Virus: indict the Tories!

Submitted by AWL on 13 September, 2020 - 2:54
Johnson in mask

Of people who test positive for the virus and should self-isolate, only 20% or fewer are doing so fully.

That’s an official estimate.

No one knows what percentage of people who are identified as contacts of the infected — and may be infectious themselves, without having symptoms — are self-isolating. Most people asked to self-isolate get no or minimal isolation pay, so isolated properly is economically difficult or impossible.

Of those who do self-isolate, many can do so only in overcrowded housing. However careful they are, they’re likely to infect others there.

In New Zealand, the government pays for workers self-isolating for the pandemic to get £291 a week. In a number of countries, full sick pay is a legal right for most workers. In Senegal, a country with far smaller accumulated economic resources than Britain, hotels have been transformed into quarantine units, and people can self-isolate safely rather than in crowded housing.

In Britain, too, the labour movement can win changes.

In Germany, despite an aged population, the death rate has been much lower than in Britain. At least one factor is clear. Housing for the frail elderly (and generally) is better there than in Britain, where large and crowded care homes have heavily-casualised staffing and overcrowded private rentals have doubled in the last 10 years.

The labour movement must fight to bring care homes into the public sector, with staff on regular public-sector pay and conditions.

In Australia, the right-wing government has conceded paid pandemic leave at least for care-home workers. In Britain, very few care-home workers had full isolation at the start of the pandemic. It has now been won for something like 40% of care homes, though as yet for few domiciliary care workers.

The labour movement can win changes beyond that.

The NHS has 100,000 unfilled vacancies. Many, at least, could be filled with the 15% pay rise NHS workers are demanding. In France, all health workers won an increase of about £2000 a year after they struck and demonstrated on 30 June — and the conservative Macron government has been pushed into a big budget boost for hospitals.

In Britain, too, the labour movement can win changes.

Partly thanks to dogged resistance by the civil service union PCS, the project of pulling workers-from-home back into offices — just so that they can cram the pubs and cafés round the offices, and restore their profits! — has so far moved slower in Britain than in most European countries, much slower than in France or Germany.

The labour movement can restore work-from-home until workers feel confident to go back to offices.

Back in March and April, many groups of workers (post workers, refuse collection workers, others) won better virus-precautions in their workplaces by using their legal rights to refuse unsafe work. The labour movement can win further change there, too.

The Tories’s new “rule of six” from 14 September (no more than six people can meet socially) may have some epidemiological rationale in the abstract. Countries with better tracking of infections than in Britain have found that more originate within households than even in pubs and cafés.

In the round, however, it makes little sense. It can only ever be very patchily enforced. Especially with a government which, by months of floundering and bluster, has lost trust on such issues.

The attempt to enforce the “rule of six” will sharpen divisions in the working class. The very-anxious will be spurred to turn against neighbours suspected of breaking the rules. Others will see the rules as fussy and unequal and bend them when they can.

Make the labour movement fight to construct the social solidarity needed to beat the virus, and round a programme of fighting for the social measures needed to underpin effective virus control!

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