Things will never be the same again

A poster at a London tube station

A poster at a London tube station   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Trade union organiser Glynn Doherty reports from the public services frontline

“This certificate provides confirmation you are classified as a Sky key worker…Thank you for …help[ing] keep Sky’s critical services running for our customers”.

The ‘critical services’ Jeremy Darroch, Sky’s CEO in the UK, is referring to are television packages. To keep them running (or more accurately, the profits coming in), hundreds of workers are still crammed together in call centres on my patch, brazenly told to defy social distancing guidelines.

As few workers here are union members, my influence is mostly limited to reporting to the press such a flagrant breach of Covid-19 instructions. Most annoyingly, I do have to provide advice to thousands whose work really is essential, and I can do without having to also deal with stuff like this.

Sky and others get away with this because government advice has been a masterclass in doublespeak. Claims that the advice is clear are laughable. Don’t travel to work unless it’s necessary – what does that mean?!

Only go to work if it’s essential. Is my work essential? Ask your employer! Maintain two metres social distancing. What about the call centre? Or the cab of a refuse collection truck? Or the child with behavioural problems who needs, literally, hands-on support? Erm…ask your boss.

In the last fortnight I’ve had to challenge councils who insist grass cutting is essential or a dripping tap an emergency.

To make matters worse, the written government guidelines state you can travel to work if you can’t work from home, contradicting messages about essential roles delivered verbally. I’ve now got councils saying members can’t work from home so they’re to continue coming to work as normal!

The busiest part of my job is dealing with the many hundreds of members working for vast numbers of social care providers in the most appalling conditions. Every bit of news you’ve read about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) is right… and more.

Growing anger

Workers on the minimum wage are caring for elderly, young and disadvantaged people who show Covid-19 symptoms, in care homes and in the community, not only without masks but also aprons and gloves.

I’ve lost count of the times members tell me they’ve bought their own gloves locally; begging the question why their employer didn’t!

The anger brewing in social care is palpable. My job as an organiser isn’t just to represent trade unionists, but to empower them. I try and turn the feeling of helplessness when workers contact me to one that gives them the confidence to challenge their employer.

So, we’re now getting workers on £9 an hour confronting chief executives openly. These are the first signs that things will never be the same again.

The world, in general and in the workplace, will not return to ‘normal’. Workers are awakening to their power. How it is their actions which are positively affecting the limits of the pandemic, while global capitalism can’t cope.

My current task is to keep my members safe, but I’m looking forward to an era soon where workers put into practice what they’ve learnt during this crisis.

Where they challenge their employers and, indeed, trade union leaders who get in their way. Where they join the fight for a fairer society, which can only be a socialist society.

Oh…and my mole in Sky’s call centre? She wants to become a trade union shop steward.