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WORKERS across England are rightly concerned and anxious over being told they should be returning to work from the Covid-19 lockdown, despite the ongoing failure to provide sufficient PPE; the inadequate levels of testing; the absence of a reliable system of “track and trace”; and difficulties maintaining social distancing measures.
Now more than ever, workers must stand together in defending safe conditions at work. Everyone needs to join an active trade union and defend each other against attacks.
The easing of lockdown restrictions following the Covid-19 crisis represents a “very dangerous moment,” warned Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer.
The Association of Directors of Public Health went further, adding that ministers were “misjudging” the situation at a “critical moment,” while several scientific advisers on the Sage committee warned that moving too fast would risk a second peak and further unnecessary deaths.
Teachers and parents in particular have been put under undue pressure, aware that the prematurely reopening schools in full risks spreading the virus, both within the school environment, and to parents and grandparents who are in vulnerable categories, with underlying health conditions.
The logic of prioritising the return of the youngest primary-age children, least likely to maintain consistent social distancing, is clearly motivated by getting parents back out to work before it’s safe.
The National Education Union (NEU) has been at the forefront of rasing entirely legitimate and reasonable health concerns.
Teaching professionals and other education workers want to reopen our schools, but not in conditions where it’s unsafe.
Disgraceful attacks on the NEU from beleaguered reactionary politicians have done little to to undermine the overwhelming support of parents for the position they have taken.
Nor are education workers alone in their concerns. Dozens of civil servants have died due to contracting the virus, after working in overcrowded office buildings with no adequate PPE.
Workers in food retail and catering are being brought back, including by multibillion-dollar businesses paying them poverty wages.
Transport workers have been providing vital services to allow key workers to continue helping the public, but are now threatened with exposure to overcrowding and unsafe conditions.
There can be little doubt that the government’s haste is the consequence of putting profit before public health, racing to get back to “business as usual” even if it means exposing us to greater risk.
We can’t be forced back to work before it’s safe. That’s why trade unions from the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group will come together this Wednesday evening from 6.30pm for a major Zoom rally to insist that no worker should be made to return to work in unsafe conditions.
Chaired by NEU president Amanda Martin, the rally will hear from front-line workers and will be joined by general secretaries Kevin Courtney (NEU), Mick Cash (RMT), Mark Serwotka (PCS) and Sarah Woolley (BFAWU).
Maintaining wider political support will also be critical. Shadow education secretary Rebecca Long Bailey, employment law barrister and Labour peer Lord Hendy, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and People’s Assembly national secretary Laura Pidcock will be voicing their solidarity with working people in defending their health and safety.
#OnlyWhenItsSafe — Returning to Work after the Coronavirus Lockdown, a Zoom rally hosted by the NEU in its capacity as one of 10 national trade unions affiliated to the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group (tucg.org.uk) is on Wednesday June 3 from 6.30pm-8pm. Register at bit.ly/onlywhenitssafe.
Follow the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group at @TUCGInfo on Twitter.
Michael Calderbank works with Solidarity Consulting, which provides support to the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group.
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