Socialist politics to combat new virus surge

Submitted by AWL on 23 September, 2020 - 7:44 Author: Martin Thomas
Second wave

We want furlough and the ban on evictions extended, and rent "holidays" added. We want full isolation pay for all. The Tories' £500 one-off self-isolation dole for workers on benefits is a concession, but inadequate Social care should be taken into the public sector, and its staff put on regular public sector pay and conditions.

Test-and-trace should be taken out of the hands of Serco and the other profiteers, and made a coordinated public health effort.

NHS logistics, at present also a mess of profiteering subcontractors, should be put into public ownership, and industry requisitioned to provide supplies, so that PPE is available wherever needed. The NHS should take over all private hospitals and integrate them into the service.

Workers' control over virus precautions in all workplaces can aim to keep schools open with minimum risk (but schools need more money for precautions).

Quarantine accommodation should be provided to people self-isolating who would otherwise be in crowded housing.

Despite a clear government-commissioned report back in mid-July, the Tories wasted the June-August virus lull, doing little of what the scientists indicated but much that was counterproductive.

The new rise across Europe follows the government-promoted surge in pub, café, and tourist traffic after schools closed from early July (and not the reopening of schools in most of Europe from mid-April onwards).

It was not an inevitability. Other countries have kept infection levels low, and indeed with only fragments of the comprehensive policies socialists advocate. Japan, for example, which has never had a general lockdown.

The Tories are going for a mess of policies: heavier fines, "rule of six", bans on households meeting, early closing of pubs, a roll-back to "work from home" for office workers (and maybe a "circuit-breaker" full lockdown for two weeks in October?).

Experts in many countries have said transmission is more via household socialising than even via pubs. But the "rule of six" and bans on households meeting are unenforceable. Coming on top of the distrust the government's floundering has already caused, they will work against the social solidarity needed to make covid-distancing work.

Full-on lockdowns are no magic bullet, either. Buenos Aires, in Argentina, has had one since March, and infections are still rising. At best they win time. If no better policies are developed in that time, then infections rise again when the lockdown is repealed or (as is inevitable even with a police state) frays.

There is a case for a clear, uniform policy of closing pubs, cafés, etc. Pub and café workers who lose their jobs (as many now will come what may) should get alternative employment or retraining on full pay: there are masses of public service jobs short of workers.

The Campaign Group of Labour MPs has called for a "Zero Covid" policy. That has proved impossible even in closed-borders, remote-islands New Zealand. Advocates now say it should be read as meaning, instead, "maximum suppression". Or really, just "mass testing". Better-organised testing would be good. It is only a secondary part of a policy. All known tests fail to detect the virus in the first days of the most infectious period; and if they were really "mass" administered their results would have infections buried amidst a much larger number of "false positives".

Sustainable policies to limit the toll are possible. The labour movement must fight to rebuild the social solidarity to enable them.

We must foreground the social demands, not make them a footnote in a story where the headline is "lock down more" or "test more".

The Madrid region in Spain, where this second surge is worst, has imposed new restrictions (which it doesn't call a lockdown) for at least 14 days from 21 September. The restrictions sparked big street protests on the weekend of 19-20 September. The protesters were mostly masked and tried to covid-distance. They had slogans like "Long live the fight of the working class", and "More healthcare, fewer police".

Scientists of the Madrid Association of Public Health have criticised the restrictions, counterposing more social measures, rather than a fuller lockdown.

Socialists must work to reunite the working class round a workable, socially-underpinned, virus-curbing policy.

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