Tomorrow, April 28 is International Worker’s Memorial Day – a day when usually millions of trade union members join together in solidarity, mourning friends and colleagues who have lost their lives at work.
But tomorrow will be different. In a year when we have seen so many brave colleagues fall, many in caring for and saving the lives of others from the coronavirus – there will be no public outdoor gatherings, no wreath layings, no spoken words of solace – except those expressed through social media.
From Edinburgh to the Eden Project, from Aberystwyth to Aldeburgh there will be no outdoor memorials – the squares where annually workers come to honour and commemorate their lost friends will be empty and silent.
But ‘in silence there is eloquence’ as the poet Rumi wrote – or you might prefer Isaiah’s ‘in silence and trust lies your strength’. Because tomorrow at 11 am, the nation will fall silent for one minute, marking all those selfless key workers who’ve lost their lives to the coronavirus, honouring them all – including those who work in care, in the NHS, in passenger transport.
First Secretary Dominic Raab has reported that 78 NHS staff and 16 care workers have died from the virus – although many believe that delays in reporting probably means the true figure is over 100 workers to have lost their lives – as the numbers will inevitably continue to rise.
And we cannot forget the bravery of our bus workers. At least 20 bus drivers in London have died from the pandemic, along with two in Bristol and one in Inverness – again true heroes who died because they were not safe at work.
The tribute – organised by the TUC – like everything else we are all facing now, is unprecedented. Workers will stand by themselves in silence – woven together by the sorrowful threads of loss – but they will be joined in honouring our heroes by leaders, politicians – even the prime minister Boris Johnson has said he will be observing the silence.
“The union movement will come together this week to honour our brave workers who have died during this awful outbreak,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.
“They are all heroes. They lost their lives while protecting us and keeping essential services running.”
And Labour leader Keir Starmer added, “Every day during this crisis we see our key workers going out on the front line, risking their lives on behalf of us all.
“Tragically, too many of them have lost their lives. We owe them a huge debt. We can pay tribute to those who have lost their lives by observing a minute’s silence at 11 am.”
‘A right not a privilege’
Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey in a video message to Unite members said, “Safety at work is a right not a privilege and now more than ever the safety of our people is our primary concern.
“Dozens of our workers have died in recent weeks, victims to an invisible killer a cruel disease, that’s claimed the lives of working people from around the globe. Many of these workers were taking care of us and supporting us, they were keeping people safe and business moving.
“No worker should feel that their life is being put at risk at work. And Unite is very clear – if our members feel that their safety has been comprised then whatever steps they take we will support and protect them. And any employer trying to put pressure on any worker in unsafe conditions will be called to account for their actions.”
On International Workers’ Memorial Day the message is clear – safety is paramount. “An injury to one is an injury to all,” says McCluskey.
So join us in the minute’s silence tomorrow, at 11 am to remember coronavirus victims – many of whom were Unite members, who lost their lives serving on the front line.
And as trade union members can’t make their usual tribute and remembrances to lost colleagues, you might want to join in an online collective moment of remembrance and solidarity at 2 pm.
Speakers include TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and Unite executive council member and London bus driver, James Mitchell. Register here
Last words go to Len McCluskey. “Those we have lost were loved by their friends and families. And on April 28 it is only right that we honour and remember them. Stay safe, remain strong and stay united.”
By Amanda Campbell @amanda_unite