationalisation and workers’ control - the principles of common ownership enshrined in Labour’s original Clause IV. Today, with the capitalist market unable to tackle the disease, Labour activists must once again fight for public ownership and for a new socialist Clause IV.
That workers continue to face death at work in the circumstances we face today is a scandal and a shame. But it need not be inevitable.
The trade union and Labour leaders must cast aside their timidity in the face of the bosses and the Tory government, and prepare for a fight. Only organisation and militant class struggle can ensure that not one more worker dies for someone else’s profits.
That, ultimately, is the meaning behind the slogan of today’s remembrance: Remember the dead - and fight for the living!