Impose Covid responsibility on the bosses

Submitted by AWL on 20 July, 2021 - 6:39 Author: Martin Thomas
Overcrowded housing

It’s down to the unions — or workers self-organising in un-unionised workplaces — to hold the line on virus precautions.

It’s possible. Some employers are already keeping the Covid precautions in their shops and offices after 19 July. In London Covid precautions (masks) will be mandatory on the Tube and buses.

Workers whether in unions or not have a legal right to insist bosses respect workplace safety, and to refuse to enter work areas which pose danger (section 44 of the Employment Protection Act 1996).

The precautions will be more effective if the labour movement can win social measures.

A better way to prepare for winter than the Tories’ speculative lunge to get past the infection peak before September would be to focus on:

• improving ventilation

• bringing in full isolation pay

• giving NHS workers and the NHS resources to rebuild

• bringing elderly care into the public sector, with workers on NHS-level pay and conditions

• easing overcrowded housing

The Netherlands, after easing all restrictions on 26 June, reimposed some of them on 10 July when cases soared as the Delta variant arrived. It’s not a grim “never meet your friends” regime. Schools have stayed open. Cafés and bars stay open, but with precautions. Nightclubs are closed again, and isolation rules continue. It’s too early to say, but it looks like the surge in cases may be levelling off. (Scotland, with light restrictions, has had a levelling-off).

Norway, with better social conditions than the UK, now has Delta well-established (over 80% of cases). It has postponed Step 4 of its restriction-easing. But cafés and bars remain open. The loss of “life” from the restrictions is slight. Cases are not rising there, despite Delta, despite vaccination rates behind the UK’s.

Unsurprisingly, the Netherlands bans travel from the UK, and Norway allows it only with 10 days in a quarantine hotel after arrival.

Worldwide the Covid case count has been rising since mid-June, and the death count, since 2 July. It is already much higher than in April 2020. The rates will continue to rise as the Delta variant spreads. Africa is vaccinating at the rate of only 0.04 per 100 people per day, and Bangladesh, where the death count has rocketed since 28 May, at about zero rate.

Worldwide, the priority is emergency mass vaccination: requisition Big Pharma for a publicly-directed crash program of vaccine production and distribution!

The Tories have rowed back from their blather about “Freedom Day”. They have even, after less than three hours, u-turned and said Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak would follow isolation rules after meeting with Covid-infected Sajid Javid. But they have given signals to encourage many bosses to ditch precautions and push workers to come in even if they should be self-isolating.

As it’s explained by scientists like Neil Ferguson, the rationale for the restriction-scrapping goes something like this. With high vaccination and a lot of people having had Covid (mostly milder, in recent months), the virus will soon find too few susceptible people to spread fast.

The soaring infections will start to decrease some time in August. Then we can go through the more dangerous winter with a sort of population immunity. That’s the realistic best to aim for. Covid cannot be eliminated any more than flu can. Lockdowns forever would be impossible and anyway cause arguably cause more loss of real (human, social) life than they would save.

Trouble is, we’re nowhere near knowing exactly enough for that sort of speculative aim: “if it goes up now, it will go down then”.

Here and now it’s down to the unions, and self-organised workers, to organise mutual aid.

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