Solidarity 542, 7 April 2020

The left and Starmer

On 4 April, Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner were proclaimed Labour’s new leader and deputy, and the Labour right won all three by-elections for the National Executive Committee, against a divided field of left candidates. The left should neither rally to Starmer uncritically (as some have done), nor give up on the fight inside the Labour Party (as others have suggested). 1. Demand fight against the Tories The media reports that Starmer and his inner circle think it is clever and “statesmanlike” to refrain from too vocal criticism of the Tory government in the Covid-19 crisis. This is wrong. It...

Covid-19: Bernie Sanders' six point plan

Bernie Sanders has drafted a six point plan for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the looming economic crisis – and the strange thing is that he doesn’t mention the presidential election nor the name of America’s current president, Donald Trump. While Joe Biden tries to make his voice heard from his basement studio in Delaware, Sanders remains an active member of the US Senate, fighting to get things done without waiting for the Democratic party primary season to end – and without waiting for Trump to be replaced in office either. “Congress must pass, in the very near future, the...

Hungary: three months of decrees, but no food

The new emergency law passed in Hungary has made waves in the international press, and rightly, though much of the coverage has been inaccurate. For example, the BBC on 30 March said: “The Hungarian Parliament has voted by 137 to 53 to accept the government’s request for the power to rule by decree during the coronavirus emergency”. However, the 2012 Hungarian Constitution (put in place by Fidesz) already grants the power to rule by decree in a state of emergency. The new law is actually about the edicts that are issued during a state of emergency. A state of emergency legally lasts until the...

Australia in the pandemic

Australian unions first focussed on work health and safety in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In some workplaces unions won improved health and safety conditions, and teachers and parents have protested online against schools being kept open. Union attention quickly moved onto incomes and jobs, when Qantas stood down 20,000 workers on 18 March. The unemployment benefit was doubled on the spot, from $550 (ÂŁ270) a fortnight to $1100 a fortnight, and the onerous work test was stopped. By 22 March thousands of workers who had lost their jobs were queuing for hours outside Centrelink [equivalent...

Workers’ control of PPE!

There is alarm amongst many about the lack of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] being provided to workers at risk of exposure to Covid-19. Rightly so. The information regarding protection has been confusing, with different recommendations initially coming from the World Health organisation (WHO) and Public Health England (PHE). Workers in the frontline are being told what to do rather than being involved in the decisions that affect them. We don’t trust our bosses to protect us. Many workers are superseding recommended protection with support of trade unions. For example in my workplace, an...

Beware conspiracy theories!

A number of conspiracy theories about malign forces behind the coronavirus pandemic have cropped up in the last few weeks. These include: the virus is a mass depopulation project by unspecified “powers”; it is a longer-term plot to vaccinate people with a microchip; Disney’s Tangled included a prediction about the virus; helicopters will soon be sent out to spray us all with disinfectant. Perhaps not the least bizarre is the “theory” that links the coronavirus to the roll-out of 5G technology. This builds on baseless health scares around the new mobile technology over the last year or so...

Shut the construction sites!

Photo by Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa on Unsplash The socialist film-makers Reel News report that they have been “inundated with messages from construction workers, demanding their sites are shut down during the coronavirus crisis. “Anyone who’s worked on a building site knows that social distancing is impossible due to the nature of the work – and this is being exacerbated by further unsafe and dangerous practices. Now sites are being forced to shut down through action inside and outside sites.” They say to check out their Twitter @reelnewslondon and @shutthesites, as well as the hashtag...

French workers occupy to demand oxygen production

Until 2019, the British firm Luxfer Holdings PLC owned and ran an oxygen cylinder factory in Gerzat in northern France. In May 2019, production ceased. In January 2020, construction teams arrived at the site, only to find it occupied by former workers demanding its nationalisation. That occupation lasted until 19 March. This plant can produce 950 oxygen cylinders a day, which would be very useful to many sorely-afflicted sufferers of Covid-19. The owners of the plant refuse to reopen it for production. French President Emmanuel Macron might have declared in a speech that “this pandemic reveals...

Jobcentres in the pandemic

The coronavirus crisis has radically changed the job roles and working environment in Jobcentres. Department for Work and Pensions policy on self-isolation for permanent staff is relatively good, sending anyone with a relevant underlying health condition home for 12 weeks on full pay, although there are arguments with management about staff who live with vulnerable people still being asked to come in. G4S staff are on full pay, despite significantly reduced hours because almost no security is needed now jobcentres have been closed to the public, and would be paid if they needed to self-isolate...

Deaths in custody

Under the emergency powers of the Coronavirus Act, unless a medical professional deems it necessary, death certificates for people that die in custody will not have to be signed by a coroner. Yet the law was passed with little debate and with almost no opposition to these provisions from the Labour leadership. Inquest reported that in the financial year 2018-19, there were 276 deaths during or following police contact, 16 in or following police custody. Of those 16 deaths, 10 people were identified as having “mental health concerns” and 13 were known to have a link to alcohol or drugs. Six of...

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