Make Labour fight for “grand schemes”!

Submitted by AWL on 8 July, 2020 - 7:40 Author: Editorial
Anneliese Dodds

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Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds told the Marr show on Sunday 5 June: “I’m not going to say to you that Labour is going to be advocating some massive grand scheme right at this moment when social care is in crisis”.

But we need grand schemes exactly at this time of crisis! The Tories’ floundering has imposed a massive grand Covid-19 death toll, threatens a massive grand risk of a whole new second wave of the virus, and is generating massive grand job cuts.

As the Safe and Equal campaign has revealed, an official survey has confirmed that lack of isolation pay and insecure work have increased the risk of care home residents getting the virus.

The Vivaldi study surveyed 9,081 elderly care homes. It found the risk of infection was reduced by between 7 and 18% when staff had sick pay, and almost halved when care homes had regular and permanent staff rather than using bank and agency workers on zero hours contracts.

Isolation pay

The 7 to 18% figure must be an underestimate, because 93% of care home managers reported they did give sick pay, and government figures say only 40% do. (Maybe the managers thought the meagre Statutory Sick Pay scheme, which is a binding legal minimum, counts as “giving sick pay”).

Both the government and the scientists who criticise it say that finding people with Covid-19 symptoms, testing to confirm, tracing their close contacts, and getting sufferers and contacts to self-isolate, is central to controlling the virus.

That can’t be done unless sufferers and contacts (who will probably have no symptoms) do self-isolate. They must have isolation pay, to make it economically possible; and, if they live in crowded housing, special accommodation to make it physically possible.

We need a “grand scheme” to ensure that provision for all workers and all industries. And a “grand scheme” of bringing all care homes into the public sector, with workers on permanent public-sector contracts, pay, and conditions. Now!

We need a public health test-and-trace operation, run by properly-funded local authority public health departments, not the Tory botch under which half the testing is contracted out through Deloitte (and local public health authorities don’t even get the results until too late) and half the tracing is contracted out through Serco.

We need private hospitals to be requisitioned — taken into emergency public ownership — to enable the NHS to catch up on all the treatment delayed at the height of the pandemic, and to secure capacity for a second wave of the virus.

We need workers’ control over safe reopening of workplaces, to avoid workplace infection-clusters such as have been central to the outbreak in Leicester.

On jobs, Boris Johnson says he has a “grand scheme” (a “new deal”), but it’s largely bluster. The labour movement should have a real grand scheme:

• Nationalisation of the big firms declaring job cuts, like BA, Airbus, Easyjet, Rolls Royce, etc., and retraining and retooling to redirect the workforces to green and socially useful production.

• A big expansion of public sector jobs, in care, in the health service, and in local services, to give good alternatives to workers losing jobs in cafés, pubs, shops, etc.

• A shorter work week across the board — a new standard of 32 hours or four days full time — with no loss of pay, to share out the hours and push back overwork.

The Tories are forcing the pace with reopening because they want to stop paying out furlough money. Thus their risky opening of pubs on 4 July, and simultaneous reduction of the two metre rule to one metre.

If Britain were able to continue the improving trend of May and June, then it would be possible by late July to get confirmed infections down, not as far as remote islands like New Zealand or Iceland, but to the 2 or 3 per million of Denmark, Norway, or Finland.

From that level, experience suggests it’s medically possible to control the virus in a sustainable long-term way, maybe with localised outbreaks and quarantines but no worse, by means of careful contact-tracing, work-from-home, quarantining cross-border travellers, masks, moderate covid-distancing, screens, hand-washing, etc.

To make it socially possible to do that, and to avoid escalating mass unemployment? Make Labour fight for “massive grand schemes”!

The New Deal

The New Deal in the USA in the 1930s, which Johnson invokes, was a bigger thing than anything he promises. But Marxists explained at the time that it was limited to attempting to salvage capitalism in a deep crisis, and much of its limited positive effect on jobs was down to war preparations. See “Five Years of the New Deal” and “FDR and the Industrial Mobilisation Plan”.

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