The failures of most trade union leaders to mount any resistance to the Tory government’s fatal handling of coronavirus intensifies the danger to workers.
It’s a welcome step that unions are calling for a minute’s silence on 28 April to remember workers who have died due to coronavirus.
The silence, due to take place on Workers’ Memorial Day, is an opportunity for trade unionists to organise action in their own workplaces.
In particular workers should take up anti-Tory slogans demanding mass supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and implementation of social distancing in workplaces.
But trade unions urgently need to do more. They should start organising real resistance to protect their members. That means stopping work— walking out—when it’s unsafe.
Unions need to encourage action by those herded into unsafe workplaces because of government lies and bosses’ hunger for profit.
But instead too often they tell workers to put up with conditions that put them and their families at risk. To take one example, some Unison union officials have issued wholly rotten guidance to members terrified about a lack of PPE in care homes.
An email seen by Socialist Worker advised that workers could be disciplined if they refused to carry out parts of their job. And it also said that workers should fill out a series of written risk assessments and escalate concerns up the management chain.
This process could take weeks or months to resolve—while putting workers at risk daily.
Workers need more than tributes when they are dead—they need a fight to keep them alive
Workers should be encouraged by their unions to immediately walk out if their lives are threatened. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis called on people to “remember the sacrifice” that workers have made.
But they have died because the government gutted the NHS, privatised social care, ignored the threat of Covid-19 and failed to implement mass testing.
It’s not the case that workers decided to undertake a noble sacrifice—they are being slaughtered while delivering critical care.
It’s not the Tory cabinet who are forced to work in care homes without protection.
And it’s not union general secretaries who are forced to drive a London bus too small to observe social distancing measures.
The Labour Party has also been more concerned to back the government than encourage resistance. Labour leader Keir Starmer called for the government to “set out a road map to lift restrictions in certain sectors of the economy”.
Workers need more than tributes when they are dead—they need a fight to keep them alive.
There can be no more waiting. Union leaders have to be pushed to organise effective resistance.