MILLIONS of people across Britain were marching with NHS workers to Downing Street today, at least in spirit.
It beggars belief that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak think they can get away with praising health workers to the skies in one breath — and then rubbing their faces in the dirt in the next.
Not content with continuing to charge the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic for parking their cars while at work in England’s hospitals, NHS staff will not have their pay rise brought forward from next April.
This is despite the recent announcement of mostly modest wage increases for 900,000 other public-sector workers, including doctors and police officers.
Yet 500 health and social care staff have lost their lives so far this year as a result of working through the coronavirus crisis.
NHS staff have braved enormous levels of risk in order to maintain care for Covid-19 and other patients, often putting in many hours of unpaid overtime.
These circumstances were not foreseen when the three-year NHS pay settlement was introduced in 2018. Ten years of Tory and Lib Dem austerity had already cut the purchasing power of their salaries by around 20 per cent.
The case for an immediate and substantial rise now, over and above that settlement, is overwhelming.
On other fronts, too, there are signs of a rising tide of injustice as the social and economic impacts of the pandemic are increasingly felt.
The sick are denied treatment, children go hungry in school and out, childcare centres and care homes threaten to go under, more companies announce redundancies and students fear for their future.
In the past week alone, Dyson Ltd and bus manufacturers Alexander Dennis have announced 1,250 redundancies in communities across England and Scotland. Thousands of steel jobs are under threat in Wales.
Meanwhile, our government flounders around, issuing half-baked pandemic directives while also carrying out the orders delivered to it by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in relation to China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
The burning question for our labour and progressive campaigning movements today is how to respond. Not only with immediate protests such as today’s splendid effort, hampered as they must be by social distancing and other restrictions; but also by building capacity for longer-term action, in the knowledge that this Tory government has a clear working majority and can probably cling to office lawfully for another four years.
In particular, every part of Britain will face a severe jobless crisis before the end of this year. Unfortunately, though, the network of unemployed workers’ centres which — together unions, trades councils and the Communist Party — helped organise the Liverpool-Sheffield March for Full Employment in 1985 is now much depleted.
Rebuilding such centres and linking them with the People’s Assembly and other campaigns and the trade union movement is becoming an urgent priority.
More ambitiously, this could prepare the way for a People’s March for Jobs and Social Justice — demanding policies which put people and peace before profit and privatisation.
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