As Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, I want to mark May Day this year by paying a particular tribute to the heroes in the NHS and all the other key workers who have so courageously put themselves in the front line of the fight against Covid-19.
May Day is a time when we traditionally recognise and pay tribute to the role of workers in our society.
That is more important this year than it have ever been.
As together we face the biggest health crisis of any of our lives, it is the ordinary workers who have stepped up and put themselves in the face of danger in order to protect us all.
The heroes in the NHS. The transport workers, carers, shop staff, community volunteers and so many others have been doing incredible work to keep society functioning and keep our most vulnerable safe.
We may have applauded them every Thursday night but they deserve so much more.
The failings around Personal Protective Equipment would never have happened in a society where frontline workers are properly valued.
The opposition to a modest pay increase for nurses would never have happened in a society where health and social care staff are rightfully recognised for the crucial role they provide.
Those are just two examples of the legacy we are all left with following a decade of austerity cuts and the constant undermining and underfunding of the NHS by successive Tory governments.
It is also striking that those workers who have been at the forefront of the Covid-19 fightback are among the lowest paid in our society.
It is they who have borne the brunt of a Tory ideology that has always sought to demonise and discriminate against the working class.
Those workers have been the least rewarded yet here they are, taking the greatest risk in all our names.
They are heroes all.
We owe it to them to ensure that we keep battling against this enemy in our midst. The lockdown, the social distancing, staying at home, being cut off from loved ones and all of the other disruptions to our lives have been difficult for us all. But we have come this far, we have achieved so much, saved so many lives. We must keep going. We must remain strong and keep following the guidance. This is a life and death struggle and there can never be any room for complacency.
But when we are through this crisis – and we will get through it together – there must be a reckoning.
We must ensure that no more are ordinary workers neglected, underpaid, under-protected or undervalued.
We must ensure that all key workers are properly recognised and rewarded for the crucial services they provide. Not just in times of crisis. But all day, every day.
We must fight back against the austerity cuts and privatisation agenda that has been the hallmark of the Tory approach to the NHS – whatever about the platitudes that they now throw at our gallant healthcare workers.
Those words ring hollow when compared with the Tories actual treatment of the NHS, particularly the lower-paid and immigrant workers who are the backbone of that service.
No-one should be under any illusion that the Tories will revert to type when this crisis has passed.
An economic crash is coming and, if the Tories get their way, it is the ordinary workers who will pay the price.
The very same workers who bore the greatest hardship, sacrifice and risk during the Covid-19 battle will be expected to foot the bill for the aftermath.
That cannot be allowed to happen. We cannot allow the Tory government in London to simply pick up where if left off – punishing the poor and rewarding the rich.
The onus is on all of us who believe in a better way to now demand it.
If we are to salvage anything from the Covid-19 catastrophe, then it must be to ensure that a better society emerges on the other side of it.
One where the rights and entitlements of workers are protected and where all staff are properly rewarded for the vital services they provide.
Applause on a Thursday night is one thing.
But a new, fairer society is the best tribute we can pay to the workers who have proven time and again over these traumatic weeks that they are the bedrock of our community.
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