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From: The Socialist issue 1080, 30 March 2020: PPE, tests, full pay - for all now

Search site for keywords: Coronavirus - Food - Workers - US - Agency workers

Scandalous conditions in food distribution centre: hygiene now!

Warehouse, photo Trougnouf/CC

Warehouse, photo Trougnouf/CC   (Click to enlarge)

A distribution centre worker

"Too little, too late" is ringing in many workers' ears. In my workplace, a food distribution centre, it definitely echoes. A worker on the morning shift, who had been with the company decades, was recently confirmed to have the virus.

It took until last week for management to make some minimal, last-minute provisions. Hand gel stations were put in just days ago. Not all equipment is sterilised. Smoking areas are cramped, and bike sheds are not allowed to be used for smoking.

The company has liquidated certain product chains to focus on high-demand goods. Bosses are dragging their heels with health and safety - but sprinting towards recruitment drives.

We have an intake of hundreds of new starters over the next few weeks. Agency workers are to be trained in clusters of ten. Social distancing is not enforced during training.

All this is weeks after the World Health Organisation and later the government named the virus a threat, and days after the national lockdown. A collective worry is that coronavirus carriers could already have infected co-workers, or even people receiving the food.

Messages are regularly sent to staff via Tannoy and wrist trackers to thank us for our hard work during the crisis. But like the recent hand-clap for NHS staff, it raises the question of how workers in essential sectors are really treated at this time.

Although performance measurement has been quietly suspended for directly employed workers, the agency workers are not told this. And once 'normal' is restored, will it be the 'normal' we had before, the normal that laid the foundations of this crisis?

The bosses have offered us a 10% pay rise. We should bite into this - with lockjaw! But let's remember that a couple of months ago they offered us a below-inflation 1.8% insult in wage negotiations. This was promptly rejected by over 90% of balloted workers.

Managers have left the shopfloor and stay holed up in the office. Notices displayed outside tell workers to only enter when called. Even then we are separated from management by a glass window with speakers attached.

Tensions seem to be sharpening recently. If the bosses won't guarantee hygiene, their firms should be nationalised to keep us safe. The lost time is blood on the hands of the capitalists and their system.

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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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