The Tory government is setting England on course for a gamble with Covid-19.
The labour movement is not well-placed to second-guess scientists. But we must step up our fight for the social measures we’ve long been campaigning for, and which are known to alleviate the spread of Covid.
On 1 July the editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) responded to the appointment of Sajid Javid as health minister with a list of demands. Those included:
• Proper financial support for those who need to isolate.
• Invest in ventilation.
• Make FFP3 masks mandatory for all staff treating patients with suspected or confirmed covid.
• Share vaccines with the world.
• Funding for recruitment, training, and retention of healthcare staff.
• A long term settlement for health and social care... enough to tackle waiting lists, long term symptoms of covid...[and] preparing for the next pandemic.
The BMJ also called for action on “social inequalities and poor underlying health” which, it said, had been “a major cause of the UK’s high rates of death and illness during the pandemic”.
Reversing cuts, making good uncrowded housing available to all, establishing workers’ rights against zero-hours contracts, under which workers get no income at all if they self-isolate because of infection — all those battles are also central to the battle to curb the virus.
The BMJ added a demand to “abandon mass asymptomatic testing. The UK’s testing strategy adopted a poorly performing [lateral-flow] test and has used it badly, squandering precious funds”.
For ourselves, we emphasise that rebuilding the NHS must include back the NHS workers’ 15% pay-rise demand, and add:
• Requisition Big Pharma! Know-how and facilities should be taken into public hands and made available worldwide for an emergency vaccine production and distribution drive.
• Take social care into the public sector, with workers on NHS-level pay and conditions.
In workplaces, we add:
• Workers’ control over workplace safety, on the model of the workplace safety committees won by the Chicago Teachers’ Union, with union majorities.
• Continue work-from-home until unions have agreed precautions in the workplace.
The TUC has criticised the government for withdrawing workplace safety rules, but said nothing about what to do if the government does withdraw them. Socialists will press unions to insist that employers continue existing precautions, as a minimum, and strengthen them on issues like ventilation.
The Tories claim that vaccination has “severed” the link between infections and hospitalisations and deaths. Untrue. The high rates of vaccination reached in Britain mean that, per thousand infections, we now expect one death rather than ten, but there are still deaths.
The Tories claim that their plan to lift all legal restrictions from 19 July shifts the balance to “personal responsibility”. But under their scheme the employer who crams workers into a crowded indoors space without masks or good ventilation, and forces sick workers to come into work for lack of sick pay, will not be held “responsible” at all — unless unions call them to book.