Its workers, not Cummings, who can expose them
Wednesday 26 May saw Boris Johnson’s ex-advisor Dominic Cummings spend seven hours detailing the government’s incompetence in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
For workers who have been forced into unsafe workplaces without PPE, put onto furlough with a 20% pay cut, or lost their family members – we don’t need Cummings to tell us just part of what we already know. Throughout the pandemic, the Socialist has published the voice of workers from the frontline – those who have been engaged in the struggle for PPE and for workplace safety. But our worker-writers didn’t just list examples of the government’s incompetence. Unlike Cummings, they explained that the depth and severity of the crisis is a consequence of capitalism putting the profits of big business ahead of our lives and livelihoods.
Importantly, our paper puts forward the Socialist Party’s political programme, summed up in our ‘Coronavirus Workers’ Charter‘. We have consistently explained the need to take into democratic public ownership the huge wealth and resources that exist under capitalism so they can be utilised to keep workers safe.
This is what the Socialist said, responding to the crisis during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic:
4 March 2020
The Socialist issue 1076
Coronavirus: Underfunded, understaffed – NHS is NOT prepared
An NHS worker: “My hospital is one of those taking suspected Covid-19 cases… Recently we went beyond ‘black alert’ – indicating a serious incident where the hospital can no longer provide comprehensive care.”
On the front page: “Nationalisation of big corporations, including the pharmaceutical industry; democratic planning by the working class, and international cooperation – in a word, socialism – could prevent new diseases like Covid-19 becoming disasters.”
24 March 2020
The Socialist issue 1079
Tests, full pay and funding for all now!
An NHS professional asked: “When are they going to test frontline staff? This has been the question across the hospital all weekend – and is it any wonder? We feel we are being put in danger.”
Jon Dale, secretary, Unite union Nottinghamshire NHS branch (personal capacity) explained: “Testing large numbers is critical to bringing outbreaks under control. All patients’ contacts, and health and care workers, need to know they have not become infected themselves and are passing the virus on.”
“Large companies making diagnostic tests – like Thermo Fisher, worth about $110 billion – don’t invest in tests that may never be needed. They want guaranteed sales.
“A socialist plan of production would combine laboratory research with modern purpose-built factories, prepared for new infectious disease outbreaks whenever they arose.
“Public ownership and investment, not short-term profit-hunting, would save many lives.”
1 April 2020
The Socialist issue 1080
PPE, tests, full pay for all now
NHS worker Lucy spoke to us: “I dread to think how many patients have been infected on the ward, and how many we have sent to their homes to infect other residents, family, their community and the people who look after them. We only get a flimsy mask and apron to look after ‘awaiting results’ patients.
“Seems like not testing saves kit and just may get rid of the old and the weak. Staff may still be held accountable for spreading the virus! When concerns are raised, we usually hear: ‘We will look into it.’ Good luck everyone.”
In the same issue an NHS supply chain worker told us: “Clinical oversight of equipment procurement must be reinstated. Massive funding for purchasing and manufacturing PPE must be made available now. Privatisation must be scrapped, and NHS Supply Chain brought back in-house, under a fully funded and democratically planned NHS.”
The following week an intensive care technician told us: “I’m working in a Covid-19 intensive care unit (ICU). On the afternoon of 3 April, we ran out of body bags.
“The situation at the moment regarding personal protective equipment (PPE) is dire. I started working in the Covid ICU on 30 March and we had plenty of PPE. By that Thursday we were running low. On Friday, we were using secondary, cheap replacement gear, which none of us thought was up to the mark.”
The government’s record has been a litany of disasters, with grave consequences for hundreds of thousands of workers. It has been announced that there will be an independent public inquiry, but not until spring 2022.
No one knows the full extent of the failings better than the workers on the frontline. And we can only trust our own, working-class organisations to conduct it. That’s why we need an immediate workers’ inquiry, democratically led by the trade unions (see ‘Covid inquiry? Workers must decide’ at socialistparty.org.uk).
But the main lessons of the crisis are already clear. That capitalism has failed to protect our lives and livelihoods. That we need a system where the huge wealth and resources in society are in the hands of the vast majority of the population – the working class – with production and distribution democratically planned to meet our needs.
Employers hide Covid workplace deaths
Greedy bosses put their profits ahead of our health. Millions of workers have been forced into unsafe workplaces during the pandemic, without PPE or effective social-distancing. In the year from April 2020 15,236 people of working age died from Covid-19, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Meanwhile, only 387 deaths have been recorded by employers as being as a result of workers contracting Covid at work. In a report compiled by the TUC, figures show between March and December 2020, 600 transport workers died – only ten were recorded as work-related. In the same period, 63 food-production workers died – just three were recorded as work-related.
The TUC claim that these figures reflect insufficient scrutiny from the underfunded Health and Safety Executive, and inadequate regulation. Undoubtedly this is true. But workers and trade unions cannot rely on regulation alone to defend safety. As we demanded on the front page of the Socialist on 3 June 2020, after teachers had forced the government to back down over the unsafe full re-opening of schools: “Stand firm for workplace safety – No return to work until safety can be guaranteed – Workers’ and trade union control of workplace safety.”
Self-isolation support – too little too late
Over a year into the Coronavirus pandemic, and only now are measures being piloted to support those who need to self-isolate. £11.9 million of funding will be split across nine local authorities to pay for alternative accommodation and other measures.
The news comes after figures from a Public Health England and Kings College study that showed less than 50% of people stuck to self-isolation rules. But if the rent can’t wait and you won’t get paid, many workers are forced to work.
That’s why we demand in our workers’ charter: “Any worker who has to self-isolate or cannot go to work should receive full pay from day one and not be forced to take annual leave. Pay should be paid directly to the worker not via the employer… Workers who follow health advice to be absent from work to avoid potential spread should be excluded from any attendance-management procedures”
Thousands wait for long-Covid treatment
1.1 million people in the UK are living with long Covid, according to the Office for National Statistics. Thousands are left waiting for care. This is despite the government’s promise of 69 specialist clinics operating in January. An all-party parliamentary group has found many sites not even up and running. One NHS trust had assessed only 498 patients of 2,796 referrals by the end of March, and another has not even triaged the 700 referrals it has received.
The NHS remains underfunded and understaffed (see pages 1 and 5) – it needs a huge injection of funding, and a mass recruitment and training programme now. Those experiencing long Covid must receive full sick pay until they are properly medically assessed.
See ‘Long Covid: Fight for jobs, benefits and services’ at socialistparty.org.uk