Socialist Worker

Health unions’ call for minute’s silence should be used to mobilise against Tories

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2701

Wigan

Protest in Wigan last week


Unions are calling on people across Britain to hold a minute’s silence for all the health, care and other workers who have died of coronavirus.

Unison, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives have organised the national minute’s silence for 11am next Tuesday, 28 April. This is International Workers’ Memorial Day. 

The call has to be used to mobilise class anger against the Tories—who are responsible for the workers’ deaths. Ministers praise them as “key workers”, then tell lie after lie about the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

The death toll for health workers had reached 96 on Sunday night. One of those who died at the weekend was Jenelyn Carter who worked at Morriston Hospital in Swansea.

In an indication of how such workers can be treated, her colleagues had started a GoFundMe page for her when she was hospitalised. They said she was not eligible for sick pay because she was on a zero hours contract.

Another who died recently, Stuart, worked as a paramedic for the North West Ambulance Service. His friend and colleague told Socialist Worker, “He was self-isolating for two weeks and after four days was admitted to hospital.

“I then heard on Friday that he had died. It’s a very difficult situation 

“At the moment paramedics are buying their own masks because it’s not just a lack of PPE, it’s the quality that’s the matter. 

“You have aprons that are flimsy and offer no protection—it’s like a bin liner really.” 

Dire

The worker, who cleans and restocks ambulances, said the situation is “dire and getting worse and worse”. He said, “We normally put five packs of PPE onto an ambulance. But we’ve only got enough for eight of the 24 ambulances at our station.

“When the paramedics come into work in the morning, many are searching around to find kit for their vehicles.”

The unions’ call for a minutes’ silence is a sign of growing workers’ frustration and anger at the Tories and bosses putting their lives at risk. 

Union leaders have been slow to make effective health and safety demands. They feared Tory ministers and managers would withdraw the invite to sit at the top table. and didn’t want to break ranks during a time of “national unity”. 

But they have slowly been forced to shift and there has been a fraying of the consensus. 

Unison and Unite union national officials warned over the weekend that there could be walkouts over the lack of proper PPE. 

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said, “Unite has already advised its 100,000 members that reluctantly NHS and social care staff could legitimately and lawfully decline to put themselves in further danger and risk of injury at work.”

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She added that health secretary Matt Hancock “may have to consider his position” if the situation doesn’t improve. 

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said "staff in high-risk areas may well decide that it’s no longer safe for them to work.”

If there are any walkouts, unions must back them fully. 

Supporters of the People Before Profit: Health Worker Covid Activists Group are organising workplace actions on the same day. 

They held a day of action to demand “PPE Now” and “Hancock must go” on Thursday of last week.

Activists everywhere should use the unions' national call as an opportunity to organise workplace actions.


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