We are posting two responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. The first is from Trade unionists, health workers, independence supporters and community activists in Scotland. The second is from Socialist Democracy in Ireland.
1. Trade unionists, health workers, independence supporters and community activists demand radical action from the Scottish government to fight the pandemic
(To add your name and group or position (if any), email – firstname.lastname@example.org)
This statement was first published on 19th March. This version contains additions and revisions in the light of recent developments. There is a list of signatories at the end of this statement – as more are added the list will be updated at https://tinyurl.com/t6s5csz
The Covid-19 outbreak poses a real and significant threat to the people of Scotland, a country with a large elderly population, massive health inequalities and rural communities who will have difficulties accessing the health service when they need it most.
The Tory Governments “herd immunity” strategy is a catastrophe. The Westminster government itself predicted over a quarter of a million UK dead following this approach. Boris Johnson has now declared that “herd immunity” isn’t their strategy anymore because the science had changed! However, according to the editor of the Lancet in a tweet,” it took a study from Imperial to understand the likely burden of COVID-19 on the NHS. But read the first paper we published on COVID-19 on Jan 24. 32% admitted to ITU with 15% mortality. We have wasted 7 weeks. This crisis was entirely preventable.”
The government knew as early as January 24th that their strategy would lead to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. Confirming this horrific assessment, the Sunday Times claims: “At a private engagement at the end of February, Cummings outlined the government’s strategy. Those present say it was “herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.
Throughout this crisis the Tories have put the needs of the economy before saving lives. Until now they have ignored all of the expert opinion, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the experiences of China, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries that have been successful in reducing the rate of infection.
While Johnson has finally moved in the right direction by closing schools and leisure facilities, and launching an economic package of support for affected workers and businesses, it comes more than seven weeks late. These positive changes for workers have come about with pressure from the labour movement.
The Tories disastrous strategy means that we have lost seven weeks which could have been used to order and make ventilators, testing kits and protective gear for medical and care staff. This time should have been used to retrain staff and build health care capacity. The government has allowed the Coronavirus to spread for seven weeks when they could have held it back. The cost in lost lives is as yet unknown. However, in Italy where deaths are now spiralling, they introduced testing and social isolation far earlier than Britain. The later you begin social isolation, the worse the destination. It is likely that deaths in the UK will eventually outstrip Italy unless drastic action is taken.
As well as introducing measures to protect the incomes of some workers, the government bill will give them the power to detain and isolate members of the public, including children for potentially indefinite periods; the prohibition of public gatherings without the standard protections for strikes and industrial action that exist in the Civil Contingencies Act; and the weakening of safeguards on mass surveillance powers. These powers would be on the statute for at least 2 years this is despite Boris Johnson’s claim that he can beat the pandemic in 12 weeks!
However, the kind of drastic action we need must increase the available health and social care workforce; to ease the burden on frontline staff; containing and slowing the virus; and supporting working people.
After years of austerity the NHS and local authorities do not have the capacity and resilience to manage the current crisis unless more immediate decisive measures are taken. The NHS 111 service is already overrun and will be unable to cope with a large upswing in demand. Stories of health professionals lacking even the most basic protective and testing equipment are all over the news. Our front-line health professionals are calling for support. A letter signed by 229 scientists from UK universities on 14th March said the government’s approach would put the NHS under huge stress and “risk many more lives than necessary.”
The UK is the fifth richest country in the world, which means we are in a strong position to implement the bold, structural changes this crisis requires. Individual and community action is essential in tackling this crisis. But we also will require centralised support in order to be effective. Thus, where powers are devolved, the Scottish Government must be prepared to step in and change the direction being taken by the UK government.
The Tories are guilty of criminal negligence. Their attitude to Covid 19 mirrors their approach to Grenfell. We call on the Scottish administration to publicly break from this disastrous approach. We insist that the Scottish government focuses on saving lives and protecting vulnerable people above the needs of the markets and finance. They should reject the authoritarian attack on civil liberties from the Tories.
We therefore call on the Scottish government to:
1. Invoke effective measures to stop the virus spreading as well as introducing a programme of aggressive testing and contact tracing, as called for by the head of the World Health Organisation.
2. Call upon the UK government to release immediate funds to build emergency health care facilities and provisions as have been done in China and Italy. Stop the handover of £2.4M per day to private health for necessary hospital beds. We demand the immediate requisition of private hospital and hotel beds to meet the soaring need (as has happened in Spain) and hire thousands of extra care and health workers.
3. We welcome the decision to close all schools and educational institutions – this is an example of how the Scottish Government can shift the UK agenda when it takes action that puts people before profit; however, resources must be made available to local authorities to ensure that free childcare is provided for those parents who are required to work, that support is available for the most vulnerable children and free school meals provided for all those in need.
4. Put immediate arrangements in place for childcare for all health and social care frontline workers.
5. Work with the Scotland Community Planning Partnerships that coordinate LG, NHS, Fire and Police in each LG area to establish a register of volunteering. This register must include tasks and skills that individuals can volunteer for and tasks that need volunteers.
6. Seek full trade union engagement to ensure that workers’ interests are at the heart of any strategy.
7. Use its power and representation at Westminster to amend the bill attacking civil liberties.
8. Close down all non-essential workplaces.
In addition to the measures announced to support working people, we are calling for:
· Full universal sick pay for everyone, including workers on zero hours contracts.
· Offer the same protection to those recently laid off and self-employed workers
· A ban on tenant evictions and utility ‘cut offs’.
· Rent and mortgage freezes.
· Emergency grants for those in serious poverty; the expansion of meals on wheels to feed the hungry; price controls on essential goods and other measures to help those most vulnerable.
· No unwarranted clampdowns on civil liberties.
· Opposition to any racist scapegoating of Chinese, Asian, Italian or minority communities.
The economy was fundamentally re-organised in the Second World War and we must do the same again now to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
To fund such a programme, we require:
1. Sweeping measures such as a 20% windfall tax on the top 1% of earners
2. An arms conversion program from military spending on arms, towards the manufacture of ventilators and other necessary military equipment to give our emergency services the tools and facilities they need to deal with this crisis.
The health service, not banks, should be bailed out. Protecting billionaires and offshore tax accounts while the rest of us take our chances with limited intensive care beds and oxygen therapy is unconscionable. Tax the corporations and divert resources from arms to health now!
Let’s fight to save every life. This is a group set up with the sole purpose of advocating these demands in relation to the Coronavirus epidemic. An initial list of signatories to this statement includes:
Signatures (as of 12pm on 26th March 2020)
Poppy Gerrard Abbott, PhD sociology candidate & tutor, University of Edinburgh
Jamie Allinson – UCU
Allan Armstrong – EIS (life member), RIC
Shereen Benjamin – UCU
Sara Bennett – Unite, Edinburgh
Willie Black – Unite, Edinburgh
Angus Brown – Unite, Edinburgh
George S Bruce – Branch President HW UCU
Grant Buttars – Branch President, UCU University of Edinburgh
Cait Ni Cadlaig – Unite Community
Councillor Graham Campbell – SNP Socialists, Musicians Union Scotland NI Committee (pc)
Kevin Campbell – ex president SSTA
Pete Cannell – UCU, Edinburgh
Jane Carnall – local activist (@EyeEdinburgh)
Jim Cassidy – Trade Unionists for Independence / Airdrie for Independence. RMT member
Nicholas Cimini – (Ex-President EIS/ULA)
Gary Clark – Branch Secretary CWU Scotland No.2
Ramsay Clark – UNISON Edinburgh
Eileen Cook – EIS/ULA
Sylvia Crick – Unison, Edinburgh
Muireann Crowley – University of Edinburgh
Leslie Cunningham – Unite, Edinburgh
Neil Davidson – UCU, University of Glasgow
John Devine – Glasgow South SSP
Emma Donovan, Edinburgh University
Derek Durkin – Trade Unions for Independence, Edinburgh
Craig Ewing, Unison, Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh
Kevin Ferguson, GMB & IWW
Dr James Foley UCU
Ross Gibson – Strathclyde UCU
Donny Gluckstein – EIS Council and FELA National Executive
Nick Gotts – Scottish Green Party, Edinburgh RIC
Bob Goupillot – UCU, Edinburgh RIC, RCN
Penny Gower – EIS-FELA national executive, EIS Council, Edinburgh College EIS branch secretary
Ishbel Griffiths – EIS
Richard Haley – SACC
Luke Henderson – Unison, Edinburgh
Mick Hogg – RMT – Regional Organiser, Aberdeen
Victor Lera – Extinction Rebellion
Kenny Logan – CWU
Tommy Martin – Unite/ United Colours of Leith
Mike McCaig RMT Org Unit – (In A Personal Capacity)
Chris McCusker – Membership Secretary SNP Trade Unionists, VC SNP Socialists
Helen McFarlane – Unite executive council election candidate for Scotland
Campbell McGregor – Scottish Socialist Party
Dr. Danny McGregor UCU
Tracy Anne Miller – Branch Secretary of UNISON Lothian Health Branch
Raymond Morell – Unite Branch Chair, Edinburgh
Professor Elisa Morgera – University of Strathclyde
Duncan Neill, on behalf of the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network.
Katie Nicoll Baines – University of Edinburgh
Rob Paterson – Midlothian Trades Council
Muslim Womens Association of Edinburgh
Lynn Paterson – Secretary, Edinburgh and Lothians May Day Committee
James Richards – Vice President UCU Branch Committee at Heriot-Watt University
Neil Rothnie – Extinction Rebellion/ScotE3
Francesco Sindico – Co-Director, Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance
Pat Smith – Edinburgh RIC
SNP Trade Union Group
Ann Swinney – Dundee UCU Branch President and UCU Scotland Honorary Secretary
Dr. Mark Taylor – EIS ULA Edinburgh Napier University Branch Co-convener
UCU Branch Committee at Heriot-Watt University
Ungagged editorial team
Colin Vetters – EIS, Glasgow
Lena Wånggren – UCU Scotland Vice President and UCU Edinburgh Vice President
Cathy Watkins – PCS, Edinburgh
2. Protest, class conflict and Covid 19
The hypocritical mantra that ‘we are all in this together’ is slowly being replaced by the equally false concern for the working class and the small businesses not considered ‘essential’ who need ‘help’ to return to work. Carefully rehearsed questions by BBC/ITV reporters concerning ‘fears about the economy’ prompts the British prime minister to patronisingly defend a further period of lockdown to protect the “British people”! Johnson’s cant about protecting lives, while Britain’s death toll outstrips all other European countries, is typically hypocritical. He unconvincingly plays the straight guy to the devil’s advocates of the arrayed ranks of the tame media. All part of an orchestrated push to get working class people to “take in on the chin” in the interests of profits. The whole charade is designed to give the impression that he is reluctantly bowing to social pressure for a phased return to “normality” no matter what the conditions.
Their strategy is to some extent working and the mood music has changed. The constant flow of propaganda and massaging of the numbers designed to distract from the release of peak fatality figures in Britain, has subtly masked the shock of at least 1000 people a day dying and has slipped seamlessly into a phase where the economic impact has been carefully nudged to the fore. The need for a gradual return to work, irrespective of the risks, is now increasingly being mooted, despite the fact that the infection rate is staying stubbornly high and no vaccine is anywhere near production. Aiding the British Tories is the desperation of many workers and a layer of the middle class and small businesses who have no income and are desperate to begin earning. This is not just a British phenomenon. Across Europe the background mutterings of phased re-openings of primary schools is designed to allow workers to return to production.
There is no argument that essential production must continue. People must receive health care, eat and travel to work but the disagreement is over how it can be conducted safely, in a way which protects the workers. It is this which impacts heavily on capitalist profitability. This pandemic has focussed attention on where the fundamental fault line lies in capitalist society, where it always has lain, at the coal face of production. Marxists have argued that the point at which profit is extracted from labour is the essential point at which workers must oppose capitalist exploitation. For many years this has been obscured by a reformist protest culture which shied away from this essential struggle at the heart of class conflict and instead politely asked the government to behave better, seeking reforms, that in the absence of a systematic withdrawal of labour which stopped production and profits, never came. Protests have their uses, but they do not replace systematic class struggle, something that the Irish trade union bureaucracy, tied hand and foot to Irish capital, in particular is keen to avoid. Instead, for decades they have refocussed working class activity on their many weekend protest marches and away from strikes and workplace based struggles.
This long term strategy has suddenly and spontaneously been put under the spotlight. The initial outbreak of the virus prompted a spontaneous working class response in many workplaces that gained immediate concessions at the expense of capital. Now with the push on to redefine “essential” workers and return them to an environment that holds the threat of serious infection the adoption of appropriate social distancing models is promised but this comes as a cost to capital and with the systemic inability to provide appropriate PPE for medical staff the prospects for returning workers being treated with anything like the appropriate amount of caution is seriously doubtful to say the least.
Workers, those at work and those returning, have already called for split shifts, the slowing of production and the cutting of working hours without loss to the workers. Sanitary measures are demanded which when adopted undermine profitability, Jeff Bezos of Amazon has complained ferociously about how despite a huge turnover boost during the lockdown Amazon will make a loss this year of approximately $5bn due to similar measures to these being demanded.
With public demonstrations prohibited the class confrontation is increasingly to be conducted at the heart of capitalist production, the interface between labour and capital. Workers pickets, once designed to stop production by blocking companies ability to continue operating, were first deprived by anti union laws of their practical effectiveness by limiting numbers and disallowing gate blocking, sympathy actions and flying pickets. Now as pickets in Dublin are being sent home under social distancing laws they have been disallowed completely.
The bureaucracy’s favourite tactic of a ‘walk in the park’ has been, at least momentarily, dispensed with and has been superceded by Zoom protests or front garden examples of symbolic solidarity. While having its uses as an organisational tool or for shows of solidarity a zoom meeting does nothing to interrupt unsafe methods of capitalist production or to have the slightest impact on companies plans for a problem free liquidation process. The advent of Covid 19 makes it more apparent than ever that any practical struggle can, unavoidably, only be conducted in the workplace, either through go-slows, enforced social distancing which will interfere with production, strikes and particularly occupations of closed enterprises.
If companies claim they are closing because of falling profits there generally is no argument from ICTU, just a request for a redundancy package. Now as the cost of safety measures push companies towards large scale redundancies or liquidation the question of ownership of the means of production comes to the fore. Why should workers not produce for need instead of profit? Why should public transport not be environmentally safe and free? Why should working hours not be cut with no loss in income? The class struggle is now not just being conducted simply for a 1% pay rise, or against redundancies, or speed up, or privatisation but all of these and more, most fundamentally against a threat to health that can seriously debilitate or kill. The choice is increasingly between ensuring capitalist profitability or taking a risk with your health in the workplace. Although the same old referees still dominate the labour movement this is a whole new ball game!
When the effects of the economic depression start to really grind this will multiply in intensity. Revolutionaries must take their analysis to the fight, which is already intensifying, on the front line of the working class in the workplace, away from the arbitration and conciliation services that have served trade unionists so badly down the decades and which requires the kind of direct action we have already witnessed in numerous stoppages and walkouts. Add to the impact of health issues the closures and redundancies, the curtailment of the education system – with the prospect of bankrupt universities, the psychological impact of the snatching away of educational attainment as a method of gaining employment security, mass youth unemployment and most of all the continuingly dangerous impact of capitalism on the global environment which is becoming so toxic that it threatens the very existence of humanity! We must prepare for the fight of our lives!
This article was first posted at:- http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentProtestClassConflictAndCovid19.html