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From The Socialist newspaper, 1 April 2020

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1080

Emergency legislation: Trade unions must be on guard against attacks on workers' interests

RMT union members demonstrating against Johnson's threat to the right to strike, London 19.12.19, photo JB

RMT union members demonstrating against Johnson's threat to the right to strike, London 19.12.19, photo JB   (Click to enlarge)

Within just a few days, Tory ministers managed to drive their 329-page emergency coronavirus bill through both houses of parliament.

The new Act gives the government unprecedented and widespread powers. Along with some 'secondary legislation' measures enacted just before, it gives powers to a range of state officials and the police to close premises, stop events, restrict or close transport networks, enforce 'social distancing', order isolation, detain people, and much else.

It also provides power to close the UK borders.

Many of the temporary measures to protect the health of workers and their families, and save lives, will be widely supported, despite the limits on freedoms and rights. The Act also includes measures such as allowing recently retired NHS staff to return to work without any loss of pension rights.

But there are powers in the Act which could potentially impact badly on the health of sections of the population. For instance, it gives councils the power to downgrade care for the disabled and the elderly.

In addition, there are measures which could be misused. For example, it will be more straightforward for doctors to be able to certify a death without actually seeing the deceased person; and the signature of only one doctor rather than two will be necessary to section someone on mental health grounds.

It was for reasons like these that even some Tory MPs expressed disquiet. A Kent Tory MP, Tom Tugendhat, argued that some of the powers could be used in a "malicious fashion". The criticisms led the government to promise a six-monthly 'review' of the measures - which have been legislated to remain in force for two years!

Why two years, when the top health representatives are saying that special measures will be necessary for six months? The trade union movement needs to be on guard for the many possible ways the Act could be used against workers' interests.

The foremost aim of capitalist governments is not protecting people's lives and health but defending the interests of big business and the super-rich. With the economy plummeting, sharp and major battles lie ahead over who will pay the price of the crisis - battles in which the government will seek to use laws and the justice system against workers' struggles.

The new legislation could also be used against other democratic rights, such as the regular holding of elections in which political representatives can be removed.

The Tory government can't be trusted to make decisions on these issues in the interests of working-class people.

The trade unions and working people need to fight for the right to be able to check and veto all emergency measures - and assess and control the way they are used. This is the only way to ensure they are used solely to safeguard the health and other interests of the overwhelming majority in society.

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 1 April 2020:

Coronavirus news

NHS workers speak out: austerity has left us unprepared

Schools: union oversight needed to end chaos in provision under coronavirus

Councils must use resources now for emergency response

NHS supply chain worker: privatisation has cut equipment quantity and quality

Self-isolation class divide: decent homes for all!

Fully fund hospices to care for vulnerable children

Scandalous conditions in food distribution centre

Coronavirus news in brief

World War Two

All in this together? The 'Blitz spirit' myth

What we think

PPE, tests, full pay - for all now

Labour must resist 'Covid coalition': Workers need their own voice and party

Emergency legislation: Trade unions must be on guard against attacks on workers' interests

Food supply and the coronavirus crisis

Capitalism means empty shelves, food insecurity, and soaring profits - the case for a socialist alternative

Workplace news

Key workers should make bold demands

Essential workers deserve more

Working in Mike Ashley's empire: After lockdown we won't forget how we've been treated

Hull construction workers force bosses to shut down site over health and safety fears

Bosses concede to walkouts in Northern Ireland

Bus drivers halt sackings - now restore our pay

Postal workers walk out over health, safety and junk mail

Working from home during the pandemic

Leicester: Nylacast worker exposes truth

Refuse collection workers strike


Fight for safety, staffing and services - Covid chaos for benefits claimants

More than ever, we need accountable union leaders


Help us continue to fight for workers and socialism

Building the Socialist Party

Readers' opinion

Going viral - Socialist letters and comments on the coronavirus crisis


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