By Manus Lenihan
Covid-19 has utterly changed the political landscape. Just one month ago, rent freezes were deemed “unconstitutional.” Today a rent freeze is in force, along with a ban on evictions. The healthcare system has been massively expanded. Private hospital beds and facilities have been (temporarily) taken into the public system. Billions have been dedicated to increasing unemployment benefits.
In country after country, nationalisations have taken place. “The sight of a Conservative UK chancellor last week launching policy measures that would once only have been found in the manifestos of revolutionary socialist parties raises all sorts of profound questions.” (Chris Johns, Irish Times, 22 Mar).
“Free market” gospel in tatters
For decades, the political establishment have insisted on degrading the public sector and handing over more and more of our services to “the free market.” Now, in the context of the Covid-19 disaster, the same politicians are, by their own actions, debunking the gospel of the neoliberal market. Yesterday, Simon Harris said, “There can be no room for public versus private when it comes to pandemic.” The crisis has forced him to admit that a one-tier public health system is the most effective way to provide care. But if a two-tier health system is not good enough now, why was it ever considered good enough?
Such measures, based on public intervention to defend the collective good, don’t just debunk neoliberalism. They vindicate socialist ideas. They point to the fact that in order to fight Covid-19 and to guarantee public health, we need to go a lot further, planning the economy democratically for human need, rather than profit, and taking into public ownership the massive wealth that exists in society.
But why are right-wing politicians taking such measures? In 2008, the banks were nationalised, not because those in power were converted to socialism, but so as to bail out the capitalist system at great cost to the public. Now in 2020, the Fine Gael caretaker government have advanced radical measures because, in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, anything less would undermine the whole system.
A “free market” response to this pandemic would obviously be a nightmare: people paying the market rate for tests, con artists hawking snake-oil vaccines and treatments to desperate people, workers laid off with no safety net, crowded spaces remaining open, a snowballing of bankruptcies and panics. That would be a complete disaster for everyone, including the ruling class.
Capitalism and the pandemic
But for working people, that nightmare is all-too familiar and too close to the reality. There are many measures that capitalist governments, unwilling to step on the toes of big business, have delayed or refused to take. Supposed “shut-downs” have left massive, crowded non-essential workplaces still up and running so as not to cut across profits. The production of treatments and protective equipment remains in the hands of private businesses. While ministers moan about the financial cost, the €15 billion tax bill from Apple is untouched because they don’t want to offend a private corporation.
Student nurses are saving lives, unpaid. Patients wait eight, nine, ten days for tests because our public health service has been underfunded and undermined for decades. Homeless people and refugees try to practise social distancing in cramped conditions; meanwhile, a few kilometres away, sit hundreds of luxury apartments that have been empty since the day they were built.
Boris Johnson’s first instinct was to be utterly blasé and laissez-faire in the face of the coronavirus, doing untold damage before his u-turn. But even now there is no compulsion on most businesses to close. Meanwhile, in the US, Trump has been pouring $1 trillion per day into the stock market, with far smaller sums for healthcare. The development and production of vaccines and treatments, funded by shovelfuls of public money, is in the hands of profiteers, and big pharma bosses salivate at the prospect of selling dramatically overpriced products to desperate patients and health systems.
Clearly, workers need to take matters into their own hands, walking out and refusing to put our lives at risk for their profits. We need a workers’ shutdown. Strike action along these lines has taken place in Italy and elsewhere.
Covid-19 proves that workers are the real “wealth creators” in society; look what happens when we stay at home. The capitalist class, on the other hand, has proved fragile. Without massive public intervention and public funds, countless businesses would have gone bust. What happened to the robust and efficient capitalist system? What happened to all the rugged and fearless innovators and entrepreneurs? Two weeks of social distancing, and they are on their knees.
Breaking with capitalism
In contrast to the United States just a few miles away, where the virus is spreading like wildfire, Cuba at the time of writing has 48 confirmed cases and one fatality, who it appears caught the virus in Italy. Doctors from Cuba are being sent around the world to combat the pandemic, while various countries, including Ireland, are looking at Cuban drugs and potential vaccines for Covid-19. All this is doubly impressive because Cuba’s relatively old population and reliance on tourism as a result of a 60 year blockade by US imperialism make it more vulnerable to Covid-19, not less.
Cuba is not a genuine socialist regime, it is politically ruled by a bureaucracy that is privileged, unaccountable and un-elected, which is increasingly looking towards the capitalist market as a way to run society. Notwithstanding the absence of democratic working-class control of the economy and state, whose critical input is crucial to building a socialist society, the economy is still based on state ownership and planning of the key sectors of the economy, as opposed to being run in the short-term interests of private profit. This has enabled it to free up its resources to build one of the best public health services in the world. It is a glimpse of what is possible when the capitalist system is abolished, as happened in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
Democratic public ownership and planning on an international basis, clearly, would yield even greater benefits to humanity. On this basis, the vast wealth and technology of society that is currently in the hands of the capitalist class – big business, private bankers, the financial markets and the super-rich – would be utilised in a rational and democratic manner. We could invest in top quality public services, such as health care.
We could abolish the waste of the competition between capitalist companies and states, in the form of the duplication of goods and research and development (as exists in big pharma), advertising and the arms industry. We could safeguard our environment and justly transition to a zero-carbon economy by investing in green jobs, renewable energy and free public transport. We could release the talents and capabilities of working class people and allow them to run society, as opposed to representatives of capitalism, whose criminal misrule has wreaked havoc on society.
We shouldn’t go back
Varadkar and Co are already warning us that there will be a huge bill to pay as a result of this crisis. They have made big concessions, vindicating the failure of their system, but as soon as they deem this crisis to be over, they intend to claw back those concessions with interest. People should refuse to accept a return to the neoliberal status quo, which would place us abjectly at the mercy of climate disasters or the next pandemic.
Instead, we should fight to build a socialist alternative and a movement of all working-class people that ends the rule of the so-called “masters of the universe”, a capitalist class whose rule has long outlived its usefulness to humanity.
The post Capitalism and the pandemic: Why the system has failed appeared first on Socialist Party (Ireland).
By Kevin Henry
“Herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad” – that’s how attendees at a private event in February said Tory strategist Dominic Cummings summed up the government’s ‘strategy’ for dealing with Covid-19. In the face of a predicted public health catastrophe and widespread criticism, however, the government has now launched a ‘lockdown’, with people instructed to stay at home and non-essential retailers shut, although many other non-essential workplaces remain open. Emergency legislation containing sweeping new powers has been introduced at Westminster and Stormont.
There is also speculation about possible use of the military in this situation, on the basis of the “military aid to the civil authorities” programme. It is correct to use every mechanism possible to tackle this pandemic. However, the army should play no role in relation to policing communities and the streets. This is particularly important given the history of atrocities and abuse by the British Army in Northern Ireland. Any attempt to normalise the presence of the military on the streets would have serious consequences in the future.
The Covid-19 bill will grant the government unprecedented powers, with one civil liberties group describing them as the “most draconian powers in peace-time Britain”. For example, the government guidelines on the bill state “the bill will enable the police and immigration officers to detain a person, for a limited period, who is, or may be, infectious and to take them to a suitable place to enable screening and assessment.”
Secondly, it will allow the government to “restrict or prohibit events and gatherings during the pandemic in any place, vehicle, train, vessel or aircraft, any movable structure and any offshore installation and, where necessary, to close premises.”
The bill also includes powers for the police to shut down airports, and weakens safeguards on mass surveillance by quadrupling time-review limits for urgent warrants. The Tories have now conceded to a six-monthly review of these new policing powers, but the additional government powers will last for up to two years.
Socialists and democratic rights
For socialists, this is a very important issue. There is a long history of repressive legislation being introduced under one pretext, but then being used against the workers’ movement at a different point. We know this only too well in Northern Ireland, where measures introduced to “fight terrorism” were used against striking workers. The same was the case with powers introduced in the aftermath of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks across the world. Locally, politicians from all the main parties have been prepared to undermine the democratic right to protest, including with the attempt to introduce the restrictive Public Assemblies Bill on the pretext of dealing with controversial parades. It is for this important reason that Socialist Party member Mick Barry TD opposed similar legislation in the Dáil.
Workers must be free to stand up for public health
This is not an abstract question but concretely linked to the fight against the virus. So far, it seems the British government is broadly following the same path as Italy. There, local authorities have issued thousands of fines to people outside their house without reason, but have only in recent days taken the step to shut down all non-essential workplaces after many workers took action into their own hands. In Britain, cleaners, postal workers, bin workers and many others have taken action in relation to health and safety concerns. Can we trust a Tory government with a record of pushing through attacks on trade unions and democratic rights not to use these measures against workers striking in the interests of public health?
Similarly, like the scenes of crowded trains in London due to cutting of services, some of the measures introduced allegedly to relieve stress on public services can, in fact, exacerbate the situation. For example, the bill removed existing restrictions on public bodies, such as school class sizes and obligations for oversight for mental health patients.
Who is taking this seriously?
Attempts are being made to accuse ordinary people – particularly young people – of not taking this virus seriously. While there can be this or that example pointed to, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of workers and young people are acting responsibly, while many are in the frontline of tackling this crisis. This can be seen in the industrial actions taken on issues of health and safety, but also in the countless “mutual support” groups which have sprung up.
It is capitalist governments and employers across the world who have shown a lax attitude to dealing with the virus and there is a reason for that – profit. This is demonstrated by the lack of broad shutdowns of non-essential workplaces and the criminal lack of mass testing being conducted. Instead of governments who serve the interests of the rich, it is workers who should be in the driving seat in responding to this pandemic, including in determining what work needs to be carried out, how it can be done as safely as possible and how the vulnerable in our society can be effectively cared for.
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By Daniel Waldron
“Now is not the time for ideology” – this has been the refrain from the Tory government, echoed by Arlene Foster, as the state has been forced to intervene into the economy in a way not seen since the Second World War due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What they mean is that their ideology of unregulated and profit-driven markets has flatly failed in the face of this challenge.
Faced with a crisis which would cause a collapse in large sections of the economy, and fearful of its social and political impact, the Tories have been forced to guarantee 80% of wages for workers furloughed during the Covid-19 pandemic. For socialists, our starting point is that working people should not pay the price for this crisis, which is not of our making and has been exacerbated by the inaction of capitalist governments – with the Tories and their ‘herd immunity strategy’ a particular case in point – and by the profit-driven approach of big business.
Tory wage guarantee
Most workers will understandably be relieved by the partial guarantee of wages. However, it does not go far enough, and the burden is being placed on the wrong shoulders. There is a real danger that, in the aftermath of this pandemic, the Tories will try to make workers pay the price for this bail out through even more savage austerity and attacks on pay and conditions.
Firstly, workers should be guaranteed 100% of their income. Secondly, wages should continue to be paid by employers from their reserves. Only where small business demonstrably cannot afford this should the state subsidise wages, and this should be funded through emergency taxation on the billionaires and big business.
Thousands of workers in industries like hospitality were laid off before the guarantee was announced, and some companies – like the Hastings Group – have even threatened lay-offs since. There should be an enforced moratorium on all lay-offs and sackings, except for gross misconduct, and mandatory re-hiring of those already laid off. Any firm which refuses should be brought into public ownership and its resources used to help tackle the crisis.
Capitalist myths exposed
We are used to the refrain that “there is no alternative” to the market, that “there is no money” for public services, that nationalisation is unworkable and that mass job losses simply have to be accepted. All these supposed truths have now been completely undermined, with capitalist governments finding huge sums for emergency investment, and nationalisation of key sectors suddenly back on the agenda. It has been demonstrated that austerity, privatisation and the race to the bottom in pay and conditions are political choices in the interests of capitalism, not economic necessities.
Workers, not bosses, make society function
Also, workers previously dismissed as “unskilled”, in order to justify paying poverty wages, have clearly been demonstrated to play an essential role in society, in sectors like retail and food production. These lessons should be noted by workers and young people. It is the labour of working people which creates wealth, provides for people’s needs and allows society to function. The demand for a £12 minimum wage, regardless of age, should immediately be taken up energetically by the trade union movement.
Fight for a socialist future!
When this crisis subsides, we must not accept a return to ‘business as usual’. We need to ensure that it is the bosses and billionaires who foot the bill. We need to struggle which aims to reshape society in the interests of the majority, the working class – breaking from the profit-driven capitalist market. This would necessitate bringing society’s wealth and resources into public ownership so they can be used in a planned and democratic way to meet the needs of all, rather than the super-rich elite. That means a struggle for a socialist future, which would allow us to eliminate poverty and also better equip us to deal with future crises, including that posed by climate change.
The post COVID-19- Government intervention as “free market” fails appeared first on Socialist Party (Ireland).
It’s very important that the advice about social distancing is adhered to. The more we do this, the more we limit the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. However, there is a fundamental contradiction between that and the fact that, North and South, a significant amount of non-essential production and services continue to function. This puts hundreds of thousands of workers, their families and the wider community at risk. How can there be a “shutdown” when countless non-essential workplaces are still open? We need to put people’s health and safety before profits and have a complete shutdown of non-essential industry.
We don’t have to wait for the Government to take action – there is no time for delay. It is the right of all workers to have a safe work environment and, if they don’t believe they have one, to withdraw their labour to force a shutdown and protect health and lives.
In Italy, the government did not shutdown non-essential workplaces until Saturday night. This was undoubtedly a contributor to the spread of the virus. But workers themselves took strike action in workplaces across the country to force the hand of the government and employers.
If workers engage in a shutdown, which is only temporary and for the protection of everyone’s health, there must be no loss in pay or in jobs.
Full support must be given to all the workers in essential sectors, to ensure that they also have the maximum protection and the resources to combat this crisis.
Workers should take the lead on these issues themselves, and the leaders of the trade union movement should use their resources to back all workers, unionised and non-unionised, who take action to shutdown or ensure safety in the workplace.
Thousands of members of the trade unions have experience and qualifications in health and safety. The trade unions should immediately establish an emergency workers’ health and safety commission, which could advise and assist all workers on what they need to do.
We are already getting clear indications of a lack of capacity in terms of testing, results and lack of vital equipment. At the same time, Leo Varadkar has stated that the ‘’bill’’ for this crisis will be enormous. Ordinary working people are the force that will defeat COVID-19. It is undoubtedly the plan of the political establishment that, as happened a decade ago, working-class people will pay for the crisis through increased charges and taxes, and a new era of austerity.
We say no – use the vast wealth and economic resources that exist in society in the hands of major corporations and the super-rich to ensure every resource necessary is used to deal with this emergency.
The post Put lives before profit – For a workers’ shutdown of non-essential services appeared first on Socialist Party (Ireland).
Despite massive advances in medicine, immunology, virology and technology, the new strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, causing the COVID-19 illness) is causing human devastation around the globe. This novel influenza virus originated in bats, but how did a bat-borne virus from rural China cause a deadly pandemic, and what has capitalism got to do with it?
Although the COVID-19 outbreak was initially traced to pangolins at a Wuhan wet market, evidence suggests that the virus may have been silently spreading in the community since October or November before it was recognised as a new virus outbreak in December. SARS-CoV-2 is a zoonotic virus. This means it was transmitted to humans from another species, either directly from bats or via an intermediate host, such as animals brought to wet markets. Given that civet cats brought to Guangduong wet markets spread the 2002 SARS virus, wet markets still pose a danger.
Wet markets and wildlife trade
Asian wet markets trade in a variety of live domesticated and wild animals, kept in densely packed cages stacked on top of each other, and often butchered on site with limited refrigeration and poor drainage. Animals’ immune systems are weakened by the stressful conditions in which they are kept, and the convergence of a unique combination of species and pathogens means mutating viruses are easily spread from one species to another.
The animals at these markets come from increasingly industrialised enterprises, as well as small-scale farms and wild hunting, particularly since the 1980s legal reforms to promote larger scale industrial farming and trade of wild animals. This lucrative industry, worth €76 billion, is backed by state power and justified on the basis of jobs in impoverished areas (14 million throughout China).
Wild species such as pangolins, snakes and civets are consumed only by the wealthy as a luxury, tonic and status symbol, and not by ordinary workers. There has been an outpouring on the Weibo social media platform against the wildlife trade using the hashtag #RejectGameMeat, also combating superstition around the supposed medical properties of animal products. The COVID-19 outbreak and public pressure has led to more regulations around the wild animal trade but, like the temporary ban after the 2002 SARS epidemic, these restrictions are narrow and may not last long.
Global food production & habitat destruction
These larger scale wildlife farms tend to be located at the frontiers of human society, encroaching on forests and wildernesses. The emergence of new pathogens tends to occur where humans, in the form of big business and capitalist governments, are drastically changing the landscape, destroying forests, intensifying agriculture, mining, and building roads and settlements, primarily by agribusiness industries. For example, the global destruction of rainforest by food industries (the beef industry is responsible for 65% of rainforest destruction) brings new workers into these habitats and displaces small farmers deeper into forests.
This kind of human activity disrupts ecosystems and damages biodiversity, shaking loose viruses, which then need a new host. Bats and rats in particular are adaptable and survive ecosystem change, becoming reservoirs for old and new viruses. Dozens of SARS-like viruses have been identified in caves in Yunnan, China, by virologist Zheng-Li Shi, and these viruses could infect humans. Human invasion of pristine forests brings these wild species and the pathogens they carry into contact with farmed animals, farmworkers and other people.
This new coronavirus is the sixth major epidemic in the last 26 years that originated in bats, mediated by a range of farmed, domesticated or hunted animals, such as horses (Australia’s 1994 Hendra virus), camels (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2012), chimpanzees hunted for bushmeat (Ebola in 2014), pigs (Malaysia’s 1998 Nipah virus), and civets (SARS in Chinese wet markets in 2002). These cases should have served as warnings for urgent action.
Food for profit
But instead, agribusinesses are willing to conduct massive planet-destroying deforestation, exploit workers for poverty wages and expose them to toxins and disease, and pave the way for viruses to spread to human populations, all in the name of profit. In the capitalist system, these agribusinesses are permitted to externalise the costs (financial and otherwise) to ecosystems, animals, consumers, farmworkers, and governments, and would not be able to survive if they had to foot the bill themselves. The $5 trillion agribusiness industry is in a “strategic alliance with influenza,” argues evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace, as it uses its immense wealth and power to continue these dangerous and unethical practices that give rise to disease.
The drive for profit in the DNA of capitalism means a compulsion to conquer or invent new markets, to continuously expand into uncharted territory, and turn all resources into commodities and revenue. This leads to the exploitation and destruction of people, ecosystems and land in neo-colonial countries, primarily by the huge capital of the advanced capitalist countries, and thus to massive global inequality. Hundreds of millions of poor people in Africa and Asia without access to refrigeration rely on traditional markets.
What is needed and how?
- If we are to avoid future pandemics, we need a dramatic reorganisation of food production. We need to safeguard natural habitats and engage in rewilding to allow dangerous pathogens to stay in the wilderness and to end dangerous and unsanitary food production and distribution practices. Factory farming should be eliminated, which would also help to combat climate change and antibiotic resistance, as well as significantly lowering the chances of new viral pandemics. We need a just transition to safe food production and just distribution across the world’s population, including safe, decent jobs. We need to end the disgusting and barbaric treatment of animals in food production.
With global capitalism at the helm, industries and governments will not implement steps that reduce their profits and will certainly not implement the fundamental changes needed to stop food production unleashing more deadly pandemics. Agribusinesses need to be brought into democratic public ownership under the control of working people so they can be transformed and utilised to serve the interests of farmers, consumers, workers and the environment, with local and global cooperation.
Production of something as fundamentally necessary as food, which can have such devastating global consequences in the wrong hands, needs to be democratically planned to meet the needs of the majority, not left to the anarchy of the ‘free market’. Such an aspiration is entirely reasonable and necessary, but it cannot be achieved under the rule of profit, only in a socialist society run by and for the masses.
The post The roots of COVID-19 & capitalist food production appeared first on Socialist Party (Ireland).
By Mick Barry TD
The Health (Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020 allows for the most drastic curtailments of civil liberties in the history of the State. The Bill gives the State powers to detain people who refuse to self-isolate, quarantine entire areas, ban house parties, ban public gatherings etc.
The banning of public gatherings clearly involves the right to ban demonstrations. Many ordinary people will say that these extreme measures are necessary given the extreme health emergency threatening the population. They will feel that the new powers should cease when the emergency ceases.
The Dáil has given the new powers to the Minister for Health for nearly eight months (until November 9), at which point the powers cease unless the Dáil votes to renew them. In the meantime the Minister and the caretaker government / new government can renew the powers provided they place a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas (i.e. place a written report in the Oireachtas Library) on May 9.
In other countries emergency Covid19 legislation has already been used to clamp down on public protest. In France, police attacked a 1000-strong yellow vest protest citing the powers granted under Covid19 legislation introduced by President Macron. Here in Ireland there is a long history of Governments using repressive legislation for purposes other than those for which it has been granted.
A worried establishment
For example, the Offences Against the State Act introduced with the stated aim of combatting “terrorism” has been used against trade unionists, student activists and other campaigners.
Of particular concern now is the decision to set up a 100-strong full time Garda Public Order Unit whose responsibilities will, according to the RTÉ website, include “dealing with protests”.
Although the Covid19 crisis has fostered a mood of national unity not unlike the mood that can sweep a nation at the start of a war, the capitalist establishment are clearly nervous that the mood can change. In Italy strikes have swept the country as workers protested against the lack of protection from the virus in their workplaces.
Issues can and will arise here, not least the fact that hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers are being asked to survive on €203 a week for an extended period. The emergency legislation can be used to effectively ban demonstrations for close to eight months. The Government will introduce a Budget within the eight-month timeframe which is likely to present working people with a huge bill to pay for the crisis.
Working class response
Should they go down such a road they effectively have the power to make protests against that budget illegal. When I spoke in the Dáil on March 19 I registered my fundamental opposition to giving the State these powers. The Ceann Comhairle guillotined debate rather than be challenged on the Government’s plan to extend the powers for nearly eight months.
Working-class people — workers and their families, pensioners, social welfare recipients, young people — in Ireland have generally risen very well to the challenge of Covid19. This is seen in the bravery of our health workers, the huge numbers volunteering, the support for closing schools and pubs, the embracing of “social distancing” etc. Mass support for strong and effective action against the virus is a far more significant weapon in ensuring public health than repressive laws.
Will the new laws be seen as necessary by a majority and be broadly tolerated for a period? Yes. But if they are abused, if they are used against the interests of working-class people — that may be a different story entirely.
The post Coronavirus crisis- Say no to attacks on democratic rights appeared first on Socialist Party (Ireland).
By Conor Payne
In Ireland and around the world, workers are being hit by the Coronavirus crisis. Mass layoffs and the start of a new global economic crisis threaten wide-ranging attacks on jobs, pay and conditions. Even more urgently, many are now being forced to work through the epidemic in unsafe conditions. This is a system which puts profits before all else – even workers’ health and safety during a global pandemic. But around the world groups of workers are fighting back.
Despite Italy’s lockdown significant numbers of companies have stayed open, jeopardising workers’ health in a country which is at the centre of this crisis. Workers across Italy have responded with strikes and demonstrations to demand that production is shut down, many of them spontaneous, including at the Fiat factory and among shipbuilders and metalworkers.
“Factory workers are not citizens for 24 hours minus eight. It is not tolerable that they see their everyday life protected and guaranteed by many rules, but once they have passed the factory gates they are in a no-man’s land,” one workers’ representative said.
In Vitoria-Gasteiz in the Basque Country, 5,000 workers at the Mercedes Benz plant were told to keep working with no protective measures such as social distancing. When the Union Committee’s concerns were brushed off by management, they contacted the workplace inspection office, which did not respond, then called the police. Ultimately, the workers took matters into their own hands, closed down production and walked off the production line.
This action stopped production at the largest factory in the Basque Country. Mercedes was forced to apply to the state for a temporary close-down with guarantees for workers’ pay. Similar actions took place at large factories such as Michelin, also in the Basque Country, Iveco in Valladolid, and Airbus in Madrid and Toledo.
In Windsor, Ontario in Canada, workers at the Fiat Chrysler plant went on strike for a day after a worker at the plant had to self-quarantine, to ensure there were guarantees about their safety. In the US, Detroit bus drivers shut down the service for a day when the vast majority refused to work over concerns about vehicle cleanliness and lack of protective gear. This forced the bus service to propose plans to address these issues. In New York City, threats by many teachers to call in sick en masse were a factor in forcing Mayor Bill de Blasio to close the schools. In this way, workers’ action can also be key to winning measures for the protection of the whole population.
For workers in Ireland, these examples of workers’ action hold important lessons. Bosses will try to continue production and cut corners on health and safety to protect profits. But it’s possible to stand up to them. Workers need to get organised among themselves and use their power to ensure safety at every workplace which continues to operate. The trade union movement needs to be the fighting voice of all workers, unionised or not, who are being hit by the crisis and insist on the protection of health and safety for all. This should be part of a broader fight to ensure that workers don’t pay the price for the Coronavirus disaster or for any recession that follows.
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By Pat Lawlor, NIPSA (Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance) Vice-President (Personal Capacity)
By Pat Lawlor, NIPSA Belfast Health branch (personal capacity) and Socialist Party activist
Health workers are on the front line in tackling the Covid-19 crisis and undoubtedly displaying huge dedication and self-sacrifice in doing so. However they are fighting this battle in the context of a health system which was already in chronic crisis, due to decades of underfunding from both Stormont and Westminster, leaving services overstretched and understaffed. This was a key issue health workers raised during their momentous strikes and industrial action late last year.
The number of people waiting more than 12 hours to be seen quadrupled at some A&E units last year, while one in six of the population are currently waiting for a hospital appointment. The NHS will, of course, be put on a war footing to focus on the pandemic, but there is a major question of capacity. Currently, there are only 100 intensive care beds in Northern Ireland, lower per capita than in Italy, where the health service was overwhelmed by the scale of hospitalisation. Given the Tories’ limited strategy for containment, which Public Health England estimated could lead to 8 million people needing to be hospitalised, there is serious cause for concern.
Shortages put health workers at risk
There is already evidence that the safety of NHS staff, and therefore of patients and the public, is being placed at risk. A member of the NI Ambulance Service was asked to come into work just days after being told to self-isolate after exposure to a patient with Covid-19, while reports from Britain suggest paramedics are being asked to work without adequate masks, gloves and sanitiser. Meanwhile, some nurses were initially told there was no need to use personal protective equipment (PPE) unless they were in contact with a symptomatic patient, in order to conserve supplies, although this was overturned on the insistence of staff.
Many nursing staff are concerned that communication from management is very inconsistent, emphasis and priorities changing depending on who you talk to. There is a sense any local strategic plan is being made on the hoof, reflecting the discordant and confused message from the Tory government.
They bailed out bosses, now bail out our NHS
All resources necessary – whether staffing, medicines or sanitary supplies – must be made available. The idea that the money can’t be found has been blown out of the water by the Tories’ multi-billion pound rescue package for business. If it can be found to bail out the bosses, it can be found for our NHS in this time of crisis, and should be maintained thereafter to meet need and overcome the existing strains in our health service. All aspects of the health service should be brought together in a coordinated plan of action, based on genuinely independent medical advice and with democratic input from health workers.
Mass testing now! Nationalise private hospitals and suppliers!
The evidence from overseas is that mass testing is key to getting ahead of the spread of the virus and more effectively focussing treatment and containment measures, as in the case of South Korea. The message from the World Health Organisation is ‘Test, test, test’. Until now, only those hospitalised with severe symptoms have been tested, and Health Minister Robin Swann aims only to increase capacity to 800 per day. Yet locally based firm Randox has the capacity to produce a large number of test kits and is exporting all over the world. Randox should be brought into public control and used to produce kits on a not-for-profit basis to facilitate mass testing, both here and abroad.
The Tory government is currently seeking to rent 8,000 private hospital beds at a cost of £2.4 million per day! Parasitic firms like billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Care have already made a killing from the outsourcing of our health services. Private hospitals should be nationalised immediately – as has happened in Spain – with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need.
Similarly, there is a major shortage of ventilators, which will be key to saving lives in the midst of this crisis. The Tories are asking private firms to turn to producing them. There should be no asking involved when human life is at risk. Any manufacturing capacity which can be turned to producing ventilators and other vital equipment and supplied should be brought under public control and turned towards it now, something their workforces would undoubtedly be delighted to do.
Full rights for all health staff
All staff assisting with this crisis must be directly employed by the NHS with full rights in terms of pay and conditions. Medical students and retired health staff are rightly being given the opportunity to assist. It is essential that they are given appropriate training, supervision and support to protect them, their colleagues and patients. The trade union movement has a vital role to play in overseeing and, where necessary, taking action to improve the handling of this pandemic, in the interests of health staff, patients and the general public.
Capitalism: A sick system
This pandemic underlines the need for all aspects of healthcare – not just provision, but production of medicines and equipment, as well as research and development – to be fully in public hands, democratically planned and funded to meet need. Private Harley Street clinics are selling testing kits for £370 each while most people are denied access. Pharmaceutical giants dropped research on coronavirus vaccines when the threat of SARS subsided because there was no prospect of profit in the short-term. Now, individual pharmaceutical giants are racing against each other to produce an effective vaccine and make a fortune, rather than the talents of all their staff being pooled to save lives as quickly as possible.
The never-ending drive for profit under capitalism has worsened this crisis and inhibited response to it. This system literally puts profit ahead of human life. We need a struggle for a socialist future, where society’s wealth and resources are used in a planned and democratic way to provide for people’s needs, not private greed.
The post North & Covid-19: Prioritise public health, not private profit appeared first on Socialist Party (Ireland).
By Chris Stewart, Unite Hospitality (personal capacity)
In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the announcement by employers in the hospitality sector of thousands of lay-offs has thrown the futures of these workers into uncertainty. Largely low-paid & on zero hour contracts, many hospitality workers now, without employment, are facing a struggle to pay rent and bills in the immediate future. While Johnson and Co. have announced measures to prop up business, these workers have been thrown under the bus by callous bosses and politicians.
Big bosses cry crocodile tears
One of the worst offenders was the managing director of Beannchor, Bill Wolsley. In a press statement in relation to 800 lay-offs, he said that it was an “emotional and extremely tough decision but if we do not act now, we will not have a business to return to”. Beanchorr posted profits of 11.2 million in 2017/2018 and the industry as a whole boasted of bumper growth in the last year, including a record-breaking Valentine’s Day. Companies like Beannchor and Boojum – which engaged in a cynical PR stunt while it was laying off workers – are multi-million pound enterprises with the money to sustain their staff for months on full pay. The motivations behind the lay-offs was simple – protecting profits ahead of the livelihoods of working people.
Hospitality workers left out to dry
The Johnson government has nailed its colours to the mast – rushing to alleviate the concerns of business, enacting measures such as rates holidays, grants and government-backed loans. The Northern Ireland Executive has received £740 million to provide support for businesses, with a three-month rates holiday and cash grants. Yet where is the bailout for workers? Thousands of workers are now left without an income, with serious concerns over their ability to meet basic bills such as rent, electricity and childcare. In other European countries, government support for business has been linked to obligations to keep staff on the books and pay them.
We can’t take any more!
Hospitality workers have already taken action on Saint Patrick’s Day, calling for the closure of bars with no loss of pay in the interests of public health. Many employers demonstrated a complete disregard for the safety of their staff and customers by promoting events and effectively ignoring social distancing advice. Some employers have actually requested that their employees come in as “volunteers” to keep the business alive, not getting paid but putting their own health at risk!
Despite the scale of the lay-offs, there has been little leadership from the trade union movement in defending workers’ rights. The hospitality sector is, on the whole, unorganised and precarious working conditions dominate. The scale of job losses has, in the first instance, dealt a stunning blow, but this will not last.
Ban lay-offs! No job losses, no cut to income!
With the possibility of thousands more lay-offs by the end of the week, action must be taken now. There is a growing anger that should be aimed against the bosses and the politicians. While mass protests, occupations and strikes may be difficult in the context of “social distancing” to contain the spread of Covid-19, the trade union movement must expose the callous actions of profit-hungry bosses and demand action from the politicians to secure jobs and incomes.
Non-essential workplaces should be closed down, but an immediate moratorium on lay-offs and sackings should be implemented, with workers guaranteed their normal income. Where small businesses demonstrably cannot afford this, the state should subsidise workers’ pay through an emergency tax on the super-rich and big business. No profitable firm which implements, or refuses to reverse, mass lay-offs should receive public support. Instead, they should be brought into public ownership to save jobs and allow their properties and assets to be used to assist in dealing with this public health crisis.
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By Manus Lenihan
Leo Varadkar said last night that “Viruses pay no attention to borders, race, nationality or gender.” He might have added that viruses don’t check your bank balance, don’t discriminate between billionaires and workers. In spite of this, the Covid-19 crisis does not iron out the class divide in society or the many other forms of oppression such as racism or sexism.
On the contrary, it brings the injustices to the surface more clearly than before. Increasingly, the rule of private profit that capitalism is built on, is proving incapable of meeting the challenge of this horrendous crisis.
On the Greek island of Lesbos, “social distancing” is completely impossible because 20,000 human beings are crowded into a refugee camp built for 3,000. Working-class and poor people living in overcrowded accommodation, and in some cases slums, throughout the world will also struggle in the same situation.
Meanwhile the super-rich are flying off in private jets to wait out the pandemic in remote places, with their own private medical staff. While the vast majority of people on every continent are making sacrifices, big pharma “view Covid-19 as a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity” (Gerald Posner, quoted in The Intercept) – an opportunity to rip off desperate people with overpriced drugs. This pattern of inequality and injustice is repeated wherever you look.
If anyone is crudely “politicising the crisis,” it’s the government; after the wave of anti-establishment anger in the election, Fine Gael are using Covid-19 to beg for a truce in class conflict. The Taoiseach’s speech on St Patrick’s Day stressed the message of a “great national effort” against the “shared enemy of all humanity.” It’s possible that this rhetoric will find an echo in the short term. It is not hard for Varadkar and co to look good next to the desperate villainy of Trump or Johnson. But this appeal for collective sacrifice is nothing but rank hypocrisy.
For working-class people the experience of Covid-19 is fundamentally worse than for the wealthy. The housing crisis means overcrowding and other unbearable situations like domestic abuse in the narrow confines of the home, for weeks or maybe months. It’s worse again for people with disabilities, people in Direct Provision, residential & foster care and emergency accommodation. The avalanche of layoffs (340,000 and counting) is devastating for workers. Nearly one week since schools shut, there’s still nothing on the horizon for people who are laid off and besieged by utility bills, rent & mortgage payments and childcare costs. €200 or €300 a week won’t cut it.
It’s not a virus that’s inflicting all this suffering. It’s the banks, who won’t get off our backs even though we bailed them out to the tune of €64 billion. It’s our bosses, most of whom will shut their doors at the last possible minute and give the bare minimum, if anything, to laid-off workers. It’s those landlords who are still charging high rents and evicting people. This suffering is not necessary. If we really were “all in this together”, things would look very different. For example, we would waive all mortgage payments, with no piling-up of interest or having to pay in the future . If the banks complained, we would remind them that they are contributing to a “great national effort.” But this won’t happen.
Ireland has 5.5 intensive care beds for every 12 in Italy, and for every 30 in Germany. This fact, with its terrifying implications for how things could go over the next few weeks, is a direct result of decades of austerity in our health service, imposed by the very politicians who are now calling health workers “heroes.” Flattery is cheap. What health workers really need is a plentiful supply of top-quality personal protective equipment (PPE).
To guarantee PPE to every health worker, we need to be ready to seize stocks and nationalise production facilities. Private hospital beds, facilities and equipment must be taken over immediately, without compensation, by the public system. If the privateers cry foul, we can play them the clip of Leo saying that “Everyone in our society must show solidarity.” But he won’t say this.
Committed to the super-rich
Why have such measures not been taken already? Because capitalist politicians hold a deep ideological conviction that, if we impose any discomfort on the rich, disaster will ensue. But this myth is exposed in a very harsh light by Covid-19. In the United States, vaccines developed with public money will be sold back to the public, and the pharmaceutical industry will be allowed to slap whatever price tag they want on it. The same thing has happened over the years with HIV, hepatitis and cancer treatments, leading in some cases to four-figure sums being paid for a single pill. In other words we’re already experiencing a disaster, and the supposed “wealth creators” and “innovators” are profiting from making it worse.
On the other hand, Covid-19 is already forcing right-wing politicians to do what they very recently insisted was impossible. The recruitment embargo for health workers was dumped without ceremony. The Spanish state is nationalising private hospitals. The Italian government wants to break the EU’s fiscal rules. These actions are an admission that a genuine response to the pandemic requires breaking with the bogus logic of “free market” economics.
Who pays the price?
Varadkar warns that “the bill will be enormous” for Covid-19. If we were really “all in this together,” then paying the bill would mean, for example, that the wealthiest 300 people in Ireland would lose most of the €87 billion they own. It would mean taking the Apple Tax of €13 billion to pay for healthcare and to subsidise lost wages. But that’s not what he means.
After the economic crisis of 2007/2008, working-class people suffered to bail out the wealthy, and then, from the vantage point of precarious jobs and emergency accommodation, we watched the very richest amass more wealth than ever before. When the powers-that-be say that we have to pay the bill, they mean going through that experience again, but worse. But if we bow our heads and “pay the bill”, i.e. suffer austerity, we would end up even more vulnerable to pandemics and to disasters such as climate change.
Everyone reading this should of course comply with social distancing, testing, self-isolation and other genuine public health measures and generally working class people have demonstrated the necessary responsibility in the context of this crisis. We’ve seen real social solidarity in our society with support groups being set up in working class communities and 24,000 have applied to work for the HSE to deal with COVID-19.
The case for system change
There is a point where medical questions end and political questions begin. At some stage a vaccine will hopefully eliminate Covid-19, after inflicting a terrible price on ordinary people the world over, but it will not end the inequality and injustice that have made this crisis far worse than it should have been.
Vast wealth, resources and technology exist in society, but instead of being used to cater to human need – in this case, fighting a pandemic – they are in the hands of a tiny number of huge businesses and individuals, disposed of according to the profit motive. Right now in Ireland, health workers’ need for PPE and workers’ need for an income take second place to profit. COVID-19 has posed the need for us to organise and struggle for a single-tier healthcare system, free at the point of use.
If we want to flatten the curve of wealth inequality, it means challenging the rule of private profit and posing a socialist alternative, based on democratic collective ownership of the major resources and industries. In the meantime, we are not “in this together.”
By Ann Orr
“The real hero of Jaws is the mayor. A gigantic fish is eating all your constituents and he decides to keep the beaches open. OK, in that instance he was actually wrong. But in principle, we need more politicians like the mayor – we are often the only obstacle against all the nonsense which is really a massive conspiracy against the taxpayer”- Boris Johnson, 2006
The above quote gives an insight into the callous and profit-driven psychology which has driven the Tory government’s Covid-19 strategy. Initially, they talked of not following other governments – including in Italy and the Spanish state – in introducing strict social distancing measures. The very limited measures announced by Johnson last Thursday amounted to people staying home for 7 days if they had a new and persistent cough or a high temperature. The government’s plan was described as an attempt to build “herd immunity”, by which individuals would become infected (up to 80% of the population) and recover to become immune, although growing evidence of reinfection elsewhere calls this whole concept into question.
However, the Imperial College suggested this strategy could lead to 250,000 deaths. They also said that, based on measures announced last Thursday, need for critical care beds would exceed the number of such beds eightfold. A Health Select Committee was also told that there are currently 98,000 beds in the NHS, of which only 3,700 are adult critical care beds. But a leaked document from Public Health England suggested 8 million people could need hospital care over the course of this pandemic, with millions potentially requiring critical care.
Work from home, but send your kids to school.. and the pubs can stay open
Westminster was therefore forced into announcing further measures. They have issued social distancing advice to encourage people to avoid any unnecessary contact with others; home isolation of whole households for 14 days if anyone displays symptoms; over 70s should remain at home and avoid any contact with others; home working is encouraged and people should not go to bars or clubs.
Yet, Johnson and his government are continuing to adopt a laissez-faire attitude. They have not ordered schools to shut; they have not ordered all non-essential businesses to close and implement home-working where possible. These measures are needed if people are truly to be able to avoid all non-essential contact with others.
They’ve bailed out business, now bail out workers!
Of course, this must go along with a guarantee of income. Today, the government also announced a significant package of support for businesses, including rates holidays, grants and government-backed loans. But where is the bailout for workers? Companies must be obliged to continue to give their staff full pay and, where small businesses demonstrably cannot afford this, the state must step in to subsidise them through emergency taxation on the billionaires and big business.
The government should introduce emergency measures to prevent anyone from being cut off from gas, electricity, phone and internet providers and ensure emergency measures for the provision of home heating oil. Instead of talking about bailouts for private industries, this crisis demonstrates the need for key sectors of the economy to be nationalised and run in the interest of human need, not profit. This would also require democratic control by workers of these sectors.
Take over private hospitals! No profiteering from this crisis!
This is an unprecedented crisis but not one that was unimaginable. The issue in managing the response to this outbreak is a question fundamentally of the capacity of the NHS, which has been savaged by years of austerity, underfunding and privatisations. Now, the government is reported to be negotiating buying or renting beds from private hospitals to be able to use them in this crisis.
Private companies should never have been allowed to compete with the NHS, they should certainly not be making a further profit out of this crisis! All private health care facilities should be immediately nationalised with their staff being brought into the NHS and the facilities used to increase the NHS’s capacity to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Capitalism: A sick system
Putting human need, our health, safety, wellbeing and even the lives of working-class people ahead of profit is completely contradictory to the Tories approach. However, this health crisis, with its already unfolding massive economic and social implications, demonstrates that the capitalist status-quo is not working. Even the Tories can be forced to introduce measures that last week would have seemed impossible, such as a freeze on rent and mortgage payments, as has been done in Italy, or nationalisation of private health, as in Spain.
This crisis has already begun to illuminate the class divisions and inequalities in our society, and it is far from over. It is essential that we fight to ensure human wellbeing is put before private profit. That requires a struggle for a socialist future, where the wealth created by the labour of working people is used in a planned and democratic way to meet the needs of all.
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Across the state, workers are being thrown into turmoil by the Coronavirus emergency as companies announce closures and layoffs. For more than 25,000 childcare workers, there is huge uncertainty as all childcare facilities across the state have been closed. This was obviously necessary as a public health measure, and many workers continue to be paid from the state subvention.
However, childcare workers are a generally low-paid and precarious female workforce, despite a system which charges some of the highest fees to parents in Europe. Socialist Party representatives have received many reports from childcare workers who have been forced on to Jobseekers’ Allowance for the duration of the two-week closure. This is in spite of the fact that many of their facilities are still receiving state subventions and/or parents’ fees.
Workers speak out
One worker reported: “I work in a large childcare service who is being fully funded during this time by the government… We weren’t even given a second thought, it was, sign on and we’re done. We were given no notice just told that’s it, we are closed as and from 6pm, and off you go and hope the two weeks go well.”
Another said: “All the staff I work with (30 members) were notified that we are laid off until the closure period is lifted. Our employer is unsure of what social welfare payments, if any, we can receive. Many of the people I work with are not from Ireland and have not been in Ireland long enough to claim any social welfare. Our director will still be in receipt of subvention scheme funding.”
This is a disgraceful way to treat workers – subventions from the state and the profits of childcare companies must be used to guarantee all workers’ wages.
There is also uncertainty because it is possible that childcare facilities will continue to be closed after the end of the two week period. Minister for Children Katherine Zappone must intervene to guarantee that all workers are paid for as long as this crisis continues – by their employers, or in the case of genuine inability to pay, by the state directly.
Justice for childcare workers
Before this crisis erupted, childcare workers had already been fighting to change the conditions they face at work. Twenty thousand marched just before the election to demand decent pay and conditions. The current pay and conditions of this mainly-female workforce are outrageous and show the contempt with which they are viewed by the current system, as simply being benign carers rather than workers whose labour should be valued.
The best guarantee for the rights and conditions of childcare workers is a real public childcare service, funded by the state and free at the point of use. This means taking the major and most-profitable childcare companies into democratic public ownership.
This crisis underlines the need for all workers to be represented by a fighting trade union movement, which acts to organise precarious workers and to take on bosses who are trying to shift the burden for this crisis on to workers generally.
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By Finghín Kelly and Cillian Gillespie
The Irish health system is entering the Covid-19 crisis in a very poor position. Before the virus hit, it was already at breaking point. This is a result of chronic underfunding by successive governments stretching back decades and made worse in the last decade of austerity. Despite the spin from the government, the Irish state is actually one of the lowest spenders on healthcare in the OECD.
An estimated 1.9 million people could contract the Covid-19 virus in the State. A feature of the infection for some is respiratory difficulties. It is estimated that 5%-10% will need more intensive treatment in hospitals and up to half of them will need access to ventilation equipment. There is a real fear on the part of working class people generally and of course healthcare staff of the impact of COVID-19 in the context of an underfunded and overstretched health system.
Ireland has 5.2 intensive care (ICU) beds per 100,000 people. This compares to an EU average of 11.5 ICU beds per 100,000. In Italy, where there are reports of a severe crisis, with the government seeking international assistance for ventilation equipment, the rate is 12.5 per 100,000 people.
Theatre facilities which also have respiration equipment will likely be used to treat people. This could lead to drastic knock-on impacts on surgery, resulting in paralysis spreading through the hospital system.
If Covid-19 takes hold it will mean that potentially thousands of beds will be needed to care for those who are impacted. In the Health Capacity Review, which does not take account of Covid-19, there is a recommendation that between 2,600 and 5,500 new beds are needed to just keep up with demographic change. However, mirroring their inaction on housing, the government has completely failed to deliver beds. In the last year the government struggled to open less than 100 beds!
There is clearly a strong desire among workers in the health service and people generally to do what they can to assist in this crisis. This is very positive. However, it is vital that this goodwill is not used to stretch health workers. All overtime hours should be paid, and all new hires, including temporary staff, should be paid full pay and have full union rights.
The health of healthcare workers must be protected, for the sake of them and their patients. The appropriate safety equipment must be available to all healthcare workers. No worker should be forced to choose between their own safety and the caring for their patients. Where health workers need to self-isolate there should be no pressure to come back to work early.
The government has spoken about the need to use private beds to alleviate the crisis. This should be done immediately. It is a scandal that thousands of beds and vital facilities should be in private ownership, not being used where the need exists. However, this should not be done on the basis of millions of euros of public funds being handed over to the health profiteers. For years the two tier system has taken billions from the health service and has contributed to one of the most unequal health services in the developed world.
Private hospitals, along with labs that are engaging in testing for Covid-19, should be brought into public ownership with no compensation. On this basis we can free up and utilise their beds, theatres and medical equipment, along with the capabilities of their staff for the benefit of all, not just for those who can pay for it. No price should ever be put on the health of human beings, particularly in a crisis like this, and no one should be allowed profit from it either.
A lack of sufficient money should not be a reason why you cannot access top-quality healthcare. This is why we need a one-tier, secular health service that is free at the point of use. Bringing the private health system into public hands can be an important step towards bringing this into existence. Already, under the pressure of this crisis and the real mood for action from below, such measures have been taken in the Spanish State. This crisis is likely to pose a fundamental question mark over the existence of private health for profit, much in the same way the Spanish Flu of 1919-1920 did. This was a horrendous pandemic that cost the lives of 50 million people worldwide.
Need not profit
In a crisis like this there should be no barriers for the state to access much needed medical equipment such as ventilators. Fifty percent of ventilators in acute hospitals worldwide are manufactured in Ireland, according to the IDA. Again, in a crisis such as this companies producing such equipment should be requisitioned. This should be linked to a broader question of not allowing medical equipment or drugs to be produced on a for-profit basis; these companies and big pharma should be brought into democratic public ownership.
Crises such as Covid-19 dramatically lay bare the inability of private profit to meet our most vital needs such as our healthcare. The question is where to find the resources to fund the existence of a publicly-owned and funded national health service. The resources and wealth are there, there are simply in the wrong hands – the super-rich, big business and developers. This wealth must be seized from their hands and brought into public ownership so we can organise the whole of society on the basis of need not the profit of a small elite.
No loss of jobs or income! Put public health before private profit!
The spread of the novel coronavirus Covid-19 has become a major health crisis, unlike anything seen in a century. At the time of writing, around 156 countries have been impacted, with more than 170,000 infected and more than 6,500 confirmed deaths, including 36 in Britain and 2 in Ireland, with those figures likely to rise dramatically.
Capitalist governments have generally been slow to act, weighing up the impact of preventative measures against that of widespread infection on the profits of big business. This balancing act has facilitated the spread of the virus. However, witnessing the surge of infection in Italy – where the government initially hesitated and was then forced to introduce a near total lockdown – other governments are now beginning to implement more developed measures aimed at limiting contagion. The Southern government has closed schools, colleges, childcare facilities and cultural institutions until 29 March, while pubs and restaurants have also been instructed to close for the next two weeks.
Johnson government gambles with people’s lives
The British government’s limited response – reliant largely on self-isolation – is now an outlier, and seems to be based upon merely managing the spread of the virus to achieve ‘herd immunity’, where natural immunity develops among the bulk of the population from exposure. A leaked report from Public Health England suggests that the epidemic could stretch into spring 2021, with 80% of the population being infected and 8 million requiring hospitalisation at some point. Based on even low mortality rates, this could translate into hundreds of thousands of deaths. This underlines the callous disregard of the Tories for the lives of ordinary people. Growing evidence of re-infection in areas severely impacted by the virus calls the whole concept of herd immunity into question.
Stormont Executive divided – Take action now!
The Northern Ireland Executive is clearly taking its lead from Westminster, hesitating to take the kind of preventative measures seen elsewhere. Last Thursday, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill issued a joint statement saying now was not the time for schools in the North to close. However, O’Neill broke ranks less than 24 hours later, reflecting the contradiction in approach, North and South, and also growing pressure from below. Many schools are closing voluntarily, with Queen’s University moving to online lectures. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation has called for an immediate shutdown in education. Similarly, some pubs are closing for Saint Patrick’s Day, but no broad policy has been put in place.
Internationally, the evidence shows that early social distancing measures are key to limiting the impact of the virus on human health. In the context of Ireland, there is an obvious contradiction in having widely different measures in place on either side of the border. However, in the South, mandatory closures have resulted in mass lay-offs, with private sector workers being asked to accept a significant reduction in income, while other workers are now faced with finding alternative childcare arrangements.
Poverty not acceptable price to pay
Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that statutory sick pay will be made available immediately to staff who have to self-isolate, rather than after a four-day delay. However, workers earning less than £118/week on average are not eligible, and statutory sick pay amounts to only £94.25/week. This – and the demands of bosses – can pressurise workers who are ill to come into work when they should be self-isolating, risking the spread of the virus.
Bosses may seek to implement mass lay-offs in order to defend their profits. The collapse of Flybe has already led to the loss of 100 jobs at Belfast City Airport, with more jobs and the future of the airport itself at risk. Workers in precarious sectors like hospitality and retail are particularly under threat. Colin Neil of Hospitality Ulster said pub and restaurant owners were open to a prolonged shutdown if advised to do so, saying their concern was “not about profit”, but then asked: “If we close, how do people put bread on their table?” This is illustrative of the approach bosses will seek to take.
Workers must not foot the bill
For socialists, the bottom line is that no worker should be economically worse off because of this crisis. The working class has suffered enough over the last decade of austerity, while the super-rich have hoarded more and more of the wealth we create. The six wealthiest people in the UK have as much wealth as the poorest 13.2 million. The billionaires and big business must be made to foot the bill for the necessary measures to deal with this epidemic, not ordinary people.
The trade union movement – representing almost 250,000 workers here – must lead the way in defending the interests of the working class in the context of this crisis. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions should immediately establish bodies to monitor government and employer handling of the crisis and demand appropriate action to safeguard the health and economic interests of working-class people.
The Socialist Party calls for:
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By Ruth Coppinger
Huge delays are being experienced accessing coronavirus testing through the HSE and the amount of testing has been low. The turnaround for requesting and actually getting test results can be a week or more, causing uncertainty, distress and potentially delayed treatment.
But other countries, such as South Korea and Bahrain, have ramped up testing rates, allowing them identify early, contain and get some control of the virus.
Rather than just focus on mass shutdown, South Korea has prioritised testing hundreds of thousands of people as early as possible and has just announced a stabilising of its figures, with mortality lower than average.
It developed a test within weeks. It also implemented ‘drive thru’ testing where motorists are tested by health workers at at least 500 locations and also by automatic, robotic test kits that don’t need human labour to do testing.
The current test used in Ireland is a swab which has to be done in a medical setting, then sent off to a lab, with results taking at least an average of 48 hours. This involves staff, training and protective equipment, as well as a danger of transmission.
But a simple self testing kit — involving a finger-prick blood glucose type test on a strip to detect antibodies and with results in 10 minutes — has now been developed which would drastically reduce costs and time and allow those infected to react quickly.
We have to demand that production of this is accelerated and becomes widely available in pharmacies. There should be massive public pressure to insist that no private company profiteers from this public health pandemic and hikes up the price of testing — a routine feature under capitalism where drug and medical companies price gouge from people’s desperation. Privately run testing labs should be brought into public ownership as part of new national, one tier public health service.
Secret testing kit
Secrecy surrounds the company producing the self test kit for fear of massive demand. However, a team led by a British doctor who pioneered home pregnancy tests had been working on a self test kit. Professor Paul Davis said the cost of producing his home test would be £1!
A widespread shutdown of society can only be sustained for so long. Obviously the hope is that a vaccination will quickly be developed and until then the prospect of coronavirus making a return after a shutdown is possible. But countries that have implemented mass testing seem to be bringing numbers under control more successfully and we should demand this is done to save maximum lives. We need free mass testing for all now to help deal with this crisis.
By Michael O’Brien
Like with governments the world over there has been a reluctant and tardy response in Ireland by the authorities to the Coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of workers, especially in the private sector, are being effectively told to pay the price for the interruption of commerce.
The need for the isolation of both those ill from Coronavirus and those potentially exposed to it brought into sharp focus the absence of mandatory occupational sick pay in this state and also the time lapse of six days before which somebody may claim illness benefit.
The government, in the face of demands from a number of quarters, including from Socialist Party and Solidarity public representatives, had no alternative but to announce the waiving of the six-day wait period. The availability of an enhanced payment of €305 (instead of the normal €203) for up to two weeks was a minimalist response and was clearly demonstrated to be inadequate by subsequent events.
The announcement made last Thursday of the closure of educational and cultural institutions and the recommended avoidance of indoor gatherings of a hundred plus has directly and indirectly impacted upon thousands of private sector workers. They are being told that the normal rate of Jobseekers’ Benefit is the only option.
Impact on workers
English Language School teachers, private sector childcare workers, private contract cleaners and caterers who work in public institutions in the last few days have effectively been put on protective notice, short time or “temporary” lay-offs. They have been told to apply for the normal rate of Jobseekers’ Benefit or to use up annual leave entitlements.
Similarly, where childcare facilities have been closed parents, especially lone parents, in otherwise unaffected occupations are left with no alternative but to withdraw from their jobs if they cannot work remotely from home. The rapid cancellation of conferences, concerts and other such events has led to a spate of lay-offs in the hospitality sector.
Need to step up
The trade union movement at leadership level needs to step up on protecting jobs, incomes and worker health and safety. Simply repeating government and HSE advice is not enough. Workers and the working class have distinct interests in this crisis and it is not the instinct of this government, its likely Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael successor or the employer organisations to prioritise these interests ahead of those of private profit.
Vast resources and wealth in society are being hoarded by the capitalist class. A claim needs to be made on these resources to protect jobs and incomes and to ensure worker health & safety. For example, the Apple Tax of €14.3 billion must be immediately seized and used as a fund for our health service and to ensure workers’ income is compensated where small businesses are unable to do so.
Defending workers’ rights and safety
All attempts by employers to lay off or reduce hours should be queried by an opening of the books for full transparency on their financial situation. Cases have been brought to the Socialist Party’s attention of childcare projects still receiving state funds or seeking ongoing payments from parents while at the same time laying off staff. Such lay-offs should be reversed immediately.
There needs to be an integrated scheme to protect net incomes through a combination of measures including enhanced welfare payments, taxing the profits of the capitalist class for top-ups and a moratorium on outgoings such as utility bills and mortgage/rent payments.
Workers should not be forced to go into jobs where they believe that there is a threat to their health and safety. At minimum a mass testing programme for COVID-19, like that which exists in South Korea, should be introduced.
Where private sector employers are harassing employees, as has been the case in some instances including in hotels and fast food, to work in unsafe conditions, there must be severe sanctions on those bosses and protection of workers from victimisation. Parents who have to withdraw from work because of childminding must be facilitated to do so without loss of income. Major job-shedding companies that are found to be profitable should be brought into democratic public ownership.
Trade union movement
The Dáil is due to meet next Thursday in part to legislate for the inadequate welfare measures already announced by the government. Socialist Party member and Solidarity TD Mick Barry will raise the comprehensive measures needed to protect workers’ rights, incomes and safety.
However, what happens outside the Dáil is of at least equal if not greater importance. The response of a number of private sector employers to this crisis brings home the need for mandatory trade union recognition. Young workers especially, to whom it may never have occurred to join a union, can see now how necessary it is. Even without mandatory recognition the trade union movement should now go on a mass online recruitment campaign, and when this virus passes, consolidate with a real-world organising drive to defend workers’ and trade union rights.
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The banks have been bailed out to the tune of billions in the last decade. This has been paid for by workers through vicious austerity. The banks have also been gifted generous tax breaks serving to boost their profits by billions.
There should be no cuts whatsoever to the incomes of working-class people as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Mortgage payments should be suspended for the length of this crisis for any person who is suffering from a loss in pay. A similar measure has been introduced in Italy. However, unlike Italy, the payments should not just be delayed – they should be covered by the banks.
Likewise with rent, any household suffering financially in this crisis should have their rent covered by landlords, or in cases of proven need, by a levy on profitable landlords. It is outrageous that many are facing, or worrying about, eviction notices in the context of COVID-19 – with representatives of landlord associations refusing to rule this out, as happened on Morning Ireland on Friday 13 March. There should be an immediate ban on all evictions.
People are rightly being asked to ensure that they take measures to improve hygiene and to spend more time in their homes. This will require many households having to heat their homes more and to use more hot water. No household should have to worry about paying their increased utility bills. Increased costs should be covered by utility companies. It is also the case that many forced to self-isolate, or are stranded in their homes, will need to communicate with friends, family or with those services they require such as online shopping. Again there should be no financial barrier to anyone accessing WIFI or other forms of modern communication.
We should not pay
The bottom line for socialists is that working-class people should not be penalised in any way by the economic fallout of COVID-19. There should be no direct or indirect cut to incomes. Landlords, particularly large and corporate ones, big business, tax-dodging multinationals, banks and the super-rich have amassed enormous sums of wealth and profits in the last decade at our expense. This wealth should now be utilised to ensure that all the needs of working-class people are provided for.
Here in Ireland and globally, each day brings news of the rising number of confirmed cases and tragic fatalities arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Understandably this has brought about a huge sense of distress, worry and uncertainty amongst workers and young people who are not only living in the fear of a substantial threat to their health and those of their families and friends, but who are also anxious of what economic effects this pandemic will have on their livelihoods.
Since the outbreak of this crisis, reports have emerged of obscene price rises in essential medicines, masks and hand-sanitiser. In Britain, the cost of basic over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen and paracetamol has risen by up to 30%. This week, Aspar Pharmaceuticals, a major supplier of pain-relief medicines to chemists and supermarkets, including the major retailer Tesco, demanded a 20% price increase on its aspirin and paracetamol.
Major online companies, most notably Amazon, are facilitating the speculation and profiteering that has arisen from COVID-19. The Financial Times (3 March) pointed out how:
“a pack of 20 masks made by manufacturer 3M, but sold by an unauthorised reseller, was on sale at $387, compared to a normal retail price of around $14.99. A pack of 24 2oz bottles of Purell hand sanitiser, typically sold for less than $10 a box, was listed at $400.”
Such profiteering and speculation has been evident here in Ireland. Shops and pharmacies have been selling small bottles of hand sanitisers of 50 mls for €10 and packets of 50 face masks for €150. These examples prove that “the hidden hand of the market”, that capitalism is supposedly founded on – where human wants and needs are matched – is an absurd joke.
Immediate price caps should be introduced on all essential medicines, facemasks, hand sanitisers and foodstuffs to cut across any profiteering from COVID-19. Democratically elected committees of workers in the retail sector, trade union representatives and consumers should be brought into being to ensure that these price controls are rigidly enforced.
The post Stop profiteering from COVID-19- Demand price caps now! appeared first on Socialist Party (Ireland).
By Ollie Bell
The number of young Irish people in their 20s living at home has risen to 47.2% according to research by EU agency Eurofound. Ireland, along with Luxemburg and Romania, have the highest increases in Europe.
While throughout other EU countries there was a 2% increase, Ireland saw a 11% increase. According to the report, after the recession many young people had to move back home as they would be the first ones to lose their jobs due to them having just entered the job market.
The report also states that despite young people having more financial security because they live at home, their well-being was better if they had moved out. Areas such as life satisfaction, satisfaction with family life and optimism about one’s own future were worse if young people lived with their parents, particularly when they live in increasingly overcrowded homes.
This increase comes at no surprise when you consider the government’s inaction on tackling the housing crisis. The selling off of public land to private developers, the refusal to build social housing and relying on the private market to solve the crisis have all contributed to this increase of young people living at home. Even when young people can move out they are faced with high rents and the reality that their landlord can choose to evict them at any time for reasons such as selling the property or renovations.
Rise in anxiety and depression
This generation of young people are the Locked Out Generation; they are locked out of housing and decent, well paid employment. Young people are more likely to work low paid and precarious jobs, often in the hospitality industry. Young women are especially vulerable to sexual harassment when working low-paid and zero-hour contract jobs. This contributes to the rising levels of anxiety and depression.
Rising college fees, high rents and low pay are paired with underfunded mental health services that offer no real support. The housing crisis has a detrimental effect on the mental health of young people today. Being forced to live at home due to lack of social and affordable housing means that young people aren’t given the independence or freedom they need.
However, there is a growing radicalisation of young people. Ireland has seen great social progress with Marriage Equality and Repeal and young people are at the forefront of the marches against climate change. This generation of young people are the first to be worse off than the last and there is a growing anger that will only grow.
More and more young people are waking up to the fact that the capitalist system only works for the 1% while the rest of us suffer. This generation must now get organised by building a mass movement against the housing crisis.
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