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While health workers are applauded as heroes, criminal failings are leaving them to die

Across the NHS and the heavily privatised social care system, key workers now face a hand-to-mouth existence on PPE, writes JACQUI BERRY

COVID-19 has exposed what socialists and trade unionists have long understood — it is working-class people who are indispensable to society. 

Workers who are now applauded as essential heroes were just a few short months ago dismissed, demeaned and demonised by the Tory government. 

The starvation diet imposed on the NHS left the system woefully under-resourced. 

Over 100 healthcare workers have already paid with their lives. 

Criminal failings in personal protective equipment supplies have forced healthcare workers into making impossible choices — risk their own lives or refuse to work without PPE and risk the lives of others. 

Some have refused. Many more have attempted to find solutions, reusing single-use only items and repurposing bin liners, rain coats and swimming goggles. 

Some employers have threatened disciplinary action against workers who refuse to put their lives on the line. 

Others have attempted to scare workers into silence as well as submission, forbidding staff from raising concerns publicly.  

Appearing on the Marr Show on Sunday, Dominic Raab continued the government’s steadfast refusal to accept any responsibility for the catastrophic shortfall in PPE, blaming an “international shortage.” 

While he is right to highlight the inadequacies of the global free market in facilitating a co-ordinated response to the pandemic, Raab offers no solutions beyond unconvincing claims that PPE is in the pipeline. 

Across the NHS and the heavily privatised social care system, key workers now face a hand-to-mouth existence on PPE, not knowing what, if any, life-saving equipment will be available from one shift to the next. 

Thousands of competing care providers have joined the scramble for gloves, gowns, masks and eye protection. The result? Death, on an untold scale. 

The failure to plan is not the failure of the Tory government alone. It is endemic within the capitalist system. 

The production and distribution of PPE on a global scale is driven not by human need, but by the relentless drive by manufacturers for profit.  

The Tory government has not intervened to requisition private firms and force the production of PPE, because it would create a conflict with big business. 

However, it would be a far more effective way to deliver a regular, reliable stream of high-quality products which could prevent thousands of deaths. 

There can be no confidence in any government that is prepared to sacrifice the lives of working people in order to protect the interests of big business.  

Thousands of workers are dying alone. Sometimes gasping for breath, sometimes with a nurse wrapped in plastic to hold their hand. 

Year after year, on Workers’ Memorial Day, trade unionists sombrely repeat the old adage, “Remember the dead, fight for the living.” 

Our movement cannot wait for the pandemic to pass before we do. Socialist solutions to the coronavirus-induced capitalist chaos are urgently needed. We have a world to win!  

Jacqui Berry is an ICU nurse and Unison NEC member. She writes this column in a personal capacity.

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