No return to work or school until…
- We have an intensive, community-based programme of testing and tracing to suppress Covid-19;
- Workers, students, parents & medical scientists decide that conditions are safe & protection is reliable.
Extend settled status to all immigrants who want it – End NHS charges for immigrants – Kick the Home Office out of the NHS
It is an outrage that the government is lifting the Covid-19 lock-down and trying to force people back to work, to school and onto public transport in unsafe conditions, without protection and when there is still no serious national programme of testing for the virus and tracing contacts. From January onwards, and even after the infection reached Britain in February and the first deaths occurred in early March, the government’s refusal to prepare for the looming pandemic was a demonstration of criminal irresponsibility. That response aroused anger and opposition that increased during March, and Boris Johnson had to bring in a UK-wide lock-down on 23rd March. On Sunday 10th May he announced the first stage of lifting that lock-down. That is the latest demonstration of criminal irresponsibility.
Covid-19 is still infecting and killing thousands of people in Britain. The UK has the biggest number of infections and deaths in Europe; the NHS and care homes are still under-equipped and over-stretched; the provision of equipment and the conduct of testing is chaotic; lucrative contracts are being handed out to dubious private companies, and the future development of the virus is uncertain. The government’s response to the situation is to stop publishing international comparisons and to censor the science. Lifting the lock-down now will mean a sharp rise in infections and a lot more deaths – and the people getting ill and dying will mostly be poor, in low-paid jobs, in care homes, and will be disproportionately black and Asian.
Boris Johnson and his government never wanted the lock-down in the first place. They had ignored all the warnings of the damage that years of cuts and privatisation have inflicted on the NHS and social services. They had disregarded all the warnings about the danger of new pandemics and the advice to stockpile equipment, protective clothing etc. They were prepared to see a rising and preventable death toll – in order to keep business going. For this government, the poor and oppressed are expendable; profits are sacred
How the lock-down happened
We the public imposed the lock-down on Johnson. The government’s own figures demonstrate that the bulk of the fall in public transport and car use had already occurred before Johnson officially announced a lock-down. In the three weeks before his announcement, journeys by car and by London buses had fallen by nearly 30 percentage points, bus journeys in other areas fell by 35 points, London underground and national rail by around by 25 points. Even journeys on foot had fallen.
Journeys were falling rapidly because more and more workers, parents, students, teachers etc were not going to work or school. It became a movement, and it was greatly strengthened by the efforts of doctors, scientists and journalists who were publicly exposing the government’s refusal to prepare for the pandemic. Organisations had to follow suit: universities, sporting bodies like the Football Association, some schools and even some businesses – theatres, carmakers etc – shut down or went online. This open resistance compelled Johnson to take action – reluctantly, belatedly and hesitantly.
In April, an anonymous cabinet minister told the High Tory Daily Telegraph newspaper that the government had not wanted a lock-down, but was forced into it by ‘public opinion’ (it was actually public action).
Despite all the problems that the lock-down has created for people, it is still supported by the overwhelming majority of people in Britain. The government’s failure to take effective action has left them with no other way to limit the spreading infection and save lives after.
Now the government wants to return to its original course of inaction. Johnson’s televised ‘address to the nation’ on 10th May launched the new and meaningless slogan, ‘Stay Alert,’ to replace ‘Stay at Home.’ He accompanied this with confused and confusing advice, and the lying assertion that the government is ‘following the science.’ It had a single purpose – to get people back to work in order to protect the profits of the capitalists who run big business. Meanwhile, of course, the rich and powerful capitalists will keep themselves very safe. They have always ‘socially distanced’ themselves from the people they exploit and oppress.
If we act together now we can win. The government has been badly shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic and the public reaction to it. Cabinet ministers are already divided over what level of deaths, and how much more damage to the NHS they can get away with. A co-ordinated refusal to return to work or study under the present conditions can stop the government’s plan, just as massive independent action started the lock-down in March.
Return to school is a cynical manoeuvre
One of the most cynical aspects of Johnson’s plan is the attempt to get children and teachers back to school. The government wants children in primary school reception classes (4 & 5 years old) in year 1 (5 &6) and in year 6 (10 & 11) to go back to school, and under-5s to return to nurseries, playgroups, childminders etc. This is not based on public health or educational considerations. The idea of ‘social distancing’ in classes of 4, 5 and 6 year-olds or even younger is utterly absurd. The only reason for this decision is to get their parents back to work. It will spread the virus further and lead to more deaths.
This is unacceptable and we won’t accept it. The people returning to work are doing so reluctantly, and their numbers are low. Parents are resisting the proposal. All the unions with members working in schools (teachers, assistants, cleaners, cooks, office staff) oppose the plan; they are supported by the Trade Union Congress (TUC). The two biggest teachers’ unions are telling their members not to co-operate with the government’s plan, and reminding them that they have a legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions – as all workers do. They are supported by the British Medical Association (BMA). Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland are maintaining the lock-down; some local educational authorities in England, like Liverpool, are refusing to re-open schools at this stage.
In fact, schools have never shut down totally, nor has education. Children and young people who have special educational needs are, rightly, able to attend school where they can be taught in safely manageable numbers, often on a rota basis; so are the children of some key workers in essential services. Throughout the lock-down, teachers have been going into schools on a rota basis, and they have been preparing and conducting online work for their students. There is much more that we can fight for while a lock-down is maintained – allocating areas of parks and open spaces for the use of children from individual schools, for example, and ensuring that all students have online access, which would make online lessons possible. However, in the current unsafe and unprepared state of affairs, returning a very much larger number of pupils, teachers and other staff to primary schools, nurseries etc would be a recipe for chaos, and undermine the positive work that is going on. The only beneficiaries would be the capitalists and the Covid-19 virus.
None of us are ‘addicted to the lock-down,’ as government ministers are saying. Living under lock-down is a huge problem for most of us; the poorer you are, or the more oppressed and abused you are, the harder and more dangerous it is. We should not have to resort to a lock-down to save our health and our lives, or the health and lives of our families, friends, neighbours, co-workers and fellow students. We are in this position because of years and years of ANTI-SOCIAL government – government by criminally irresponsible politicians. We are ruled by the political heirs of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, by her guiding principles: “There is no such thing as society, there are only individuals and their families,” and “You can’t buck the markets.”
Those policies have become central to all the main capitalist governments over the past four decades. They have devastated communities across Britain, created even greater devastation in poor countries, and led to ever more racist divide-and-rule policies from governments, mounting health problems everywhere, and increasingly dangerous global heating; they have turned education and health into privileges rather than rights; they led to mass murder at Grenfell Tower and the racism and chaos of Brexit. Now they have brought the biggest pandemic for 100 years and quite possibly the deepest recession since the industrial revolution.
However, the fight-back against Johnson’s criminal policy on Covid-19 has already achieved what the Labour opposition could never manage: it derailed the central policy of a Tory government. We have to drive that victory home in order to defeat both our enemies – the virus, with its potential to adapt more effectively to its human hosts, and the capitalists & politicians, who have weaponised their own virus of racism and xenophobia through Brexit.
There is much we still need to win in order to defeat those two enemies:
- We must win the extension of settled status and the right of residence in the UK to everyone who wants it, whether they have papers or not;
- We must end NHS charges for immigrants and the ‘No recourse to public funds’ policy, shut down all immigration detention centres and stop deportations;
- We must stop all reporting of patients’ immigration status to the Home Office.
These are essential public health measures to defeat the virus, as well as basic issues of human rights, because they would allow immigrants and asylum seekers to seek medical help without the fear of detention and deportation. They are essential political measures to oppose and undermine the capitalists’ racist scapegoating of immigrants.
We must demand:
- An intensive, community-based programme of testing for the virus & anti-bodies and tracing contacts;
- The urgent reversal of the massive cuts to local council’s funding, so that they can take a leading role in fighting the pandemic;
- Free broadband for the homes of all school age children and students who need it.
The government has proved itself incapable of dealing with a serious public health crisis – or with the levels of poverty it has created. Whatever they dishonestly promise, we can’t afford to give them, or any of their agents and appointees, the benefit of doubt. We know from experience that they will fail and deceive us. We – workers, communities, students, immigrants – must take matters into our own hands. We must take control from the government and the capitalists:
- Health workers and social care workers, at all levels (doctors, nurses, cleaners, technicians, care assistants etc) must join together and take control of the delivery and management of health care, social care, the supply and distribution of protective equipment, medical equipment, drugs etc, working with supportive organisations in the communities they serve; this is too important to be left to the government and profit-driven companies;
- We must fight by any means necessary, including rent strikes and occupations, to stop evictions and cancel rent payments;
- We demand that all furloughed workers receive 100% of their pay; where conditions make it safe to work, we must oppose redundancies and fight for the available work to be shared between workers on the full weekly pay (cut the hours not the wages).
If Johnson and his ministers persist with their deadly policy of lifting the lock-down and fail to take the essential measures outlined above, it will be necessary to unite all our forces and use all our social power to Bring Down the Government.