Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash
Solidarity is confused about the purpose of lockdown and in a muddle about what to do about the reopenings. The editorial of 17 June headlined “Still an emergency” argues “Solidarity is against rushed lockdown-easing, not all lockdown-easing [their emphasis]...We want workers' control over reopenings, not opposition to all reopenings [my emphasis]"
The problem is that the emergency exists because “infections are still running high”, significantly higher than any other European country. If physical distancing, washing your hands, use of PPE and following isolation rules are sufficient for reducing the R rate then lockdown is unnecessary. If the infection rate is too high then these measures do not work.
Workers’ Liberty is fond of quoting Lenin: “A 'negative' slogan unconnected with a definite positive solution will not 'sharpen', but dull consciousness, for such a slogan is a hollow phrase.” The negative slogan in this case is the number of imaginary adversaries that the writer has invented in an attempt to define a position: people who have forgotten we are living through a global emergency, people who are in favour of indefinite lockdowns, people who are anxious, people who are not anxious enough. The attempt at a positive solution i.e. “workers control” is contentless. The editorial dodges the central issue: if lockdown easing is being rushed then workers should oppose lockdown easing until such a point when we judge that it is not being rushed.
The editorial actually argues the opposite: “the official reopening of shops in England from 15 June, following the gradual reopening of cafes and pubs for takeaway in recent weeks, will probably 'work'."
The reality is that no amount of workplace workers control is going to make a workplace safe if there are large numbers of Covid-19 infected people out and about.
It is difficult to judge what the"safe" level of infection is for reopenings. A central obstacle to making this judgement is that the authoritive scientific body, charged with sifting all the evidence, operates in secret and its advice is filtered through the government who have their own agenda. We know that this body has been ignored and some individuals have been sidelined for speaking against the government.
To add content to the workers' control slogan we should demand transparency: that the SAGE committee advice is made public. We should demand access to the best scientific advice as a basic health and safety measure. This would not make reopenings risk free (these are live experiments) but it would make it safer. We have no faith in the government to act in our interests. The biggest safety threat within our workplaces is the general rate of infection, not the number of pedal bins or the number of bottles of hand sanitiser.
Workers Liberty has rightly said that it should not pose as amateur epidemiologists. But this does not mean collapsing into de facto support for the government’s pandemic response, nor conceding that this is terrain where workers cannot act. We need workers control not simply of “how” lockdown easing happens but “when”.
I have previously argued for national unions to ballot members so that they have live mandates for national strikes over workplace safety giving workers the power to enforce lockdowns against government advice, and win demands such as making the SAGE advice public. Some arguments have been made against this proposal but none offer an alternative strategy.
The lockdown easing may “work” but we have a duty to prepare workers for the eventuality that it will not and to advocate effective independent working-class action to take power out of government hands and into the democratic control of the organised working-class.
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