|Volume 51 Number 15, May 1, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
April 28 marked the annual International Workers' Memorial Day for workers killed, disabled, injured, or made ill through their conditions of work. Workers' Memorial Day is a day when workers across the world, their trade unions and other fighting organisations, participate in ceremonies and meetings and observe a moment of silence to mourn the dead and fight for the rights, safety and well-being of the living. The day also expresses the demand for compensation and treatment for the consequences of poor working conditions.
Workers' Memorial Day came this year, just as it did a year ago, at a very difficult time for the working class and people. Over the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has added to the deaths of front-line workers in hospitals, communities, care homes, transport, as well as all those workers who ensured that society did not come to a complete standstill.
We express our deepest sympathies to the families of those essential workers who have lost their lives while performing their duties without adequate protection. Those working in elementary occupations, workers employed as process, plant and machine operatives, and health, care and leisure service workers have all suffered significantly higher rates of illness and death than the average population.
Notwithstanding certain measures such as the furlough scheme, the approach of the government has been characterised in essence as making everything an individual matter and fending for oneself. In that regard, a particular concern has been widespread mental health problems resulting from living and working through the pandemic. The government has let private interests and itself off the hook over the responsibility to ensure safety. Ventilation, social distancing and supply of protective equipment have not been up to the required standard. This, and the lack of a properly functioning mass testing and tracing programme, has exposed the disregard for workers, particularly those in health and social care and the patients and others they worked to protect.
Despite the heroic efforts of workers to turn the situation around in the favour of the people, what has been further revealed is the outdated and unacceptable arrangements of society with no proper command over human resources, public provision and manufacturing infrastructure to supply the vital services and equipment that should always be on hand to protect society.
Measures have instead been imposed aimed at profit-making, where workers' interests and those of small business are dealt with only insofar as they affect the interests of the ruling elite and their capital-centred direction for the economy. Old arrangements continue to undermine the very lives and safety of everyone working in and living in our communities.
How can injuries, sickness and death be prevented? They can only be prevented when workers have control over their conditions, their lives and livelihoods. Accidents and disease can be prevented by making sure the workers are put in charge of the conditions and preventative safety measures they require at work. Furthermore, sick pay and industrial injury compensation systems must properly and adequately compensate workers and their families.
Workers have the right to participate in decisions that affect their health and safety. They have the right to refuse work that could endanger their health and safety or that of others. Any attempt to intimidate or criminalise workers for exercising this right should be dealt with severely as should the wilful neglect of workers' health and safety by governments and employers.
So once again, on Workers Memorial Day on April 28, we observe a moment of silence to mourn the dead and fight for the rights of all the living, their safety and well-being, and discuss the practical steps required to resolve the crisis in favour of the working people.
Silence is a mark of respect. International Workers' Memorial Day is also an occasion marked by workers in speaking in their own name. The working class and people cannot hand over their trust to those who claim to speak, represent, or govern in their name. The working class and people must take up the fight for new arrangements that guarantee their interests and their right to decide on a safe human-centred system of health care. Fight for a future where the working class and people decide how the economy is organised, how things are done, and what they need to serve the interests of everyone in society! Our safety and security lies in our fight for the rights of all.
Defend workers' rights! Defend the rights of all! One death is one too many!