Demands for the Covid-19 Pandemic crisis
We have an imbecilic Prime Minister and a Government behaving like a rabbit in the headlights. Now Johnson claims he can resolve this crisis in twelve weeks. As one wag in the media noted, this slogan could be painted on the side of a bus.
They are lurching from one U-turn to another, reacting to events clearly overtaking them. Much of their policy-making has been in response to what others have already decided. Advising self-isolation and staying away from pubs, clubs and theatres were measures that the public and even some businesses had already decided for Johnson and the Government.
The same could be said about the closure of schools, which already had large numbers of pupils and teachers missing. The Government then found itself having to respond likewise after devolved Scotland and Wales announced schools would close from Friday. The largest teachers’ union, the National Education Union, had already called for this.
The government has been dragged reluctantly toward implementing some of the advice of the World Health Organisation, ‘a day late and a dollar short’, and is still dragging its feet. A Tory government that has almost wrecked the NHS since 2010 with austerity; deliberate underfunding that has overseen the cutting of 17,000 beds; savage cuts to social care services; operations delayed and cancelled; and a decline in staffing resulting in a shortage of 100,000 NHS staff; the Tories tried to destroy the NHS and cannot care less about healthcare for the poor and the working class.
Already two London hospitals are at crisis point with a chronic lack of beds. Northwick Park Hospital has declared this critical requesting help from other hospitals. One senior doctor described the situation as “f***ing petrifying.” The same can be said of the Tories’ complete disdain of workers who have been treated with utter contempt, seeing their real wages decline year on year since 2010.
The Chancellor’s ‘rescue package’ was just a public relations exercise, a headline grabber, which soon unravelled. The £330 billion package is simply a money printing exercise by the BoE, a bail out with a loan package that would be underwritten by the taxpayer. Small businesses and workers, already finding themselves in difficulties are being ‘supported’ by saddling them with even more debt and interest added to boot, albeit after a 12 months interest-free period.
The government have since announced further measures, such as its job retention scheme: employees unable to work are paid 80% of their wages, stopping employers making them unemployed; tax breaks such as VAT deferral for three months; and raising benefits. While welcome to a degree, these people cannot be trusted. This must be implemented without delay and be accessed easily. There is ambiguity around protecting those in the ‘gig economy’ on zero hours contracts and workers need vigilance and organisation through unions etc. to stop employers taking advantage.
This pandemic has exposed the Tories catastrophic economic programme and the crisis within the capitalist system, which has not recovered from the economic crisis in 2008. The system is convulsing, and workers are in danger of yet again paying the price for the failures of the capitalist class. We need a workers’ government to put the needs of the working class before the needs of people like the billionaire Richard Branson, who are yet again demanding bailouts. We are witnessing a major shock and upheaval to the system, small businesses going to the wall and workers being laid off.
We, the Trotskyist Faction of Socialist Fight, recognise the bankruptcy of the capitalist system and as Marxists we understand that it needs to be overcome, i.e. overthrown and abolished root and branch. While we demand reforms in the here and now, under the present bourgeois ‘democratic’ system such changes can only be forced upon capitalism through fear of working-class people below. With the public health crisis unfolding we must hold the Government to account, we must put forward a simple set of demands to defend the interests of workers who now find themselves in difficult circumstances.
We demand immediate requisition and nationalisation of all private hospitals, facilities and staff, as the Spanish government has done. Sickness should not be profited from. We see no reason why the government (i.e. the taxpayer) should pay £2.4 million a day for additional beds during a national crisis.
NHS staff are having to share masks, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) out of date, and in some cases none. We demand that all front-line NHS staff are fully protected.
Testing for COVID-19 must be increased without delay following WHO guidelines; the government’s increase from 4,000 per day to a target of 25,000, while welcome, is nowhere near enough. Testing must be available to all who need it. Despite claims of improvement and upgrading the numbers, at present ionly 6,000 per day are being carried out. We have seen elsewhere how testing is crucial and the ability it provides the authorities to have adequate information to contain the virus.
Private testing is cos ting £300, while NHS staff are unable to get tested. Tests must be free, and top priority for NHS staff.
The government must immediately commence large scale production of ventilators and other essentials required for the NHS, and must commandeer industry to do this.
Workers are already losing jobs, facing reduced hours, or unpaid leave. They must not be made unemployed; there must be no redundancies, no loss of pay during this public health crisis. No attacks on workers’ rights, or jobs, should be permitted or tolerated.
While we welcome the workers retention scheme, no worker should lose 20% of their wages. We demand full pay for those affected. This should include workers from the gig economy, on zero-hour contracts and the self-employed.. We must demand the abolition of zero-hours contracts and fake self-employment. Workers must have legally-binding hours with sick pay, holiday pay, paid maternity and paternity leave etc. as of right. If the employer cannot provide hours workers should be paid anyway. This is a basic minimum.
While the government has offered a ‘mortgage holiday’ of three months (which has not been guaranteed by the lenders), we demand mortgage, rents and utility bills be paid by the government in full during the pandemic which threatens workers and their families. Banks and corporations are bailed out and supported; government must do the same for workers, whose exploitation is the basis of capitalist economy.
SCHOOLS AND EDUCATION
We welcome the closure of schools, and the plan to temporarily convert them to child care facilities for the children of essential workers, such as nurses, doctors,, other healthcare staff, emergency services personnel, delivery drivers, essential manufacturing sector staff, essential public service staff, etc.
Testing must be available to staff and children for safety. Parents who look after children must get paid leave for the duration and compulsory job security, enforced by the state.
Children unable to take examinations must not be disadvantaged. Marking on previous mock exams and work throughout the school year is subjective and ignores students who may ‘perform’ during a real examination. We demand provision for students of all ages whose education is disrupted to re-sit course years at the state’s expense as an exceptional measure.
Schools now have online learning platforms for homework, which can be utilised for lessons. However, disadvantaged children from poorer families may not have access to the internet or a computer. Facilities for these must be provided free.
Food must be provided to vulnerable children who no longer find themselves at school and having access to a nutritious meal. Over 4 million children live in poverty and being fed at school is their only chance of a decent meal. This needs to be co-ordinated with local authorities.
The government must ensure that the homeless are given immediate protection with a roof over their head. Statistics published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) put empty homes in England in October 2018 at 634,453. Shelter showed that there were 320,000 homeless for the same period. With one person dying on the streets every 19 hours, individuals vulnerable to exposure to the virus, we demand that these people are housed.
This week (18 March) a prisoner was diagnosed as being positive with COVID-19. The prison system is extremely overcrowded and as such would be an ideal environment for a rapid outbreak of infection. Under the Ministry of Justice’s own definition of safety and decency, the prison estate should not hold more than 74,954 people. There are currently 8,759 men and women held above this level.
Overcrowding is not evenly distributed, which results in some prisons holding many more than they are designed for. We demand those held for low level crimes, or due to be released within 12 months are released to ease pressure on the system.
There are 12 in the UK. Many of them overcrowded with refugees detained in appalling conditions. There are no restrictions on how long people can be detained in these centres. We demand refugees, many escaping conflict zones, and all detainees are not treated like criminals and caged but released. These detention centres, just like prisons, are ideal hubs for the virus. They should be closed down, and removals stopped, as the possibility of migrants and refugees dying of disease just underlines that they are in fact concentration camps.
PANIC BUYING AND RATIONING
The government really need to get a grip with panic buying, and ensuring that the supply chain is able to keep up with demand to enable stores to have adequate stock so the elderly and healthcare workers (many who are working long shifts) are able to put food on their table. Many supermarkets are seeing large queues, which presents a huge health risk, and empty shelves after just a few hours trading.
If this crisis deepens there will be a serious risk of anti-social manifestations, such as the riotous pushing in that took place at a London Aldi branch with hundreds defying attempts at rationing. According to the government, there is a shortage of delivery drivers. If so, coach drivers should be redeployed to drive delivery vehicles.
A proper rationing system must be put in place by the government for foodstuffs and sanitary-related goods, just as a basic necessity for health and hygiene. This should be overseen and supervised by rank-and-file trade unionists at local level who must seek to draw in the poor and those most at risk from this crisis. We need collective organisation not ‘dog-eat-dog’ and lumpen violence among those at risk. We cannot depend on the ‘goodwill’ of chains like Tesco and Sainsbury’s to bring about a fair rationing system. There needs to be workers inspection of profiteering and businesses that abuse the shortages to raise prices must be expropriated.
GOVERNMENT POWERS AND THE CORONAVIRUS BILL
The government are set to give police sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspected coronavirus sufferers, and stop all public assemblies, which would remove the right to protest. The police will have powers to take blood and swab tests, demand personal information (which at present people arrested have the right to withhold). Refusal will be a criminal offence.
The bill extends the validity of warrants under the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 and relaxes protections for those cared for under mental health acts. It cancels local elections in England this spring; and empowers government to potentially cancel other elections, should the crisis continue into 2021.
The pandemic must not be allowed to be used as an excuse to trample over civil liberties. While we acknowledge the need for the quarantine to protect public health, there are serious dangers with the new law. Labour are correctly opposing it being on the statute books for two years, without any control by parliament, who ought to have the duty to expire it if the threat from the pandemic is overcome.
This crisis signals the total discredit of Thatcher’s neoliberal economics. Working class people of this country, seeing a second bailout in 12 years are now starting to see through the lies being told, they will not easily buy the austerity agenda a second time around. The public health crisis and the impoverishment of the working class is a permanent issue. Now a pandemic has forced even this Tory government to back-peddle and make a show of saying they will put this right, to avoid huge unrest and struggles that would follow inevitably from their allowing hundreds of thousands of deaths from COVID. This is the result of a fundamental push from the bottom up.
Once the pandemic and quarantine recedes, this crisis has the capacity to develop on the streets like the Gilets Jaunes movement in France. This is the last thing that the capitalist class want. The virus is not man-made but the public health crisis it has exposed was made by neoliberalism. This may well turn to anger and a working class that has again become conscious of its power. We on the left need to promote a correct programmatic perspective to point the working-class masses towards the need to take power and abolish the root cause of the neo-liberal attacks: capitalism itself.
Trotskyist Faction of Socialist Fight