Socialist Worker

Action on Workers’ Memorial Day

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2702

A protest outside University College Hospital in central London on Workers Memorial Day

A protest outside University College Hospital in central London on Workers Memorial Day (Pic: Irang Bak)


Workers took action on Tuesday to save lives as the Tories’ deadly lies and inaction over coronavirus continue.

It came after weeks of Tory failures that have seen the death toll rise to above 21,000 and workers put at risk.

The TUC union federation had called for a minute’s silence on International Workers’ Memorial Day to “pay tribute to the sacrifice made of so many workers during the pandemic”.

Across Britain hundreds of thousands took part in an impressive show of solidarity.

After Boris Johnson backed the protest on Monday night, the pressure was on for it to become a show of “national unity”. But in some workplaces activists made sure the fire was on the Tories—who have blood on their hands.

In Wigan, health and social care workers at the council walked out of their office and held a rally with union banners in the town centre. They were joined by members of the RMT transport workers’ union, the Unite union and Wigan trades council.

Unison union rep Dave told Socialist Worker, “We rounded everyone up in the office then around 30 of us were at the rally. We did the minute’s silence, laid wreaths at the monument and held signs demanding PPE for all.”

Support

Among others showing support were members of the RMT transport union and the Bfawu bakers’ union from Hovis.

Dave said, “It shows that there is opposition for us to take forward. It’s a chance to say, alright to clapping, but we need to direct our anger against the government.”

Meanwhile, health and council workers and local campaigners staged socially distanced protests outside four hospitals in Greater Manchester.

Bolton trades council also held a Workers’ Memorial Day event in the town square.

Outside Salford hospital, members of Unison’s local government and health branches and the trades council staged a minute’s silence. Ameen, a Salford City Unison member, told Socialist Worker, “We normally have a Workers’ Memorial Day event.

“But we decided to have an actual protest because we wanted to show solidarity with NHS workers.

“The government is being negligent as health workers go into work without the right support. We really have to fight for the living.”

Around 70 people, mainly health workers, protested outside North Manchester General Hospital.

They held a minute’s silence—and the protested to “fight for the living” despite objections from a manager.

People came out from the hospital and spread out to observe social distancing.Other protests took place at Trafford General Hospital and Prestwich Hospital.

Health workers were joined by activists from other industries at Whittington Hospital in north London

Health workers were joined by activists from other industries at Whittington Hospital in north London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Karen, a nurse who helped to set up the People Before Profit: Health Worker Covid Activists Group, joined the memorial and protest outside North Manchester hospital. “Health workers are dying, they don’t have the right PPE and it’s unacceptable,” she told Socialist Worker.

“The government needs to be made to listen and see that we are frustrated—and the only way they understand is by us protesting.

“There’s something really horrible about sitting at home or going work and watching people die.When you protest or cover your car with posters, you feel that you’re doing something to make it stop.”

Meanwhile, trade unionists and health campaigners protested outside a number of hospitals in London.

At UCH Hospital in central London, Unison members marked the minute’s silence with placards demanding PPE for all. Janet, a nurse at UCH, told Socialist Worker, “We were pleased that unions called the minute’s silence.

“But there needed be a political message to the government, not just passively performing it.

“We never think of the NHS as an unsafe place to work and now we can see how frightening coronavirus is.”

At the Whittington Hospital in Islington, north London, the trades council and local covid action committee held a socially distanced protest.

Banners

It was supported by members of the Unison and GMB unions at the hospital and the RMT transport workers’ union. They brought banners, laid flowers and read out the names of the health workers who have died.

A protest outside Lewisham Hospital was supported by the south east London Covid action group, trade unionists on Lewisham trades council, and the branch secretary of Unite South East Medical branch.

Maggie Palmer, a Unite rep who helped to organise the protest, told Socialist Worker, “People were keen to have a safe protest and to come out. Trade unionists from the NHS, the local bus garage, the Trades Council and the Labour Party joined it.

“The protest demanded proper PPE for NHS and social care workers. Protests are set to continue outside the hospital on Thursdays at 8pm.

“The struggle is continuing and we need to put the pressure on for proper PPE.”

There was also a protest outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Greenwich, where an outsourced cleaner was suspended for refusing to work without protective equipment . The disciplined worker joined the protest.

And in Tower Hamlets, east London, around 20 community health workers came out holding banners demanding PPE.

At Warneford hospital in Oxford, a joint union meeting and minute’s silence saw around 60 workers demanding action on PPE.

A nurse read out the names of health workers who have died from Covid-19. Solidarity messages from other trade unions were read out, plus a poem.

People also addressed PPE, NHS funding, staffing shortages, the lack of preparation for the pandemic, the high number of deaths of BAME people, and the essential role migrants play. 

Meanwhile, activists from a number of unions gathered outside St George’s Hospital in south London. NEU union member Fran said, “So many workers are still having their lives put at risk by the lack of PPE, the lack of proper testing and a number of other unsafe conditions. 

“We spoke to the union rep for the cleaners at the hospital. They told us that—even though one of of the cleaners has recently died—in order to access the inadequate PPE, the cleaners have to walk through a Covid-19 ward.” 

At St Thomas’ Hospital in south London, trade unionists and campaigners joined a minute’s silence and solidarity protest at 11am. They included RMT transport union members from nearby London Waterloo station and the NEU education union.

At 1pm a group of workers came out and held a banner reading, “We are not disposable—no one goes to work to die.” They then marched on the road down Westminster Bridge. 

Meanwhile, around 20 workers, waving GMB union flags and placards, were outside the ambulance station in Greenwich in south east London. 

Health workers and supporters also gathered outside Glasgow Royal Infirmary, some with signs demanding proper PPE. 

In Newham, east London, members of the Labour Party and Unite union’s local community branch protested outside Stratford railway station.

Supporters of the Newham Covid-19 Action Group gathered outside Newham General for the minute's silence. 

They also joined Newham Save Our NHS, Newham Stand Up To Racism and others in laying wreathes for Dr Yusuf Patel, a local GP who died of coronavirus. 

In nearby Tower Hamlets, trade unionists and campaigners held a wreath-laying in Altab Ali Park. It came ahead of an online meeting in the evening called by the local Unison branch and coronavirus action group. 

Trade unionists have to build on the success of the workplace actions to build a fight against the Tories and bosses who are gambling with our lives.


Royal Mail postal workers in East Oxford join the day of action

Royal Mail postal workers in East Oxford join the day of action


Protests in other workplaces too

It wasn’t only health workers who held protests on Workers’ Memorial Day.

In west London, Brent trades council and the local coronavirus action group organised an assembly outside Willesden Bus Garage.

Ashok, a socialist activist in west London, told Socialist Worker, “We has a lot more people than expected.

“We had around 20 people from the trade unions and campaigns.But then a load of bus workers came out to join what we were doing, so there were around 40 of us.”

Activists in a dozen cars held a cavalcade outside North Middlesex Hospital. It was organised by Haringey Coronavirus Action Network and Haringey TUC.

Local activist Simon Hester reported, “The joint unions held a massive event inside the hospital, due to pouring rain.

It was originally planned for outside with us. We received thanks from the Unite and RCN reps—the RCN rep, in particular, was highly critical of the government.

“We then took our convoy all the way down Tottenham High Road with hazards on, horns blaring and megaphones broadcasting like a Kurdish wedding as one of our Day Mer comrades pointed out.”

And cleaners at the Ministry of Justice in central London walked out to protest over the lack of PPE in their workplace.

Carlos Alberto who works as a cleaner there said, “In the last week two colleagues died. I don’t know if it was the virus, but they don’t give us appropriate material, they don’t give masks or chemicals”.

In Newcastle, supporters of the newly formed coronavirus activists group held a series of banner drops from bridges in the city.

And activists in Sheffield laid wreaths in a socially distanced protest in the city centre.


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