Socialist Worker

‘Put our safety first, not money,’ say activists on day of action

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2704

Protesters in Hackney, east London, gathered at a construction site on Thursday to demand safe work environments

Protesters in Hackney, east London, gathered at a construction site on Thursday to demand safe work environments (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Trade unionists and campaigners staged a day of action on Thursday to demand “no return to unsafe workplaces”.

It was called by the People Before Profit: Health Worker Covid Activists group against Tories’ and bosses’ plans to return to business as usual. Tory prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to outline a “roadmap” to lift the lockdown on Sunday—despite Britain registering the highest death toll in Europe on Tuesday.

In Hackney, east London, people protested held a socially-distanced protest against a possible reopening of schools. Around 25 people stood outside the council’s learning centre with placards, including reps from the NEU education union, the Unison local government union’s Hackney and Islington branches.

Marvin Hay, joint branch secretary of Hackney Unison, told Socialist Worker, “Nobody should have to work in an environment that is unsafe.

“Frontline workers have had to step up, but the government needs to be doing all it can to make sure they’re safe.

“What’s been quite paramount to all of us is that the measures don’t change because of health or scientific basis. It seems to be on finances, not safety—and we say they should put safety first.”

Des, an NEU rep in Hackney, added, “It seems the government is going to force us back before it’s safe. They are worried about the economy and particular returns to shareholders.

“The furlough system has cost £40 billion, but they spent £500 billion bailing out the banks in the last crisis.”

Supporters of the Shut the Sites campaign protested outside the Britannia regeneration project in Hackney in the morning. 

Protester Felicity told Socialist Worker, “We’re saying all construction that isn’t essential should be shut down. 

“If it was a medical facility or emergency housing, it would be a very different project.

“A lot of workers do not want to be there. But construction is a complete nightmare for employment with lots of people in umbrella schemes and not many furloughed. 

“The industry is a spreader.” 

Activists want to make sure workers are not put at risk at work

Activists want to make sure workers are not put at risk at work (Pic: Guy Smallman)


In nearby Tower Hamlets, health and education workers held a banner drop reading, “No going back until it’s safe.” Sabina Khan, a Unite union member and manufacturing worker, said, “There’s not enough PPE and we can’t have social distancing.

Protection

“We need protection and another furlough scheme.” She said it felt like the Tories’ plans were “all about money” and not supporting people.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is considering how to bring to an end the furlough scheme presently supporting six million people. It sees the state cover 80 percent of wages, up to £2,500, if those workers would otherwise have been laid off because of coronavirus.

Talk of ending the scheme from the end of June is an economic whip to force people back to work.

Many people rightly fear that this would put their safety at risk.

On Thursday’s day of action in Manchester, a couple of activists erected a banner on the railings of the Royal Infirmary. Sue said, “We don’t want the lockdown to be lifted while there’s still hundreds of people dying.

“The government hasn’t even got in place proper safety precautions, testing or PPE.

“We’ve met quite a few hospital workers who agree with what we’re saying. We need to get the message loud and clear across to Boris Johnson—no lifting of the lock down, sort out the testing, sort out the PPE.”

In Birmingham, PCS union members at a benefits office who are working from home all took selfies with a West Midlands coronavirus action group poster.

In Oxford, CWU union members from the South Central Postal branch stood in front of their workplace with signs against a lifting of the lockdown. Supporters of the local Trade Union Covid Action Group held a cavalcade around Blackbird Leys Estate in the evening.

In Sheffield activists from the covid action group helf a cavalcade with eight cars covered in posters, chanting slogans through a megaphone. They went to Northern General Hospital where they held a socially-distanced protest. 

Meanwhile, in Newham a group of local activists staged a protest outside the emergency morgue, where workers have raised concerns over training and safety. 

In Haringey, north London, a dozen cars took part in a cavalcade from Tottenham leisure centre to North Middlesex Hospital. It was the third cavalcade organised by the local coronavirus action group.


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