International Workers Memorial Day Statement from Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham

This statement was read out at the Doctors in Unite IWMD event on 28 April 2022

Let’s be clear what today is really about. Working people continue to die simply as a result of doing their jobs.

Many workers paid the price for the pandemic with their lives and with their health. Key workers sent out to face the crisis. In London alone, 60 bus drivers were killed by the Covid virus they were exposed to at work.

Politicians clapped their pots and pans for Doctors and Nurses, but soon forgot the sacrifice. They signalled to workers caught in the crosshairs of the pandemic, that they would be rewarded down the line. But insulting pay cuts replaced the reward. What did we see instead?  A PPE crisis that smacked of corruption, a failure to protect and an opposition that refused to oppose.

And now as the pandemic turns from health crisis into economic disaster, our politicians have failed us once again. Neither the Government nor the opposition have anything serious to say. Both are trapped in self-made straightjackets and are most interested in short term opportunism.

With no serious movement underneath them to force change, working people instead are faced with a crisis of representation.  And that means, that now more than ever, it is time for the rebirth of the trade union movement.  Not as a branch of a political party or peddler of intrigue, but as a proud, powerful and independent voice of working people.

The time for political shortcuts is over. Now we have to make the change ourselves. Not least because the fact remains, that despite legislation and inspectors, thousands still die at work every year.

Of course we demand better from Government, but the answer to protecting workers lies in the workplace, not with politicians or shopping lists of unachievable demands.  Because the best enforcement is that of trade union organisation.  We don’t just want legal minimums, we want more. We want to organise to bargain for better. From a position of power not weakness. 

And that is why I want us to start celebrating Shop Stewards and Safety Reps, not just politicians.  And why I want us to organise and re-organise the industries with the worst safety records.  It is no coincidence that some of the worst sectors are also those with the least trade union activity.

For me the best way to remember those that have perished is to build something in their name.  To build a movement worth the name.  Because that will allow us to protect the living.  We need to do more than demand just laws, we need to fight for ourselves.

And that begins at the workplace.

Solidarity!

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