‘Clap for Heroes’ represents the failure of the Tory government

Peter Stoddart, YCL Student Officer

Last night, after nearly six months off, the so-called ‘Clap for Carers’ returned. A mainstay of the Thursday nights during the original lockdown back in Spring 2020, its return is as tragic as it is insulting.

The original ‘Clap for Carers’ lasted 10 weeks and millions of people took part across the country.

This time around, the clap is not just for carers but for all key workers. Highlighting a further shift away from support for a sector under fire, towards a more vague and abstract measure of support for all workers currently being forced to work through the pandemic.

So why the opposition? Wasn’t it nice to see communities brought together in support of overworked and underpaid care staff?

Lovely as it may have been in the early stages of lockdown. The clap for key workers represents an abject failure on behalf of the government to properly support working people. Nurses today for example earn around 15% less than they did 10 years ago. They don’t need more public support. They need a pay-rise. It’s been said countless times, but claps won’t pay the bills. 

The UK government knows this but still refuses to engage in pay negotiations with trade unions. As a result, more than a third of nurses in England are considering leaving the profession. In Scotland, the image is not much better. The Scottish Government have offered a £500 bonus for all health and social care staff in place of the demands for a 12.5% pay rise. They have offered a 9% rise over the next 3 years but this fall’s well short considering the decade of cuts to wages in real terms.

The expansion of ‘the clap’ to include all key workers may seem like a positive gesture. Recognising the efforts of workers not involved in the NHS but still essential to maintain the economy. Just as nurses and care staff cannot pay the bills with claps, neither can shop workers, transport staff or delivery agents.

The founder of the initial Clap for Carers argued it should stop back in May last year as the public had “shown their appreciation” and it was now up to ministers to “reward” key workers. With the clap returning in 2021 it’s clear to see this hasn’t happened. Public sector workers remain underpaid and overworked. A further legacy of this abhorrent government responsible for the deaths of over 70,000 people.

The expansion of The Clap to include all key workers flies in the face of reality. This week British Gas workers have been out on strike in protest at the companies policy of ‘Fire and Rehire’. How do claps help striking workers at the once government controlled firm? Refuse collectors in the GMB have been on strike more than once at different councils throughout the country. Do claps help them to improve their working conditions and grant them access to PPE? Similarly with the countless thousands of workers forced to come into work when their job should not be considered essential. Does the clap help them to engage with their employer on a fair and equal footing? The answer to all these questions is no.

The list of workers failed by this government is endless: teachers, shopworkers, cleaners, postal workers, hospitality staff, students. All and more have been failed by this government, and a weekly clap won’t rectify the situation.

The so called ‘Clap for Heroes’ fails all of these workers. It’s return represents a failure on behalf of the government to engage with trade unions. In addition, it allows corporations to piggy back onto the scheme, feigning support for working people whilst simultaneously cutting terms and conditions and cutting staff.

So, rather than engaging with the ‘Clap for Key Heroes’. Instead offer support for workers directly and through their trade unions. Support striking workers and boycott employers using ‘Fire and Rehire’. 

More importantly, get involved in your own union. Talk to other workers about the importance of joining a union. Make sure your mates are in the union. Crucially, be active in your union. Don’t allow right wing bureaucrats to control your union through partnership agreements. With a strong and militant union movement, we won’t need a clap for carers or key workers. Their reward for working through a pandemic will be fair pay, better terms & conditions and safe working practices.

Peter Stoddart

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