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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 September 2020


Covid-19 outbreaks: Safety is being overridden in drive to bolster the economy

photo NIH/CC

photo NIH/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Jonathan Fluxman and Jon Dale, Doctors in Unite union

Even as cases of Covid-19 infections are rising dramatically, the Tories are desperately trying to get workers back to their workplaces and spending money in city centres.

But workplace outbreaks of Covid-19 keep occurring. Abattoirs and meat packers in Scotland, Wales and Yorkshire, cake and sandwich makers in Newark and Northampton, sweatshop garment factories in Leicester and elsewhere, have been hit. Big workplace outbreaks have occurred in other countries too.

The common feature is workers in close proximity to each other, breathing the same air for hours. It is increasingly clear that working conditions are largely responsible for these outbreaks. Virus spread between workers outside the factory and in local communities plays only a small part.

Workers blamed

The timing, circumstances and pattern of the outbreaks points to them being typical 'super-spreader events', caused by airborne spread of the virus within the same enclosed indoor space of the factory. Infection rapidly passes from one or two individuals to many other workers.

Employers and some public health officials have been quick to blame workers for sharing cars and homes. The evidence shows that actions of workers themselves play only a minor role in these outbreaks.

Greencore claimed all its sites "have wide-ranging social-distancing measures, stringent hygiene procedures and regular temperature checking in place". Yet nearly 300 people working at its Northampton factory were still infected.

The spread of Covid-19 in indoor spaces is extremely difficult to prevent entirely. There is, in reality, no such thing as a 'Covid-safe' workplace or school - unless transmission in the community is eliminated. The rate of community transmission will determine what happens in our workplaces and schools, so a national 'Zero Covid' strategy is essential.

Trade unions should make indoor spaces safer by ensuring employers enact hygiene measures, distancing, wearing masks and proper ventilation. Ventilation has been neglected in government guidance.

The Health and Safety Executive, Food Standards Authority and other regulatory authorities should be ensuring this is done properly. But they have been hardly heard during the whole of the Covid-19 pandemic. Years of austerity cuts and the Tories' "bonfire of red tape," slashing even the mildest restrictions on profit-makers, have left them enfeebled and unable to meet the needs of this crisis.

Now schools, colleges and universities are returning. Workers can only rely on their own organisation and need their unions to demand:

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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 9 September 2020:

Coronavirus news

Fight the schools Covid crisis

Safety overridden in drive to bolster the economy

Caerphilly lockdown puts profits before safety

Under the microscope

Campaigns and party news

Jobs, training, pay, we want a future!

Dover: Solidarity with refugees - applause and cheers for socialist ideas to unite working class

BLM: Socialist alternative to racist capitalism

Big push to hit finance target


15% now - unions must fight for NHS pay rise

Callous Tories threaten not to uprate the minimum wage

XR blockade: Don't let the Tories criminalise protest

Grenfell fire inquiry stops victims attending

Video game developer attacks Black Lives Matter

What we think

U-turn Tories' splits are growing

Workplace news

Fight Amazon's anti-union spies

NSSN rally: Workers must not pay the price of Covid

Nottingham City Council: The (mis)adventures of Robin Hood Energy

Covid-19 pandemic increases financial pressures on Welsh local government

Ireland: Debenham's workers occupy stores

Hull: Defend Tony Smith!

Reinstate Richie Venton


A critical election for Unison general secretary


Back at work! TUSC to stand in elections again against pro-austerity politicians

International news

Belarus: Mass opposition continues to defy repression by Lukashenko's regime

Strike wave marks new stage in revival of Iranian workers' movement


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