Potential 20,000 daily personal interactions in sector
July 12th: Unite, which represents driving instructors throughout Ireland, today (Sunday) warned that both instructors and learners could be at risk unless rigorous safety protocols are developed which take account of conditions specific to the sector. The union has written to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting instructors’ concerns, pointing out that they were not consulted prior to being included in Phase 3 of the re-opening ‘roadmap’, and asking the Minister to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in order to develop sector-specific safety protocols.
Commenting, Unite Regional Officer Jean O’Dowd said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing have focused attention on the challenges faced by different sectors in keeping those providing and using services safe.
“Driving instructors face particular issues given that their work is carried out within the small enclosed space of a car, and involves close interaction with learners. Our members estimate that there could be up to 20,000 personal interactions in the sector every day. Both the confined space and the close interaction pose an obvious risk for both instructors and users.
“Unite has written to Minister Eamon Ryan highlighting these issues and asking him to facilitate engagement between all stakeholders in the sector to develop safety protocols which will keep everyone safe and ensure that the sector does not contribute to spreading the virus.
“We are now at a critical juncture in our management of this emergency, and workers must be fully involved in developing safe working practices to protect all of us”, Ms O’Dowd concluded.
Thank you for your continuing support and sharing information about COVID-19. Below are some communications updates for you.
Phase 3 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business - Ireland is now in Phase 3 of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, which began on Monday 29th June. You can view the measures that form part of Phase 3 here.
Members of Unite give coalition a ‘slow clap’; say workers were “applauded then abandoned” by those who promised a “lasting appreciation”
July 2nd: Members of Unite Trade Union held a short rally outside Dáil Éireann today (Thursday), highlighting how workers have been forgotten about in the so-called ‘new normal’. This was followed by a sarcastic ‘slow clap’ for the new coalition Government which remarkably, managed to leave a workers’ rights agenda out of its Programme for Government almost entirely.
There have been lessons for workers in the last few weeks, starting with the treatment of the Debenhams workers who could only be exploited because successive Governments failed to close a legal loophole which had already caused untold misery for workers in Clery’s, GAME, La Senza and Vita Cortex (to name a few). Speaking this morning Jane Crowe Shop Steward at Debenhams Henry St said:
“We are striking now for around 6 weeks now, our future and our families futures are on the line, we still have a lot of fight left in us and we will keep going until the bitter end’
Further to this, last week’s landmark High Court ruling on the constitutionality of Sectoral Employment Orders could have very serious implications for tens of thousands of construction workers.
Speaking ahead of today’s event, Unite Regional Officer Tom Fitzgerald said:
“The government must immediately seek a stay on the orders contained in the Court decision and then appeal the rulings to the Supreme Court. Should there be any obstacles to either course of action, robust emergency legislation must be brought forward to protect the terms and conditions contained in the SEOs.”
Health & Safety is now a major concern for workers and Unite’s Hospitality and Tourism spokesperson Julia Marciniak pointed out, “While there has been no shortage of industry voices seeking to trivialise important public health advice by forcing debates on the merits of social distancing, many workers are being forced back into working arrangements in which they are afraid, at-risk and have been denied consultation.”
Unite Community is demanding that the new government take into account the urgent need for a new Charter for Workers, one that places the health and safety of workers, and their right to be represented by a trade union, at the heart of any roadmap for recovery.
In a Joint Statement, NIPSA, UNITE and GMB condemn plans forced through in secret at special council meeting
Alan Law, on behalf of NIPSA said: “council officers assured the Trade Unions that plans to furlough staff would be at 100% of normal pay and advised the unions that Councillors agreed with these plans. It is absolutely disgraceful that this decision was taken and is utterly opposed by NIPSA.”
Alan Perry, on behalf of GMB added “this appalling decision by councillors is another example of how they view the staff of this council. To force a pay cut on some of the lowest paid workers isn’t acceptable when themselves still receive full pay and expenses. GMB strongly opposes this decision.”
Unite Regional Officer, Gareth Scott said, “this is a disgraceful approach by Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council to cut the pay of some of the lowest paid workers is a new low. This approach is not being taken by other councils and is totally unacceptable and the unions will be challenging the decision in every way possible. Under the Job Retention Scheme the employer requires the agreement of the employees, as such the Councillors are actually threatening the chance to draw down this 80% funding from central Government.”
Company admits number of confirmed cases but so far fails to disclose numbers.
The Health and Safety Executive conducted an inspection of the site last week and set recommendations to company requiring an Action Plan by Thursday [May 14th]
Gareth Scott, Senior Officer for his union’s membership in in Foyle Omagh (formerly Omagh Meats) called on management at the company to confirm the number of cases of Covid-19 in their workforce and to take immediate action to ensure the safety of employees.
“Unite has been actively seeking to secure effective infection control in Foyle Foods’ Omagh site for some time. As a result of concerns raised directly by the workforce, the Health and Safety Executive NI conducted an inspection of the Omagh site and made a series of recommendations which the company has until this Thursday [May 14th] to address through an action plan.
“At the very least, if the Company does not implement proper measures to ensure worker safety then the Health and Safety Executive NI (HSE) must urgently use its powers to make mandatory proposals through an Improvement Notice or a Prohibition Notice. The failure of the HSE to enforce such proposals and instead to make only non-binding recommendations is evidence of their wider failure to address fully the severity of the threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to meat sector workers.
“Over past days, reports have emerged of growing numbers of suspected and now confirmed cases in the meatpacking factory. There are huge concerns among the local community and the workforce. Some workers have indicated that the only thing keeping them at work is the fear of losing wages and the economic difficulties this would bring. No worker should have to choose between livelihood and safety.
“The union welcomes the announcement that Foyle Omagh will conduct testing for all staff over next two weeks but this does not go far enough, as testing should be ongoing. Lack of testing capacity is also a major failing of the UK Government and the NI Executive, testing for everybody is the only way out of the current lockdown and the experience in Care Homes and now Food Processing plants is a clear demonstration of the need for adequate testing.
“The Northern Ireland Executive must act immediately to enforce a tailored sectoral response to the crisis in poultry and meatpacking. Unite is calling for any site, including Foyle Omagh, that has an outbreak of COVID-19 cases to be temporarily closed for intensive testing of workers and family members allowing it to reopen safely when results are known – with all workers retained on full pay in the meantime – as essential workers they deserve nothing less”, Mr Scott said.
Immediate programme of testing with quick turnaround needed for all meatpacking workers and their families along with wider package of measures including, where necessary, temporary closures for deep-cleanses without loss of pay
Fears that meatpacking sites here could experience outbreaks similar to those in USA and Brazil where tens of thousands of workers have caught Covid-19 and scores have died
Davy Kettyles, Lead Regional Organiser for Unite, is calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to bring forward, as a matter of urgency, a suite of measures to tackle the growing number of clusters of Covid-19 cases across the meatpacking industry. The call came as workers at Linden Foods’ site at Granville in Dungannon, where Unite’s Organising Department is actively working to secure workplace protections, reported a growing number of confirmed cases including among the union’s membership.
“Unite has been working to collectively organise workers in meatpacking sites in Northern Ireland and is aware of a growing number of clusters of Covid-19 infections in the sector. In the case of Linden Foods in Granville, Dungannon, we have repeatedly sought effective infection control measures to secure the health and safety of our members and called on the HSE on many occasions to conduct a physical inspection. As yet they have totally failed to conduct any such inspection.
“Now we understand from workers that at least seven Covid-19 cases have been confirmed at the Linden Foods site. The workers are hugely concerned for their safety. We are also hearing of similar reports at a number of other sites.
“This is hugely concerning. The absence of speedy action has led to a Covid-19 crisis in our care homes – now we are facing a similar outcome in the meatpacking sector. In the USA, more than ten thousand meat workers have tested positive for Covid-19 with at least 45 fatalities – the situation in Brazil is reportedly even worse but due to the absence of testing is unquantified. In the Republic, we have seen outbreak control teams sent to deal with clusters but the Northern Ireland Executive has done nothing.
“Linden Foods management tell us that they are complying with the PHA guidelines but the current guidelines are clearly not adequate to protect workers. We urgently need to see the Northern Ireland Executive establish a taskforce to tackle clusters and the enforcement of adequate infection control procedures for the entire food processing sector, in particular the meat sector.
“This must include, at a minimum, measures such as the immediate roll-out of testing for all workers in this sector, and their families, with a swift turnaround on results, and immediate measures to stop the spread up to and including the temporary closure of plants while testing is conducted with workers receiving full pay for the duration”, Mr Kettyles said.
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.
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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.
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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.”