Tony Greenstein | 29 April 2020 | Post Views:

Demonstration Outside Brighton Hospital in Protest at the Lack of Personal Protective Equipment and Intimidation of Hospital Workers by the Management

The GMB says members working at  the Sussex County Hospital were told to get back to work after expressing concerns about a lack of PPE

Has there ever been such a useless Labour leader?

Yesterday was Workers’ Memorial Day although you would be forgiven for not realising it since the trade union movement did little to publicise it.

Only the BBC could have a headline ‘Coronavirus: Boris Johnson’s return to work ‘a boost for the country’. This pathetic sub-Churchillian rhetoric from the BBC is what we have come to expect. The idea that this bunterish character will boos anyone is an absurdity. 

It is only slightly mitigated by Monday’s Panorama on the Government’s failing to order or stock PPE and ventillators. As the death toll is revised upwards to nearly 25,000 what is surprising is the complete uselessness of the new ‘leader’ of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer. He has literally said nothing and it is the Tory press who have held the government to account.

Ian Duncan-Smith, when he was the short-lived leader of the Tory Party was known as the ‘Quiet Man’. Starmer’s name should be the Invisible Man. We have a government whose policies have literally killed thousands of people yet the Labour Right demonstrate their utter uselessness. They have nothing to say.

A few of the health workers who have paid for the Government’s cuts to the NHS with their life

The Opposition to the Tory Government is no longer on the Labour front bench it resides in the Sunday Times and even Panorama. The government has responded to criticism by banning the Sunday Times from asking questions at its briefings and asking the Observer to rewrite an unfavourable headline!

The demonstration we held is particularly relevant at this time given the huge number of workers who have died from Coronavirus whilst working to help others.  Over a week ago the Guardian reported that 100 NHS workers had died. Sky News now reports that thanks to the murderous incompetence and criminal negligence of this government, Dozens more deaths are reported to have taken place, but have not yet been confirmed.’

This is in addition to over 20 Transport for London workers reported to have died two weeks ago. There are no doubt hundreds of care workers who have also paid the price of Boris Johnson’s ‘herd immunity’ (or culling of the elderly) strategy.

“Get back to work … you can acquire Covid anywhere”.  – hospital staff shocked by manager’s coronavirus response 

[Manager to staff at Brighton’s Royal Sussex County Hospital]

This was why a group of us in Brighton and Hove Trades Union Council decided to hold a demonstration, whilst socially distancing, outside Brighton’s Royal Sussex County Hospital.

Despite there only being 6 of us the reception from both workers and medical staff at the hospital, as well as bus drivers and others passing by was extremely warm. The lies and deceptions of this government are clear for all to see.When challenged by workers at the hospital’s Acute Admissions Unit and the infection control team, the response of the management included:

“You can acquire Covid anywhere besides our workplace, like the supermarket for instance, and let’s face it, most of us will get it anyway, so get on with it or ask your manager to be re-deployed.”

© Rachael House.

GMB regional organiser Gary Palmer said:

“I really struggle with understanding this blatant disregard of the safety of those staff at the coal face of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our members are told to re-use disposable visors and even hand over them to the next shift. Staff are told that even single use surgical masks must be used or worn for the whole day unless they get wet.

“The Trust has a duty as an employer to keep all their staff safe and protected, and not be the sole arbiter of who gets to go home from work safely and who does not.  In this, they are clearly failing.

“GMB members within the assessment unit and other clinical areas are telling us that lots of the staff are in self-isolation, having tested positive for Covid-19.  Some have even been admitted to hospital and unfortunately a number of frontline NHS staff have even ended up in intensive care, being intubated.

“I’m sure the Trust would never risk a patient’s life by administering out of date medicines, yet they are happy to put frontline staff at risk by fobbing them off with five-year-old, out-of-date, substandard equipment that had been forgotten about in a cupboard somewhere!

“Staff are very deliberately being made to feel guilty for raising concerns over safety and asking for better PPE, by a management team who are telling them that it will be their fault if the Trust runs out of higher-spec PPE in areas that need it the most, like ITU. 

“BSUH must stop risking the most valuable resource we have in the fight against Covid-19.”

This attitude to workers’ safety is as unacceptable as it is predictable. The government has miserably failed in its duty to ensure that there were adequate stocks of PPE and ventilaors in reserve in case of a pandemic. It was not as if they didn’t know. In 2016 there was a mock exercise Cygnus in case there was a pandemic. The shortages were noted then and recommendations made. What happened? The Report was buried. Austerity trumped safety concerns with the results all around us.

Even now we are exporting millions of items of PPE at the very same time that there is a massive shortage in hospitals, care homes. Yet the reaction of the official labour movement has been worse than pathetic.

Post-Corbyn the Labour leadership is frightened to be seen to be anti-Tory even though the public mood is changing fast. Labour’s ‘moderates’ have proved themselves to be no better than the Tories.

The TUC statement is equally pathetic. Instead of calling for a work stoppage on Workers Memorial Day it tells members that ‘The initiative is supported by the government, and reps may wish to request employers mark it, by asking the workforce to cease work for one minute at 11am.’ Request? This should be a demand not a request. 

The forelock tugging, cap doffing knights of the TUC have long ago given up ideas such as class struggle. It is time they and Labour’s invisible leader were reminded that trade unions didn’t develop by asking the bosses permission.

Tony Greenstein

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Tony Greenstein

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