Solidarity 548, 19 May 2020

It's your right to refuse unsafe work

Watch the video of the article on this page: As workers are encouraged to return to the workplace, as part of the government’s botched and reckless easing of lockdown measures, an urgent discussion is taking place across workplaces and through unions about resisting a lurch back to work in unsafe conditions. School workers’ unions are organising to resist a planned reopening from 1 June of schools (beyond the vulnerable and key workers’ children for whom they have remained open throughout. Joe Anderson, the Labour mayor of Liverpool, and some other Labour councils have said they support the...

Schools and the Tories' 1 June

On Sunday 10 May, in a pre-recorded message, Boris Johnson, stated the government’s desire to open primary schools to all Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils on 1 June. He also said he hoped that Year 10 and Year 12 would be able to get some face to face contact in the near future. Further guidance from the government then added nursery age children in primary schools to that list. The announcement was shocking and reckless, and sent a paroxysm of fear through school workers, particularly in primary schools. The science for the “reopening” seemed very weak at best. Recognising (as primary...

Brazil in the pandemic

Brazil is now one of the epicentres of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The number of confirmed cases is over 200,000, and deaths over 15,000, making it the fourth largest outbreak in the world. The still almost-exponentially-increasing number of cases has, however, not been enough to convince Jair Bolsonaro to establish any sort of federal social distancing policy. The president was instead interviewed at a floating barbecue party (!) as the number of deaths reached 10,000. Local governments have tried to institute their own policies, but lack of federal funding, extreme poverty and years of...

Fight the coming job cuts

JCB, a big company making mechanical diggers, has sent out letters beginning the consultation legally required when declaring more than 100 redundancies. The required 45 days consultation will end on 2 July, just after the end of the current phase of the “furlough” scheme under which the government covers 80% of the wages of workers sent home for the lockdown. JCB plans to cut 950 from its permanent workforce, and 500 agency-worker jobs. The Daily Telegraph has reported that Airbus plans to “finalise” plans to cut 10,000 jobs across Europe — from its 134,000 total workforce — in the next few...

Tories' anti-migrant rush

The Tories are trying to rush through their new Immigration Bill under the cover of the pandemic. The “second reading” in Parliament was announced at a few days’ notice as Monday 18 May. The Labour Campaign for Free Movement is calling on the Labour leadership and MPs to oppose the Tories’ xenophobia by standing up for the alternative: solidarity, equality and free movement for all. It asks supporters to: • sign the statement here calling on Labour to oppose the Bill • tweet a quick (less than 2 minutes) video of yourself talking about why you oppose the Immigration Bill, with the hashtag...

Quarantine, not border closure

It’s Friday 13 March 2020. The UK has 789 confirmed cases of Covid-19. It is still 10 days away from a national lockdown that will stay in place for seven weeks, effectively shuttering large swathes of society. And the government has just removed the Foreign Office advice that travellers from Wuhan, Northern Italy, and other “hotspots” for Covid-19 should self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in the UK. The country now has no advice or restrictions on international arrivals to contain the pandemic. However, on 11 May, the UK government reversed its position, releasing guidance announcing that...

Brexit deadline in six weeks

It is now just six weeks until the deadline for the UK to request an extension to the Brexit transition period (30 June), and the Tory leadership is digging in. Their spokesperson said: “We will not ask to extend the transition period, and if the EU asks we will say no.” According to the Sunday Times (17 May), civil servants previously working on pandemic control have been shifted to work on no-deal Brexit preparations. Even if the UK and EU agree a trade deal, it will represent a very hard, damaging form of Brexit. But as we go to press negotiations have once again stalled. A No Deal Brexit...

The long battle on work safety

When I worked long ago in a notoriously unhealthy and dangerous steel works, Stanton near Nottingham, we often had disputes about safety. When I first worked there the plant had the worst industrial accident record in the East Midlands region. Worse than any colliery. Deaths, limbs lost, massive burns, and cancers and lung disease as a result of fume inhalation. Noise levels were rarely less than 100 decibels. In some areas over 125dB. When the company was eventually required to give hearing tests, one third of the workers were found to be suffering from hearing loss, including myself, though...

Diary of a Tube worker: Sitting in the glass box

“With the right PPE it may be possible to reduce social distancing and that would be the way services could return to something more like normal”. Everyone seems pretty sceptical about this. Would everyone, passengers and staff, need to have this PPE? What makes a difference? It’s 24 hours after the government announcement to “stay alert” and everyone expects more people to start travelling. And that means we will be asked to be “visible” and to assist more. Already people are complaining about being made to sit in the GLAP (glass box by the barriers). “Who is cleaning it?” I ask. “You can...

Section 44 in the civil service

The National Executive Committee of the Public and Commercial Services union met on 13 May to discuss the union’s position on a potential back-to-work drive. This is an abridged and slighted edited version of a report published by an NEC member and supporter of the Independent Left network. The full version will be published on the Independent Left website. Our Independent Left proposals, built around how to respond in the worst-case scenario of a mass return to work, were as follows. It was broadly agreed that 1, 2, 4 and 5 were covered by the union’s actions and/or overtaken by events. 3...

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