Photo: Pikist Photo: Pikist

On International Workers’ Memorial Day, we will remember the avoidable deaths of thousands caused by government incompetence, writes Chris Nineham

In Sunday’s government briefing Environment Secretary George Eustice unwisely tried to start with what he regarded as some of the government’s positive achievements. The list was short and inconsequential. 

It mainly comprised promises and deeply unimpressive statistics like the fact that supermarkets have been ‘encouraged by the government’ to increase their delivery slots from 2.1 million per week in normal circumstances to 2.6 million today. This is an increase of deliveries of less than 25% in a month of the biggest social crisis since World War Two.   

Eustace’s efforts only served to underline the continuing and almost unfathomable inability of the government to get anything approaching a grip on events. Daily testing rates still run way below the government’s targets. They still haven’t even found a way to present the basic facts about the situation, unable (or probably unwilling) to put together deaths inside and outside hospitals to give an idea of the total number of fatalities at any one time. 

Eustace tried to avoid discussing it but incredibly the government still seems paralysed in the face of lack of protection for frontline health and social care workers. Most of us know by now that this has been a central factor driving the sky-high British death rate. 

The lack of testing for social care workers is equally shocking. A BBC survey of 210 care homes found on Sunday that three quarters of them have not had a single member of staff tested. The result is a huge death toll of residents in homes that the National Care Forum estimated at 7,300 a few days ago.  

Faced with this catalogue of disasters it is no surprise that trust in the government’s handling of the situation is plummetting. According to a poll in Sunday’s Observer, just 15% approve of the government’s handling of testing as against 57% who disapprove. 63% believe the government has been too slow in its response.

It is high time that this growing dissatisfaction finds more of an organised outlet. Week after week the Thursday claps for NHS and key workers have confirmed the surge in support and solidarity for workers at the frontline and no doubt anger and frustration with the government. This Tuesday we all have another opportunity to mark the damage done by government incompetence. 

International Workers’ Memorial Day on Tuesday 28 April is set to take on a special significance here and around the world. Backed by the TUC, promoted by the People’s Assembly and other groups and recognised by the government, people inside workplaces or out are being asked to respect a one or two minute silence to remember all those who have died as a consequence of the pandemic. 

Workplace reps are being encouraged to negotiate a workplace-wide action with managements. Such agreements have already been made in a number of hospitals, including Guy’s and St Thomas’s in South London. 

We should be pushing for the widest possible take-up of this call – and making sure that everywhere it happens we make clear that thousands of these deaths have been avoidable. 

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.