Socialist Worker

Thousands across the country clap to show solidarity with the NHS

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2698

People show their solidarity in Tulse Hill, south east London

People show their solidarity in Tulse Hill, south east London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The #ClapForOurCarers this week was a huge, grassroots event that reflected a desire by ordinary people to show solidarity, pull together and help one another in difficult times.

The night also showed how an establishment that has gambled with our lives is rushing to try to absorb and tame that mood.

People went out of their houses, hung out of balconies and windows, clapped, cheered and banged pots and pans. It follows similar weekly claps for health workers and other key workers in other parts of the world.

In one indication of the mass participation, the Just Eat food delivery app registered a huge drop off in traffic to its site around 8pm on Thursday evening.

A spin off—#LightItBlue—saw landmarks and public buildings lit up in the colour of the NHS logo.There was a sense of relief among many people at being able to take part in a collective action in a time of social distancing.

Alongside action outside people’s homes, some workplaces took part. CWU union members at Royal Mail distribution centres in Leeds, Warrington and Stansted, for example, stopped work at 8pm and joined the mass clap.

As we try to find ways to keep up class struggle during the coronavirus crisis, seeing organised workers’ participation was important.

The night also showed how the Tories are trying to put themselves to the head of it. The hypocrisy of Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak clapping on Downing Street was staggering.

The Tories have hammered the NHS with budget cuts and privatisation during the last decade, leaving it woefully underprepared for coronavirus.They are still pushing ahead with A&E closures and have not guaranteed personal protective equipment (PPE) or testing for health workers.

On the same day the Tories awarded outsourcer ISS a contract at the Excel Centre, where they are building an emergency hospital for coronavirus patients.

At nearby Lewisham hospital in south east London cleaners and other support staff walked out over unpaid wages at the beginning of the month. ISS has still failed to give them what they deserve. 

The hypocrisy of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak clapping on Downing street was staggering 

The Royal Family, well-practised at being wheeled out as a unifying figurehead in times of crisis, was seen to join in.

Kensington Palace—that’s Prince William and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge—tweeted their thanks to all NHS staff “working tirelessly to help those affected by Covid-19”.

Cleaners, nurses, doctors and other health workers can’t get tested for coronavirus because of a lack of capacity. But prince Charles was swiftly tested after coming down with mild symptoms at the beginning of the week. He “met the criteria” unlike NHS workers.

So did prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock, who both tested positive for coronavirus on Friday morning.

The ruling class doesn’t always use right wing or racist symbols to pump out nationalism. Sometimes it tries to co-opt progressive gains such as the NHS as “national symbols” because they are popular.

Nationalism

This shouldn’t wrong-foot the left into supporting “national unity”, “national governments” or “social peace” with bosses.Some socialists and trade unionists picked the wrong target last night.

They attacked working class people in areas that switched to the Tories in the general election last December. “How dare they clap for the NHS after voting Tory?” This line of argument is counter-productive.

The point is to use the contradiction of supporting the NHS and voting for a government that is savaging the NHS to break people from the Tories. To make sure we put health before profit, we need maximum unity of working class people against those at the top.

We should build on the collective mood to demand a properly funded, privatisation-free NHS and build opposition to the Tories who continue to gamble with our lives.When we are clapping next Thursday there should be some explicitly anti-Tory slogans to make it more explicit that we aren’t in the same boat as Johnson and his toxic crew.


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