After the year we’ve had since we last gathered to commemorate International Workers Memorial Day, the need to remember workers who have been killed or made unwell by their work is more pressing than ever. I send my condolences and solidarity to all those who have lost a friend or family member during the pandemic – and my thanks and admiration to all those key workers who have helped keep our society moving during these unprecedented times, at huge risk to themselves.
Today we remember the dead and the injured, but International Workers Memorial Day is also a reminder of our duty to fight for the living. And there is so much to fight for. Covid-19 has graphically illustrated that the year-on-year cuts to the Health and Safety Executive have made our workplaces less safe. Poverty wages, poor conditions and pitiful sick pay have driven workers into workplaces, increasing Covid transmission rates. And the crisis of vacancies in the NHS – caused by stagnating pay, meagre prospects for career development, and poor working conditions – brought our health service to the brink.
This last year has shown us – definitively – that securing our rights at work is fundamental to securing the health of our society. So, on this day, as we remember the dead and injured, we should renew our commitment to defending and extending those rights – to building our unions, organising in our workplaces, and demanding decent pay and conditions for all. The values of solidarity and mutual aid animating that struggle were light in the dark of the last 12 months – and they should be our guiding light in the months ahead as we steer a path out of this crisis.