Remember the dead, fight for the living

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Keir Starmer has marked International Workers’ Memorial Day with a video message, which you can read and watch here. This day takes place around the world on April 28th every year, as one of both remembrance and action for those killed or injured while working. It offers the opportunity to highlight how measures can be put in place to avoid some of this harm. ‘Remember the dead, fight for the living’ is the slogan. All of this is more relevant than ever during the coronavirus pandemic that has seen hundreds of thousands die globally, including tens of thousands in the UK, where workers have been endangered by a lack of personal protective equipment.

As noted by the Labour leader, we will reflect on these deaths in a minute’s silence at 11am this morning. It is also worth reflecting on the difference that the labour movement has made in this crisis. Unite the Union assistant general secretaries Diana Holland and Gail Cartmail have explained the representations made by their union and the challenges they have faced in a detailed piece for LabourList. From PPE provision and physical distancing in the workplace, which are now commonly discussed issues, to more specific demands such as access to toilet and welfare facilities and closing front doors on London buses, huge risk assessments and changes have become essential.

Steve Rotheram, Labour’s metro-mayor of the Liverpool City Region, puts it well in his piece for LabourList today: “It should not take the death of key workers to make us demand better, but the sacrifices made during this crisis should not be in vain.” There are the immediate issues, many of which were outlined by Unite. These are causing avoidable suffering right now. The voices of those affected must be further amplified by Labour.

There are past mistakes. An investigation by BBC Panorama confirmed last night that there were no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the UK’s pandemic stockpile when Covid-19 arrived. That is despite experts advising the government to buy this kit. And there are also, crucially, the long-term attitudes and systems that underlie all of these problems, which must be brought to the fore. If they are ignored, this crisis – like that of 2008 – will not lead to any meaningful change, and instead only prove the resilience of those for whom this current settlement works.

The domestic abuse bill is being debated by MPs this afternoon. It is timely because services have reported significant increases in demand amid the coronavirus lockdown. Labour is proposing changes to the legislation that would force 10% of the recently announced funding for charities to be ring-fenced for domestic abuse charities. The government has only announced a public awareness campaign and £2m extra for helplines so far, and more is needed.

Labour’s amendments to this bill are a good start. But women and children also need accommodation to flee abusive homes, and refuges are full. This was highlighted on LabourList last week. Refuges were already having to turn away victims before this crisis. And women were already being disproportionately affected according to their personal wealth or immigration status. There should be no talk of ‘going back to normal’ – because normal wasn’t working for so many.

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