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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 April 2020

Trade union activists from across the south of England discuss the battle for safety on the frontline

South of England trade union activists meet via Zoom on 18 April

South of England trade union activists meet via Zoom on 18 April   (Click to enlarge)

Paul Couchman, Surrey County Unison branch secretary (personal capacity)

Trade union activists from across the south of England came together for a Socialist Party meeting on Zoom on 18 April.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union, RMT transport union, PCS civil servants' union, public sector union Unison and general union Unite were among the reps attending, from the health service, social care, and from the private, public and independent sectors. All speakers spoke in a personal capacity.

Hugo Pierre, Unison national executive committee, and Jared Wood, RMT national executive committee, opened the meeting and spoke about the battle on the frontline of public services for appropriate PPE, immediate testing and full pay for workers.


The lack of an effective response from government, and the shortage of equipment and PPE, was linked directly to the years of austerity, cuts and privatisation carried out by successive governments.

Fragmentation and privatisation of health and social care services has made a difficult situation a thousand times worse - in terms of funding, distribution of equipment and so on.

Both speakers stressed the importance of the trade unions remaining independent during the crisis, defending members, and organising around health and safety, and issues such as pay, terms and conditions.

Jared explained that many good trade unionists, even some left wingers, had been carried along by the 'we're all in this together' mood and were expressing the need to work with employers and the government in the national interest.

Unfortunately, as both speakers explained, the Tories' 'national interest' is protecting the economy and business rather than the workers and those who use services.

Chilling examples

Both Hugo and Jared gave chilling examples of workers in their trade unions being told to work in unacceptable and unsafe conditions - without PPE, without social distancing - and outlined some of the great examples of where workers had made a stand, such as the postal workers and library workers who walked out over health and safety, Covid-19-related issues.

The meeting was sombre and included a number of workers giving their own testimonies as to what it has been like working during the coronavirus pandemic. Steve, Unison health service group rep, talked of the fight for PPE in his hospital and the fight for a fair pay award for health staff.

Agnieszka, also a Unison health rep, told of her personal fight with the virus, and how lack of PPE probably led to her contracting Covid-19. She explained that lower-graded staff seem to be treated as second class citizens when it comes to being supplied with PPE. She is now terrified of returning to work once she has fully recovered.

Maggie, an NHS radiographer, told the meeting how the years of cuts have come home to roost. Bed and equipment shortages meaning that, in particular, elderly people are being sent back to care homes, as there is no capacity in the NHS to treat them.

Declan, a bus driver in the RMT, explained how he and his fellow union members have had to fight every step of the way for appropriate safety measures to be taken on the buses, including the supply of PPE. He also spoke of the dozens of transport workers who have died already from Covid-19.

Joy and Callum from Hampshire County Unison talked about the situation within social care, and the need for a viable socialist alternative to the blind market strategy of capitalism.

Everyone who spoke made it clear that we need to hold our union leaders to account. Many expressed the need to link practical solutions to real-life problems with the need for socialist solutions. We are not all in this together - frontline workers are holding the line without the money, resources and safety measures they need. At some point these workers are going to say no, and our unions must be there to support them and lead them.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 21 April 2020:

Frontline workers speak out

Where's our PPE? Where's our testing? Where's our money?

London bus drivers' action over safety stops front door boarding

Care homes coronavirus scandal: blood on their hands

PPE shortages: "I feel so bloody angry"

Trade union activists from across the south of England discuss the battle for safety on the frontline

Management tells carers PPE would 'worry' residents

Councils must demand control of supplies and reversal of austerity

More dispatches from the front: 'There are so many more patients dying'

World economy

World economic crisis: A Marxist approach to the coronavirus crunch

Workplace news

No 'back to school' until outbreak is under control and trade union agreed safety arrangements

DWP: Action on workers' safety, and protection of pay and conditions needed

JD Sports: Shut up shop and give us full pay!

RMT: Lift the suspension of Steve Hedley

Bromley Libraries 'restructure' in middle of pandemic!

Lenin at 150

Lenin at 150: A revolutionary life - and the relevance of his ideas to today's working-class struggles

Coronavirus news

National plan for testing needed

Capitalist press attacks Tory incompetence

Tory think tank proposes attack on pensions

Shocking increase in domestic violence killings

US private healthcare system in meltdown

Coronavirus news in brief

Workplace safety

The history of struggle to make the workplace safe


Excellent support for Socialist Party special appeal

Why I joined the Socialist Party

Clapping, driving, postering - for workers' rights

The role of the Socialist during the corona crisis

Policies that really protect the NHS

Coronavirus: Students' charter

Socialism the Podcast: What do our listeners think?

Readers' opinion

Covid-19 patient speaks out: fantastic support from under-resourced health workers

Going viral: Socialist comments and letters


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