Remembering the dead, and fighting for the living - now and every day

27 Apr 2020

GMB General Secretary Tim Roache writes on how it's more important than ever that we mark this International Workers' Memorial Day - remembering the dead and fighting for the living.

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International Workers’ Memorial Day always brings mixed emotions. Tremendous sadness at the premature loss of our members and all workers around the world, and the devastation it causes for their families, friends and colleagues; tremendous pride in the spirit of our members in fighting to make things safer and the collective power when we come together to commemorate the day.

This year is no different and, in many ways, is so much worse because we’ve lost so many good people to this Covid pandemic and we can’t come together on Tuesday.

I’m so proud of our members and activists and our organisers who are supporting them, for facing this challenge whilst demanding and getting the protections they deserve. Our members are key workers in every sector and so many others are now either furloughed or doing the right things by working at home.​

But that won’t stop us marking the day. It is only right that there is anger about the unnecessary and preventable deaths, the failure of government to act earlier and get it right and ​the toll it has taken on all key workers who are doing their very best to get us all through this.​

So GMB are doing what we do best. We’re adapting to the circumstances, and we’re organising in new and different ways.

We won’t just remember the dead – our dead – we also have to rededicate ourselves to fighting for the living.

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary

Where our key workers are in their workplaces, we want them to ensure that employers make their operations fall silent at 11am. To take one minute to show respect, to thank all workers who have lost their lives for their sacrifice, and to remember those we have lost. Every one of us has been touched by the Covid toll in some way – we all know of someone in our lives who has died before their time, and it is right that the world should fall silent in memory and tribute.

For those of us working from home, we’ll expect all conference calls and video meetings to pause at 11am. We know GMB members are using Facebook in increasing numbers, so we are hosting a countdown event on Tuesday morning on Facebook Live, to bring us together virtually when we can’t be together in person.

We are also contacting the families of those members who have lost their lives, asking permission to put a tribute page on the GMB website. We’ve lost the chance to pay our respects at Congress, and Workers’ Memorial Day feels like the right time to make our tribute public.

Tribute page

I only hope we won’t have to add to the list. One death is too many, and the loss of our friends and comrades across the union is already almost too much to bear.

We won’t just remember the dead – our dead – we also have to rededicate ourselves to fighting for the living.

That doesn’t just mean campaigning for better health and safety standards at work. Everything must change. Covid has shone a mirror up to our society, and exposed the weaknesses and the fault lines.

we are working to make sure those who need PPE are getting the protection they need by connecting them with those who have supply.

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary

There can be no return to business as usual.

The government will have to answer for their response to Covid. There must be transparency and urgently. The lessons need to be learned and understood.

And we are not waiting for the government to act. We’ve changed Public Health guidance on Social Care; forced the government to act to safeguard jobs with their furlough scheme; and highlighted the scandal of non-enforcement of social distancing at work.

Now we tackle PPE supply problems, in our new partnership with PPE Exchange, we are working to make sure those who need PPE are getting the protection they need by connecting them with those who have supply. We have led from the front since it became clear that this coronavirus was going to hit the UK hard. We won’t stop just because the peak of infections has been reached.

We’re taking on employers. Our PPE Toolkit, and Risk Assessment Register are being rolled out to ensure we can identify where and how employers are failing to protect our members – and we can get them to act. Our organisers are ensuring we have risk assessments, management procedures and PPE details. We will use these to identify gaps, in combination with the responses we get from you to our questionnaire.

Tim Roache
GMB General Secretary

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