Thursday, 4 June 2020

WIELD ORGANISED WORKERS' POWER FOR A SOCIALIST RECOVERY PLAN





As Billy Bragg sang, "There is power in a union".

Or at least, enormous potential collective power, provided leadership is given on the right issues.

Tens of thousands of workers have awoken to that in recent times, with a significant upsurge in trade union membership.

Surge in Union Membership


During 2019, 90,000 workers joined a union; that's over 200,000 new recruits in two years.

The biggest increase has been amongst women workers, who now constitute 3.6 million in the UK, the highest figure since 1995.

In Scotland,15,500 joined a union last year.

Of course, to keep perspective, that still leaves only 23.5% of workers unionised, with even lower density in the private sector and amongst those aged under 35. Less than a quarter of trade unionists are under 35, whereas 40% of them are aged over 50.

Likewise, we've had several successive years of very low strike figures, and therefore low profile for collective action and the advantages of trade unionism for younger generations to observe and absorb.

That is the result of a cocktail of factors.

The most repressive anti-union laws in the western world - introduced by the Tories, sustained by Labour governments. A regime of fear, wielded by senior management buoyed up by this battery of anti-worker legislation. And all too frequently, weak, compromising leadership from the top of the unions, far too accustomed to cosy relationships with employers and a lifestyle more akin to that of the company chief executives than to the average worker who pays their union subs.


The Times They are A-changin' 


There are moments in history when sharp changes occur.

There is a tendency throughout history for workers to seek solutions to their daily privations and problems through collective industrial struggle when no political solutions appear imminent, and vice versa.

To take random examples: the 1880s were marked by a monumental surge into the unions by the most downtrodden, lowpaid, so-called unskilled workers,  previously neglected by craft-based trade unions, when they increasingly saw no salvation from the dominant Tory or Liberal politicians.

In turn, that industrial wave helped fuel the birth of independent working class political representation, creating the newborn Labour Party.

In the 1970s, disappointment with the 1964-70 Labour government and savage onslaughts by the 1970-74 Ted Heath Tory regime triggered the biggest modern wave of strike actions, increased union membership, a rise in workplace militancy, and through this showdown between rival class forces led to 1975 being the year with both the highest union membership in Britain and the lowest levels of inequality across society.

That stark statistic in itself is a profound lesson for today's young working class. Indeed 'there is power in a union', and correctly wielded it can not only combat poverty, unsafe working conditions, and bullying by management, but also reduce inequality.






Coronavirus Crisis: a New Turning Point 


The coronavirus crisis is poised to be a new turning point in trade union and working class history.

The experience of millions in recent months has taught many profound lessons.

It's demonstrated the simple fact but there's such a thing as a working class, an idea previously sneered at by the commentariat, including some self-styled lefts and socialists.

It's shown in action that the people essential to society's functioning, to the very existence of human life, are workers of multiple and varied occupations, and certainly not the remote, grotesquely overpaid company chief executives and directors or financial speculators.

More pertinent still have been the lived experiences and visible displays of the role of trade unionists in fighting for measures to save lives in the teeth of the deadly virus, often in conflict with employers and indeed governments slow or unwilling to put people before profit.

It took relentless pushing and demanding by workplace shop stewards and the best national union officials to eventually win basics like hand sanitizers, cleaning equipment, protective screens and of course PPE for the millions of workers who have sustained life and society throughout the crisis.


Unsung Heroes on the Frontline of Trade Unionism


The unsung heroes of these times, whom the Tories would never applaud on a Thursday night, are thousands of workplace union representatives who have fought for the safety of fellow workers. Often under intense pressure from senior management, and sometimes under threat of victimisation for daring to demand measures like shutdown of non-essential workplaces, with 100% pay; protection of workers' holidays; and rigorous Risk Assessments with the full participation of union health and safety reps, to help prevent a second spike in COVID-19 deaths as the lockdown eases.

It is the determined action of these unsung heroes, and the lobbying by national unions, which forced the government into the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Observing this collective effort, thousands of new workers have joined unions in the past three months.

That is the experience of most major unions.

Unison have reported 65,000 new recruits since January. The National Education Union (NEU), engaged in frontline battles in England over premature reopening of schools, has had over 20,000 recent recruits.

Previously scattered, unorganised and heavily exploited sectors, such as fast food and hospitality, have also begun to unionise, with some spectacular localised success stories in reversing employers' plans to make thousands redundant, gaining furlough with at least 80% pay instead.



A Dangerous Phase for Workers' Health 


Currently we are living through potentially the most dangerous phase of the whole crisis, where UK and Scottish governments are to varying degrees declaring against mass outdoor gatherings, but encourageing or insisting upon mass indoor gatherings - by reopening non-essential workplaces, to revive production and sales for flagging profits.

The newly enhanced profile of the trade union movement - not seen for at least a generation - needs to be organised at both national and workplace levels to insist on proper safety measures, alongside a fully-funded and staffed regime of mass testing, tracing and isolation.

This moment should be seized to push for workers' control of workplace health and safety, through elected union reps.


The Capitalist Virus of Mass Unemployment 


The other virus about to sweep the country, rooted in capitalist production methods just as much as the coronavirus, is mass redundancies and unemployment.

Millions of jobs are on life support through the taxpayer-funded Job Retention Scheme.

Around 8 million workers were at least temporarily kept in a job, albeit with 10% or 20% pay cuts in many cases, through this state subsidy of businesses.

As that scheme tapers off, the greed-driven employing class are frequently poised to slash thousands of jobs and family livelihoods.

Daily announcements by the likes of British Airways, Rolls Royce, retail and hospitality firms are a deafening wake-up call to the devastation facing the working class in the months ahead.

The unions need to rise to the challenge, not only by consciously involving members and wielding the collective 'power in a union', but also by advancing concrete fighting alternatives to this capitalist blitzkrieg.

We cannot tolerate a re-run of the devastation visited upon the working class in the wake of the 2008 bankers' crisis; a lost decade of savage pay cuts, job losses and punishment of workers for a crisis they never created.



For a 4-day Week on 5 Days' Pay 


The unions have the potential power to spearhead an alternative Socialist Recovery Plan.

That could start with the immediate demand to share out the available work through a shorter working week, but critically, without loss of earnings.

The demand, for instance, for a 4-day week on 5 days' pay would evoke massive sympathy amongst workers who have either been enduring regular 12-hour shifts during the pandemic, or gained a taste of other things in life outside the drudgery of long hours at work.

That one measure could create and save tens of thousands of Scottish jobs.


Socialist Green New Deal 


A Socialist Green New Deal built on the foundations of public ownership of key sectors such as construction, transport, energy and banking must become the clarion cry of the organised labour movement.

A recent STUC study shows the massive potential for job creation in such a scheme.

Analysis by Transition Economics - in part based on information from post-2008 investment schemes in other countries - gives precise figures of potential job creation in 23 different clean infrastructure projects in Scotland.

Overall, they demonstrate that £13billion investment in a two-year infrastructure recovery plan could create 150,000 jobs immediately.

Examples of the schemes they cite include expansion of the rail network (including for freight) with 13,700 new jobs.

Other clean, green investments include construction of cycle lanes and pedestrianisation (nearly 18,000 jobs); low income residential retrofit programme (34,000); residential retrofit programme (over 14,000 jobs); and upgrade of ports and shipyards for offshore wind supplies (almost 6000 jobs).


Wield the Power of Organised Workers 


Socialists and trade unionists need to agitate and seek to organise the collective power of the trade union movement to demand precisely such an emergency green re-industrialization plan. It will require the social, class power of the organised workers' movement to translate fine ideas on paper into living reality.

The catastrophic impact of deindustrialization over the past 40 years led to a lack of equipment for hospitals, an inability to rapidly produce such equipment, which in turn meant both the UK and Scottish governments initially resorted to the obscenity of 'herd immunity', and then an emphasis on stopping our hospitals being overrun. Leading to such tragedies as over 1,000 elderly patients in Scotland being emptied out of hospitals into care homes without being tested, and the carnage that followed.

Housing, Public Transport, Jobs 


The housing crisis has been highlighted during the pandemic, with the huge differential between the experience of those in cramped or substandard housing during the lockdown, and people even with a decent house and modest garden.

In addition to the plans detailed in the STUC study, an emergency social sector house-building plan - with a variety of types of homes for rent according to demand, including gardens for all who want one - would solve both a housing crisis and the desperate need for decent, well-paid, skilled jobs and apprenticeships.

As people return to work, the problem of ensuring social distancing on public transport serves to underline the case for democratic public ownership of all public transport and massive investment in fleets of buses, trains and ferries. Both to accommodate safe travelling and prevent a return to the appalling pollution caused by massive reliance on cars, which the lockdown has given temporary respite from, and given millions a glimpse of how better life could be if freed of both pollution and poverty.




Invest in NHS and a National Care Service 


There are plenty of other immediate areas requiring huge state investment. Not investment of public money to boost the private profits of capitalist enterprises, but public sector investment accompanied by democratic public ownership and working class control. With massive job opportunities created.

Two of many such areas are the NHS and a public National Care Service, to cut out the profiteering that kills elderly people. To instead construct a care service free at the point of need, with decent wages, conditions, and training for a vastly expanded workforce that is guaranteed collective union bargaining rights.

Underpinning this socialist recovery plan is a vast redistribution of wealth from the remote, grotesquely privileged capitalist elite to the working class, who have been seen with renewed clarity to provide life's daily essentials and all that makes for a civilised existence.

Not only those rightly classified as 'essential workers' during the pandemic, but every worker, needs to be guaranteed a £12 minimum wage rising with inflation - rather than another lost decade of pay cuts and reduced spending power, which in itself further undermines job security.


Battle Commences for a New Future 


COVID-19 throws up a profound challenge on what kind of future we want.

Nothing is predetermined in history. The future will be decided by a clash between rival living forces.

On one side the capitalists, bankers, landlords and their hired politicians, who want to return to the old abnormal, the inhumane pursuit of profit at terrible cost to peoples' lives and the planet we live on.

On the other side, the growing forces of an organised working class, who need to feel a renewed self-confidence and demand a Socialist Recovery Plan that rejects the obscenity of production for profit, and builds on the values of human solidarity touchingly displayed in thousands of small incidents during the Covid crisis.

Join the battle!




Saturday, 9 May 2020

TORY LOCKDOWN CHAOS: NO RETURN UNTIL IT'S SAFE!




A dangerous dance is being choreographed between big business, Boris Johnson’s government and the millionaire media.


Capitalists desperate to revive their production and sales for profit are relentlessly lobbying the government, who lend them a kindly ear.

Johnson plays on people’s frustrations, poverty and fears by pledging an ‘unlockdown’ plan from Monday 11th May.

The media goes into paroxysms of celebration for VE Day with headlines such as “Hurrah! Lockdown Freedom Beckons” (Daily Mail); “Four Steps to Freedom from Monday” (Daily Express).

Inciting a Stampede Back to Profit-making 


All this is designed to stampede workers in non-essential sectors back to work in a fashion that could endanger a malignant new surge in the pandemic and the slaughter of many more on top of the 30,000 already officially dead through COVID-19.



In the rush to revive profiteering on behalf of the class they represent, Johnson's government drafted guidelines on a return to work which only gave the trade unions 12 hours to comment.

And no wonder they were reluctant to consult when you look at the contents!

The documents speak of ‘asking employers to consider’ measures such as social distancing between workers and hand-washing that should ‘happen where possible’. 

Not one hint of anything being legally binding, of being statutory requirements on employers. 

Ending Safety Precautions in Work


In shocking contradiction of the two-metre rule we've all become so familiar with, the proposed conditions for a return to work even suggest that where it is not possible to keep workers 2m apart “Perhaps”, to quote Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary, “you could be closer than two metres but not for long”. 


They speak of reduced hot-desking, not its elimination.

There are no guarantees of protection for older or vulnerable or pregnant workers. In fact, it gets worse: the documents state that where working from home is not possible for these groups, “they should be put in the safest possible roles inside the workplace.”

They speak of a limit to the numbers in a vehicle - but put no figure on how many is a safe limit. 


A building site canteen during C-19: workers bullied into work 


PPE Not Even Mentioned!


In a shocking display of callous indifference towards the lives of working people, at the very time when the failure to provide PPE has helped Britain to become the worst country in Europe for deaths, the government documents do not even mention PPE. They merely state details will follow.

Indeed, government documents speak of guidance “to ensure staff can be made to feel sufficiently reassured safe working practises without the provision of PPE.” 


Several other issues immediately arise.

What steps will they put in place to make travel to work on public transport safer? None so far.

We shouldn't hold our breath on that one, because even prior to these leaked documents the combined rail-workers’ unions were at loggerheads with transport employers hell-bent on dragging workers back to greatly increased transport services on 18 May. That for, example, was the intention of London Underground bosses, one of the worst potential breeding grounds from mass infection.



Likewise, Johnson's government says nothing about what will happen to workers who are parents with childcare problems, or who are carers for people being shielded from the disease. Will they be allowed to remain on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme? Or will they be dragged back to work, to create bigger dividends for the giant shareholders, regardless of the impact on life and family? 

Worse Than Current Safety Laws


The TUC rightly responded by condemning the lack of consultation with unions and in a letter to the government stated:

“If the guidelines are not significantly strengthened, safe working will not be guaranteed and unions would have no hesitation in saying so publicly and to our members”. 

The TUC also point out these guidelines are weaker than existing Health and Safety legislation.

For instance, they make no reference to an obligation on employers to produce and publish a Risk Assessment, with input from union Health and Safety reps.



The essence of the government approach is to let the employers decide what is safe on issues such as social distancing, cleaning regimes and use of PPE.

Nothing is binding on employers; they are merely ‘asked to consider’ and to ‘look at what is possible’.

That is a charter for hair-raising neglect towards workers’ health and very lives, in the rush to restart the likes of building sites, manufacturing and non-food retail; with the aim of dragging thousands of customers desperate to shop after the lockdown into environments which could trigger a new peak of infection and death.



Why should working people trust a government or employers who have demonstrably failed to even produce hand gels on a timely basis in the earlier phase of the pandemic?

And who have patently failed to provide proper, appropriate PPE to workers thrown into the jaws of disease and potential death in care homes, hospitals and other frontline, emergency services? 

Rail-workers' unions battling bosses' premature revival of train services


Unions Won Concessions


It took union lobbying, relentless pressure by shop stewards, and in many cases strike action by workers, to enforce even minimal hygiene measures on many of the same employers who now want to reopen for business as usual.



Likewise it was the pressure of the trade union movement which helped to win the furlough system with 80% wages paid from the public purse, and in numerous cases enforced the reinstatement of workers who had been prematurely and callously made redundant by those employers. 

Trade union demands, and sometimes collective strike action, were required to achieve the closure of non-essential workplaces.

But throughout the so-called lockdown, the government has been deliberately ambiguous on what is essential and non-essential. For example, after plenty of lobbying by big businesses involved in such sectors, they announced that online delivery operations in non-food retail was not only acceptable but to be encouraged. In turn, the same employers hid behind the excuse, the weasel words, “we are following government guidelines” to bring workers into warehouses and delivery fleets despite the risks that inevitably puts those workers and their households at. 

Tories split on speed of ending lockdown - divided on profiteering tactics


Tory Blackmail


In recent weeks the government has deployed the weaponry of the mass media to blackmail workers currently on furlough, and to try to incite other workers against them, with tales of Armageddon at the cost of the Job Retention Scheme.

In fact, with 6.3 million workers on that scheme at a cost of £8billion so far, that's barely a drop in the bucket compared with the £330billion pledged in big business bailouts, in the form of government bank-loan guarantees and other schemes.

A classic case of bailing out the billionaires, but not the workers who made their £billions. 

Whilst the Tory Cabinet appear split on the speed of ending the lockdown, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has led the battle-cry for scaling down or even scrapping the Job Retention Scheme. They're considering options such as reducing it from 80% to 60% or even 50% of wages, or applying it to just part of a worker’s weekly hours. 

Dancing with Death


No worker wants to remain stuck at home indefinitely, particularly when it means pay cuts of 10%, 20% or - if these plans transpire - potentially 50%.

But at a time when the daily death toll is still heart-breaking, and when employers in care homes, hospitals and bus services are amongst those who cannot organise the protection of workers from the deadly virus, this carefully choreographed incitement to reopening of the economy is not only premature, but a dance with Death.



The unions, including the TUC and STUC, need to assist every union rep and every member in resisting a premature return to work to unsafe workplaces.

Workers’ health and lives comes before the profit needs of big business - who in any case are being given state handouts to subsidise their profits. 

Nobody should be obliged to return to work until a thorough Risk Assessment has been conducted and published, with the full involvement of union Health and Safety experts – prior to it opening, not afterwards.

Risk Assessments Before Any Re-opening - for workers' control of safety


Fighting for Safety Measures


Basic measures should include deep cleans of workplaces; stringent plans and regulations about increased cleaning routines; strict adherence to social distancing between workers; shields; face masks and visors; proper hygiene, cleaning and washing facilities.

They should all be legally binding rather than an optional extra, to be ‘considered where possible’ by employers.

Transport unions should be fully involved in comprehensive plans to make public transport safe.

Workers in vulnerable health categories or with childcare needs or care duties should be offered the continued protection of the Job Retention Scheme – on full pay, not 80%, 60% or 50%. 

Test, Trace, Isolate - First


In its broader context safety at work also requires mass testing, contact tracing, and proper isolation.

But how can we have any confidence that it's safe to return to non-essential work when the Tory government’s targeted 100,000 tests a day was achieved for one day on the basis of a fraud  - counting tests sent to people but never returned - only to be followed by four successive days drastically below that figure (69,000 on 6 May)?

Nor has the Scottish Government demonstrated that mass testing is in operation. In fact their 3,500 daily target only equates to one-third of the Tories’ 100,000, per capita. Thankfully, at least as we write this, they seem more susceptible than the boorish Boris to demands from the unions for retention of the lockdown until it’s safe to ease it.

Workers’ Control of Safety


This whole grotesque attempt to put the health of big business balance-sheets ahead of the health or even lives of workers highlights the urgent need to strengthen trade unions, and demand workers’ control over health and safety in the workplace, through elected union shop stewards and health and safety reps.

In the short term, if workplaces are not demonstrably safe in the eyes of the appropriate unions, national unions need to give a lead to the membership and refuse to return to work until they are safe.

On paper, the 1996 Employment Rights Act (Regulations 44 & 100) gives workers the right to refuse to work in an unsafe environment, without victimisation or loss of pay.

That statutory right cannot be implemented by isolated individual workers - but should be applied with determination through the collective organisation of the trade union movement.


Put workers' lives first and last. Put people before profit. No return to work until it’s safe. 


Tuesday, 28 April 2020

DEFEND THE POSTIES! DEFEND 6-DAY DELIVERY & 20,000 JOBS!




DEFEND YOUR POSTIES! DEFEND 6-DAY DELIVERY! DEFEND OVER 20,000 JOBS!


Wednesday 29th of April is National Postal Workers Day.


This union event is designed to show solidarity with workers who have carried out life-threatening work throughout the COVID-19 crisis.


It's designed to allow the public to say 'Thank You' to the posties for their valiant efforts, but now it must also become a declaration of solidarity against a brutal, full-frontal declaration of war by Royal Mail bosses. 


Literally on the eve of national #PostalWorkersDay, Rico Back and the rest of the millionaire dictators in charge of Royal Mail have unilaterally declared that from the 11th of May, letter delivery will only be Monday to Friday, with parcels and packages delivered on Saturdays.


This is a blatant breach of the longstanding Universal Service Obligation (USO) whereby every household is guaranteed deliveries six days a week.


That's precisely one of the core issues at the heart of the showdown between postal workers and their privatised bosses, which led to two overwhelming strike ballots, before and since Christmas. 

Royal Mail use Corona crisis to smash jobs and public services!


With the outbreak of the killer virus, CWU trade union leaders suspended plans for strike action, in the hope the bosses would stop their assault whilst posties helped to provide a key service to the beleaguered public.

But instead, the employers have declared war on the union, its members and on the public service they provide. In the midst of the pandemic. That's stooping down low, even by their standards. 


They entirely bypassed the union in reaching this decision.


Their plan was never mentioned in discussions with the union just days ago.


Their announcement is undoubtedly timed as a ruthless act of provocation, cold and calculated, putting the CWU in the position of having to either surrender, or stand up and fight back - and then face a tornado of media vilification.


That's where other workers and unions need to rally round the posties and make it clear we will not accept abolition of 6-day service, just as we will not accept the loss of 20,000 or more Royal Mail jobs.


Royal Mail have cynically used the coronavirus crisis as a smokescreen for ramming through an assault which the union had resisted on behalf of members and the public for the past two years.


The same bosses have shown absolutely no concern for the health of the workforce. 
At first they refused to put anybody on furlough. They resisted the demands of the union for full pay for any worker with childcare problems, or where their sick pay had been exhausted, or were self-isolating with symptoms, or looking after other shielded household members.

They arrogantly told workers who faced literally no income to go to a charity.


It was only after massive union pressure and publicity that they made a concession. But it still does not include furlough for posties with childcare issues, nor for the over-65s, nor for anybody who wants to self-isolate because others in their household have the symptoms.


On top of which they've refused to back-date any pay, and expect workers who are put on furlough to use at least two weeks of the their annual holidays.


Now they're trying to con the public by dressing up abolition of 6-day delivery as a measure to "ease the pressure on posties".

That is a barefaced lie.


Imposing it within 10 days, as they propose, will cause mayhem for shift patterns for drivers, delivery staff and those in sorting offices alike, also threatening pay-cuts in many cases.


It's a cynical attempt to abolish a longstanding service, get rid of at least 20,000 jobs, and smash the power of the union in the process.

Workers and trade unionists need to stand up with the CWU - stand by your posties.





 I spoke to TAM DEWAR, CWU Divisional Officer for Scotland and Northern Ireland: 


"In all this time Royal Mail management have shown no concern nor readiness to act in defense of workers' safety.

Whereas posties see COVID-19 as a life-threatening virus Rico Back and his cabal see it as a commercial opportunity and a chance to rush through changes to working practices they have been unable to do so far because of union resistance.


Postal workers are not only been fighting COVID-19 but fighting the employer as well.


The only way we got any safety measures was through collective action.

We wanted to protect posties' safety and lives by each of them working a 3-day week during this crisis, but keeping the 6-day delivery. Of course Royal Mail bosses ruled that out on grounds of cost.


It's only by taking action as a trade union we won any protection.

The Chief Executive needs to be sacked and replaced by somebody who's willing to work with the union to defend the future of Royal Mail. 

Otherwise it would be sold off to Amazon or Poundland, because the past two years have been an absolute disaster commercially since Rico Back took over.


We could well now be forced into taking strike action nationally by the actions Royal Mail. 

They have declared all previous agreements are scrapped from now on. 

They have announced there will be no deliveries on Saturdays and claim to have the support of Ofcom and the government.


It's true that letters have collapsed in number during this crisis, but there are absolute stacks of packets piled up at Mail Centres. 

It's ten times worse than the Christmas rush, for example with at least ten huge trucks queued up at the Glasgow Mail Centre, full of parcels.

The bosses want to control their budget, refusing overtime, but still demanding the work is done, even though 20% of the workforce are off sick.


They seem hell bent on switching to parcel deliveries which could affect about 27,000 jobs.

If you can't drive you can't deliver. And when we got removal of two workers to a delivery van, because of social distancing, Royal Mail did not hire a single van to compensate - even though there must be thousands of hire vans available during the lockdown.


We had strikes in four places in Scotland using health and safety legislation, because people were being forced to work in unsafe conditions to deliver pizza leaflets and leaflets for companies that are shut! 
All that after it had been declared an essential service. 
Our idea of an essential service would be delivery of prescriptions, food and looking out for the vulnerable, not junk mail. 
If we have to take strike action now, nationally, we will welcome support on the picket lines." 






Friday, 24 April 2020

RESIST A PREMATURE STAMPEDE BACK TO MONEY-MAKING



Employers demanding 'business as usual' could threaten workers' lives

for PPE, mass testing and workers' control over health and safety 


Nobody wants the so-called lockdown to continue indefinitely. But for the preservation of human life, it's absolutely essential. All the evidence shows it's helping to suppress the spread of this deadly killer. 


It may appear bizarre to raise this in the same week the governments of the UK and Scotland announced continuation of the lockdown until at least 7 May, but the growing danger is a premature removal of restrictions, motivated by big business profits, at terrible risk to human life.

As we warned two weeks ago, sections of employers, of the Tory party, and indeed right wing Labour figures such as Sir Keir Starmer and Tony Blair, are ramping up the drumbeat of demands to 'reopen the economy'. 


Literally as we post this, the Scottish government has published a paper on future criteria for easing the lockdown. 
However well-intentioned as "the start of a conversation that treats the public like adults", the danger is it could be turned into background music for a growing chorus of demands by profit-itchy businesses to 'get back to normal'. A dangerous stampede towards a premature exit strategy motivated by their desire to make money, whatever the human risk. 



The Pressures of Social Isolation


Millions of workers are currently stuck at home. The Resolution Foundation think tank predict 11.7 million will have been either furloughed or made unemployed in the UK over the next three months. 
The ability to work from home is closely linked to earnings levels, with the lowest paid almost entirely unable to do so. 


Many of those millions not only live in fear of infection - including from household members who are working in essential services - but also suffer isolation, sometimes family tensions, increased incidence of domestic abuse, and even a lack of adequate food supplies through combinations of poverty and the inability to access supplies. 


Cramped housing, and lack of a garden to enjoy the pleasant weather, add to the frustration for millions. Whether living alone or with small children in a small flat, each creates its own pressures, plus humans are a naturally social being. 
And millions are on 80% or 90% of their normal wage, as employers with profits measured in not just millions but billions take the public subsidy of the Job Retention Scheme, but whinge that they simply can't afford to top up workers' wages to 100%. 




Trump leads the wreckless stampede


So no trade unionist or socialist worth their salt would advocate an indefinite lockdown. But that is not the threat we face. The growing and present danger is the government bending to big business lobbies to prematurely revive production, in pursuit of recovering profit margins, putting thousands of workers at risk of death.  


The most glaring, grotesque display of this trend is to be found in the USA. As far back as 24 March, a group of powerful billionaires met with Donald Trump, bombarding him to set an early date for lifting health restrictions, so as to reassure the money markets. 

The rich and powerful lobbyists Trump met included chief executives of private equity companies, hedge fund managers and others with so-called 'net worth' ranging from $17.1billion to a mere $2.8billion. The same fat cats are enjoying splendid self-isolation on vast holiday estates or lavish private yachts, but are hellbent on throwing millions of American workers back into production, and to hell with the consequences. 


Within hours of meeting this batch of brass-necked billionaires, Trump appeared on Fox News, declaring he would like to see the economy open up and "just raring to go by Easter," 12 April. He gushed that it would be "a beautiful timeline because Easter is such a beautiful day". 


Just days later Trump handed over $500billion in a bailout of big business. But not content with being subsidised to the hilt, many business moguls persisted with their demands to reopen production. 
For example, Dick Kovacevich of Wells Fargo demanded that people aged under 55 should return to work by late April, stating: 
"Some of them will get sick, some may even die, I don't know. Do you want to take an economic risk or a health risk? You get to choose." 


Not to be outdone, Paychex Inc's Tom Golisano - whose personal wealth sits at $3billion - said: 
"The damage of keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse then losing a few more people. You're picking the better of two evils".


Tragic scenes of mass, unmarked graves on Hart Island, Bronx, New York

‘I’d rather die than kill the country’


One other singer of this song in a whole chorus-line of the obscenely rich is conservative TV and radio host Glenn Beck, who even six years ago had personal wealth of $90million. He blurted out the opinion: 
"I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working. Even if we all get sick, I'd rather die than kill the country".


The same week that the global death toll crossed the grisly landmark figure of 100,000, refrigerated lorries stacked high with human corpses stood outside hospitals in the USA, and people were buried in unmarked mass graves in a field in the Bronx. But that same week the media emphasis switched from grim warnings of the mounting death toll to talk of 'light at the end of the tunnel', with Trump advocating the US "open with a big bang." 

And Texas governor Dan Patrick was but one of many politicians leaving no doubt about their priorities:

"American senior citizens should accept the likelihood that some of them would die in order to allow the economy to reopen and preserve the America that all America loves for their children and grandchildren." 
Now Trump is actively encouraging small but highly publicised right-wing, gun-toting demonstrations calling for an end to the lockdown, with vicious, populist slogans like 'Liberate Minnesota', 'Liberate Virginia'.


Gun-toting right-wing demo to 'Liberate Florida' from lockdown

British bosses put profit first


However, this mounting pressure to put what they call 'the economy' before public health is not restricted to the USA. 

In fact, we've seen an intensification of aggressive national capitalist rivalries, in the face of a global pandemic that knows no borders. We witness this as they not only grab hold of safety equipment intended for other countries, but also ignore scientific warnings in a race to reopen production in the interests of the separate national ruling classes. 


Across Europe, governments are being pressurised by the big profiteers to reopen 'business as usual', and nowhere more so than in Britain. 

With its customary brutality, the Economist magazine has written: 
"COVID-19 presents stark choices between life, death and the economy. It sounds hard-hearted but a dollar figure on life...is precisely what leaders will need if they are to see their way through the harrowing months to come. Eventually even if many people are dying, the cost of distancing could outweigh the benefits."


Director of Wellcome Trust and Tory government advisor Sir Jeremy Farrar told Sky on Sunday on 19 April that the lockdown should be eased within weeks.
"The damage it's doing to all our health, our well being, our mental health, is disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable."


Tories 2018 Act to hamstring union safety reps

What Tory & corporate con-merchants really mean


We even suffer the grotesque spectacle of Tory Scottish Secretary of State, Alistair Jack, declaring:
"I would hate it if we come out the other side and the poverty that came from a broken economy killed more people than COVID-19. We know from previous analysis of recessions and depressions that poverty kills."


There should be no doubting what these voices of big business really mean, behind their honeyed words of 'concern'.  


When they speak of 'the economy' they actually mean the profits of a tiny clique who own the bulk of the economy. 

When they express concern about people's mental health being damaged through social isolation, the lockdown, these are the very same class of business owners who have generated an epidemic of mental illness before COVID-19 ever appeared. 
They've caused record levels of mental illness through insecure jobs; alienation at work from total lack of control by workers, even over their working hours; poverty pay; and horrendous physical and mental pressure by them overworking a shrinking workforce in pursuit of maximum profit. 

The same Tories, like Alistair Jack, who belatedly stumble on the truth that poverty kills, preside over a system that is built to consciously create poverty for millions to provide the wealth of a few millionaires -  in the full knowledge that poverty kills. 
They have systematically dismantled wages, benefits, sick pay, and the health service in a fashion that has caused countless avoidable deaths. 


The same Tories listened to and echoed the same big business voices by not calling a halt to non-essential production in good time, and thereby caused thousands of unnecessary infections and deaths in February-March, as they let COVID-19 rip through the population, with their ruthless theory of 'herd immunity', until they eventually conceded a partial lockdown on 24 March.


They couldn't give a damn about workers' health. Their one concern is owners' wealth. They are quite prepared to sacrifice human life on the altar of their great god, Profit.


London Mayor's warning, as calls to lift lockdown there earlier raised

Tories split under pressure?


The Tory Cabinet appear split on the issue. Leaks to the Times newspaper report that Gove and Chancellor Sunak want restrictions lifted once the peak of death has passed, arguing the government should "run things quite hot". 
Health Minister Hancock was more cautious, and de facto deputy PM Dominic Raab remained silent but is expected to side with those who want a rapid return to work. 
Boris Johnson, not noted for his humanity or care for workers' health,  has come out against lifting restrictions too early in fear of a second wave of the virus. He no doubt feels the pressure of scientific experts and public opinion, at least for now - especially in the wake of milking his own illness for every droplet of propaganda and popularity.


For example, when The Sunday Times reported senior ministers wanted to reopen schools on 11 May, it provoked a ferocious backlash from concerned staff and parents, with the head teachers' union (NAHT) denouncing unattributed government comments for spreading fear and confusion. 
"Instructing school leaders and their teams to return without including them in the planning stages or sharing proper safety arrangements would be extremely reckless." 

Meantime, the National Education Union (NEU) launched a petition to delay schools reopening until it is safe to do so, gathering 160,000 signatures within days.


"Now is not the time to ask if Tories were too slow" - Sir Keir Starmer

Starmer: being savaged by a dead sheep!

In a devastating display of the nature of the new Labour leadership, Sir Keir Starmer has for weeks repeatedly opined "Now is not the time to ask if the government was too slow to act."

When he did eventually question the government in parliament on 22 April for 'being slow', his criticism of the Tories whose actions have caused countless unnecessary deaths was about as effective as being savaged by a dead sheep. 


Starmer instead says "The critical question is the exit strategy from lockdown", even demanding a recall of the parliament to discuss it. Starmer has even seemed more eager to reopen schools than at least some of the Tory Cabinet. 

That working class hero and warrior for truth, justice and peace, Tony Blair, has been resurrected to parade round TV studios preaching the same gospel. 


At best, Starmer and Blair could be accused of attention seeking in a fashion that creates confusion around the need for strict measures to suppress the virus, as death still rips the heart out of families, not just in hospitals but in care homes and in the community. At worst, they are echoing the chorus line of profiteering businessmen who put profit before people and are prepared to ignore or deny the evidence that the lockdown is at least one part of what is necessary to stem the fatal tide.


When Starmer insists "now is not the time to ask" if the Tories were too slow to initiate social distancing and (at least partial) lockdown of non-essential businesses, he is dangerously letting them off the hook, removing pressure from them. 
Because the same Tories are just as liable to prematurely end these precautionary measures as they were reluctant to introduce them, for the same reasons: not wanting to undermine private profiteering, putting what they misleadingly call 'the economy' before public health, profit before people, regardless of how many are slaughtered in the hunt for renewed production and sales. 





Scientists warn of catastrophe

An array of eminent scientists, nationally and internationally, are warning against premature removal of lockdown restrictions. 


The World Health Organization has warned it could lead to a deadly resurgence of the disease, which in turn could force governments to reinstate even more severe lockdowns. They warn that there is no clear evidence that people who have contracted COVID-19 then become immune to it. And in fact reports from South Korea and China indicate people who had recovered from it have caught it a second time, which further punctures the callous nonsense of relying on 'herd immunity'.  


Directly contradicting Donald Trump, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, Anthony Fauci, recently said: 
"We need to shutdown all non-essential business for several months, with social quarantine, to at least slow or stop COVID-19."


Professor of Virology at the University of Surrey, Nicholas Locker recently stated:
 "You can't lift the lockdown as long as you're not testing massively. As long as the government is not testing in the community we're going to be on lockdown." 



Editor of The Lancet magazine Richard Horton says: 
"It's wrong to say we don't have an exit strategy. We do. What is missing are the plans for its implementation. Surveillance, early detection, isolation, contact tracing, monitoring, real time estimates for the speed of spread of the virus."



Mass testing, tracing, isolation 

Emphasising that much more needs to be done than the current partial lockdown, the head of the Institute for Global Health at University College London warns isolation of the elderly and vulnerable on it's own is doomed to failure. These people do not live apart from others, they will inevitably catch the disease if it lets rip in the rest of the population, and it's unlikely those most at risk could be isolated for the four to five months they reckon is required to get 'herd immunity', which they in any case reject as unethical. 


This body of experts has a different plan they calculate will avert 353,000 deaths in Britain. It includes mass testing of everyone; contact tracing for those testing positive; care and thorough isolation; alongside proper provision of PPE for workers in essential services, such as the NHS, care workers and those in food supplies. They advocate weekly testing for everyone which would require 10 million a day, something they estimate is possible to virtually reach by August. The same Institute for Global Health estimate this would require 70,000 public health workers (about 6-7,000 in Scotland). 


Very limited testing early March abandoned by UK & Scottish governments 



But there is no evidence that the government has such plans
They have failed to provide PPE of either the quantity or quality required to frontline staff putting their own lives on the line to care for others. 
The alleged 'Health' Secretary Matt Hancock recently advised hospital staff to wash and re-use contaminated gowns, and blamed the scarcity of PPE not on supplies organised by his government, but on how much NHS staff use it! Nurses have died of COVID-19 after complaining of lack of proper protection. 


The Tories' promises of 100,000 tests a day at the end of April sound increasingly hollow and insulting as they only just reach the figure of 18-20,000 daily. 
Every day, the 5pm UK government briefing claims progress on testing and provision of PPE, followed an hour later by TV news horror stories of hospital staff and care workers left unprotected and untested for the virus, with increased numbers pronounced dead as a result. 


JD Sports warehouses still working - unsafely


Unions must demand concrete safety measures


Rather than allow workers to be victims of a premature stampede back to 'business as usual', the unions have a particular duty to demand a concrete plan of safety measures before non-essential businesses reopen. 
And not just empty promises of such measures from a government shown to have lied and prevaricated throughout this crisis, but actual concrete supplies and measures already in place. 


Those would need to include recruitment of a vast army to conduct mass testing of the population without stripping frontline workers from other lifeline services. 


'Test, trace and isolate' needs to be transformed from a mantra to a material reality before it's safe to consider reopening non-essential businesses. 
And isolation for those who test positive should include safe, caring health facilities, not just being stuck at home with others in the family, when the evidence from China suggests most transmission occurs within families or households. 


Seize production to match needs


It should include demands for the government to take over appropriate production units for the emergency, sustained supply of quality PPE for all workers in the firing line. 

It's brilliant and life-affirming to see networks of people sewing scrubs for NHS staff in their homes, but the scale of mass production required can only be organised by the state. Which raises the need for the government to take over major companies to coordinate armies of workers producing - in safe  conditions - all the safety equipment for NHS, care, food retail, and other essential services staff. 


Likewise, rather than the unseemly squabble between different nations for supplies of masks, scrubs, ventilators and Intensive Care Units, the government should commandeer factories to produce all that is needed, in the same fashion industries were taken over by governments for war production during World War Two. 
We cannot rely on the whims of the capitalist market to meet the life and death needs of workers and their families.

Recent scenes inside JD Sports warehouse: putting profit before people!



Unions' critical role


This whole crisis has heavily emphasised the critical importance of organised trade unions and collective action. It took intense lobbying by union reps, and mass walkouts by workers in many cases, to gradually force employers to introduce basic safety standards, or to shut down non-essential workplaces, with the demand for 100% average pay. 

Likewise, the RCN was right to offer full support to any of their 450,000 nurse members who "make the difficult decision to refuse to work without proper PPE" in the hospitals. 


The Royal College of Anaesthetists has since conducted a survey of members, who are at the very front line of treatment, applying ventilators to patients with severe COVID-19 infection. They found one in every five lacks proper PPE, and one in four feels pressurised to work despite this lack of protective equipment. 
They have now, rightly, advised members to refuse to work without adequate PPE, not only to protect their own health but that of patients too. 


Demand workers' control of Health & Safety through elected union reps


For workers’ control of health & safety


At workplace level, this whole experience underlines the importance of workers' control of health and safety, through elected shop stewards and Health & Safety reps. 

Such bodies need to be revived or established in every workplace, applying concrete demands for safer working conditions where they are already at work, or before non-essential production or sales resume. 

These to include reorganisation of workplaces to guarantee safe social distancing; deep cleans and intensified daily cleaning routines; screens, masks, surgical wipes and increased washing facilities; full average pay for vulnerable workers to self-isolate, or to shield vulnerable family members; and the right to refuse work when feeling endangered, as already exists as a right on paper, under Health & Safety legislation. 


Mass, weekly, professional testing at workplace level, as well as in the community, would be a major strand to any serious plan towards reviving production, sales and public transport.


Through this whole process it's right there needs to be a plan on when and how to ease lockdown. But workers' union representatives,  alongside scientists, need to be fully involved in decision-making, not just told what senior management have already decided in their absence. 


Construction workers still being forced to work: how can they keep 2m apart?




Workers’ voices must be heard 


It's welcome that Nicola Sturgeon has established a panel to look at this scenario, but very unwelcome that the unions are not represented on it, certainly not so far. 


The initial members of the SNP government's Advisory Group on Economic Recovery gives us a warning glimpse of the 'business as usual' outlook of that government. It's to be led by Benny Higgins, former Chief Executive of Tesco Bank for ten years, after stints as a top boss in RBS and HBOS. His first comrade-in-arms is Sir Anton Muscatelli, overpaid Principal of the University of Glasgow, not best known for his support for striking staff or protesting students! 


Both at national level and in each workplace the expertise and knowledge of workers themselves needs to be harnessed to ensure the safest possible working arrangements regardless of the impact on short-term profits. 


We need to organise resistance to any premature return to capitalist 'business as usual'. 

Workers' lives must come before the profits of the parasitic plunderers.