“The demands of our movement are no longer just about fairness & equality – they are about life and death.”Helen O’Connor
By Helen O’Connor – People’s Assembly Against Austerity. This is based on her speech at ‘Fighting Back in 2021’ – you can watch the event in full here.
I am speaking here as health representative for the People’s Assembly against Austerity and I am a full Time official for the GMB organising in the NHS.
First of all, I want to thank you all for the support and solidarity you have shown towards the GMB British gas workers who are under attack from British Gas who want to fire and rehire under significantly reduced terms and conditions.
The GMB British Gas dispute sums up why we must resist the Tories because across our movement workers are under relentless attack from government and their corporate allies.
If there is one basic factor behind all these attacks on workers, it is that the big corporations want to maximise their profits at the expense of our class – the working class – and they want to take away all the gains made over generations of trade union and community struggle.
If we are going to be honest with ourselves big business and the Tories have been very successful at doing this and if you want one simple reason it is because they work together to deliver for their own class what they are robbing from ours.
And we need to understand that the government acts not in the interests of the overwhelming majority in the country but like as a management committee to deliver for their big business backers.
And that is why in Britain, we have the most vicious anti trade union laws in the industrialised world.
And the cover of this pandemic is being utilised to bring in even more repressive laws, which constitute an assault on civil liberties whilst company bosses are getting away with insisting that millions go into workplaces that could be closed.
And in this pandemic, we are in favour of a zero covid strategy and effective lockdowns to deal with the virus.
And It is important to recognise that protest is being restricted while venues that could be closed remain open – right now the People’s Assembly are currently being blocked from organising even a virtual protest in which we wanted to project images onto the houses of parliament!
We can only conclude that the rigid restrictions on the right to protest are not about virus control but about silencing dissent….
If there was ever a time for the government to prioritise the health and welfare of the population over its narrow self-interest and profiteering, you would have thought it would be during a pandemic.
[Yet} we have now seen over a 100k excess deaths in this country- something which is replicated in western countries whose governments are entirely servile to the interests of the transnational companies.
And this is no coincidence.
And there are two main reasons for this.
The first is on the question of strategy itself.
Pandemics do not arrive from outer space.
Governments including those in the west knew a pandemic was likely at some stage and the brutal reality is these governments were not prepared for it.
And that is unforgivable.
Agencies for dealing with pandemics were disbanded- and despite all denials to the contrary- the Tory Government has pursued a herd immunity strategy- Based on stop-start lockdowns and restrictions -which has been a total public health disaster.
[It has] also [been] an economic disaster- which is plunging millions into the type of poverty that will accelerate the spread of covid19.
The second thing this is clear during this pandemic is that this government has used this pandemic to pursue Its cuts and privatisation policy – We have seen this in the test, track and trace disaster and. unbelievably in this period, hospital beds are being reduced.
And vaccine contracts are being handed out to tory party doners.
This is organised, systematic theft while tens of thousands are dying.
So how do we fight back?
However powerful those who own and control everything seems to be, the reality is there is a growing anger amongst the people.
There will be no return to so called normality.
If a premier league football player like Marcus Rashford can put so much pressure on this government to force them into u turn after u turn -What do we think would be the outcome If the labour and trade union movement organised?
Not just in our workplaces but in our communities. [if] we all came together in unity and solidarity to demand an end to the theft, to demand an end to the privatisations and to demand an end to the cuts.
We have seen struggles break out across the country.
Like the one I referred to earlier- the GMB British Gas dispute, [plus] the battles from the education unions, the Rolls Royce workers and many more.
The government will want us to pay the cost of the pandemic and in the long term that will be as big a disaster for our people as the pandemic itself.
So, unity must be the key along with legitimate demands, like:
- An end to all privatisations
- Bringing all outsourced workers and services back into the public sector
- A zero covid strategy designed to end the pandemic not just to manage it in the interests of swelling private profit.
- Full financial support for all workers including the payment of full wages for sickness periods.
- A fair and equitable benefits system
- A fully funded NHS with fairly paid, properly trained staff.
These should be our basic demands.
And we have to move away from the defeatism that we sometimes hear that such demands are either unrealistic or unattainable – because if we have learnt one thing from this pandemic it is this, unless we are prepared to build public services that support people, and that can deliver for them, this pandemic will not be a nightmare what we will look back on in a few years’ time, it will be the beginning of an ongoing nightmare.
The demands of our movement are no longer just about fairness and equality – they are about life and death.