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From: The Socialist issue 1081, 8 April 2020: Tory lies cost lives

Search site for keywords: Workers - Food - Council - US - London

A day in the life of a frontline worker

Workers need coronavirus protection, photo USAF/CC

Workers need coronavirus protection, photo USAF/CC   (Click to enlarge)

I'm a learning disabilities day centre care worker for a London council.

The day centre is currently closed due to coronavirus, and available staff and minibuses are being used for vital food distribution to vulnerable and needy people in our borough. We are led by council officers and are working alongside other council staff, charities and community volunteers.

All separate charities and community groups have now come under one central umbrella, which is far more effective than disparate, uncoordinated efforts.

This has been a massive logistical operation, started from scratch. The minibus I'm on has been delivering to 20-22 households a day. Tables have been transported, set up and disinfected. Large food deliveries are arriving daily, and sorted and bagged up by the packers.

The health and safety provisions are very good. We have dispensers, gloves, facemasks and bodysuits provided. Social distancing is insisted on by everyone.

A London Evening Standard photographer was present on the first day at the food hub, promoting their 'Food For London' campaign. But I find their campaign hypocritical, like their previous 'Homeless' and 'Youth' campaigns.

For decades, this newspaper has supported Tory capitalist policies that have attacked and reduced the welfare state, which has provided some universal and communal provisions. Then, they launch benevolent charity 'campaigns' for the consequences of the policies that they have politically supported!

Multitasking

Out on the road we phone ahead to the households to inform them of their impending delivery. As an escort, it would have been useful for us to have been allocated work phones. As it is, we are using our own phones to make these calls.

I was prefixing all of my phone numbers with '141' for my privacy, and it was tricky at times driving around over potholes and speed bumps, wearing disposable gloves, reading numbers off a sheet and dialling a 14-digit phone number!

Grateful residents getting our deliveries are posting kind comments about us on their neighbourhood social media forums. Some have told us that they no longer need our food supplies and ask that we give their supply to someone else in need.

This shows the real attitude of the vast majority of working-class people - not the derogatory characterisations of scroungers and thieves usually portrayed by the Tory press, and by television programmes like 'Benefits Street'.

As we are local government workers, we don't lose any pay for doing another role. Any council staff working above their grade will be paid for the time that they are acting-up. Additional hours worked by council staff are guaranteed to be got back.

As I am a trade union rep, I still hear of other council workers having to haggle over paid time off, etc - so not all managers appear fully sympathetic in this crisis.

Essential travel

One issue I have flagged up to management is regarding key workers that live outside our borough commuting into work.

As the NHS and government mantra is 'Save lives, only travel if essential', I have suggested that these staff would be better helping out at their local food hub instead (every London borough now has one).

This would reduce distances travelled, and therefore reduce the spread of Covid-19.

This suggestion has been formally put forward by my trade union branch to our Human Resources department, and we are currently awaiting a response from them.

In this hectic, 'finding your feet as you go', food hub environment everyone has been working selflessly in collaboration. We are all working for what is needed by people, not for our own private gain. We are all adapting, and improving the processes as we are going.

Our managers sometimes are a little slow to pick up on this new way of working - we have been asked to turn up at 9.00am, which is before the bulk food delivery has arrived, never mind having been packed ready for loading and distribution!

We have worked out to be 'on standby' for when we're needed, as we have been delivering on some days up to as late as 10pm (we usually work from 8.30am-4pm).

Super-rich

Compare the outlook of us, charities and volunteers doing what we can to meet the food needs of those who need support during this crisis, with how the sort of people who feature regularly in the annual Sunday Times Rich List behave.

The super-rich minimise their tax liabilities by basing their companies in offshore tax havens, which means less resources for public services and the NHS.

These tax dodgers employ zero-hour staff to maximise their already massive profits.

They also buy housing properties as investments and leave them empty, while those of us who are now key workers during this crisis live in overcrowded accommodation, and don't earn enough to buy a London property or pay market rents without claiming benefits.

Some of these billionaires are asking for government subsidies while paying themselves and their shareholders massive dividends!

When this coronavirus crisis subsides, there will be a reckoning with these billionaires and their politician friends.

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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.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

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