It is beyond doubt that the Tory government are doing everything they possibly can to avoid hurting the profit margins of big business during this crisis. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, when asked directly during yesterday’s press conference by Laura Kuenssberg (of all people) about workers being told to come in to work by their boss said it was ‘crystal clear’ – we should stay at home and work from there if possible. Exactly how we can hang doors, fit electrical systems, lay bricks, clean bathrooms, deliver orders made online, answer calls or weld steel from a sofa at home is not explained. The obvious answer is – as in the US, Spain and Italy – the government are falling over themselves to protect the interests of big business, and are determined that capitalism will continue squeezing profit out of the rest of us even where it will cost lives.
This should not surprise us. This is the same social class which threw children into mills and mines in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into accepting limitations on the use of child labour.
This is the same social class which traded in human beings, in the slave trade, for centuries – building entire cities based on the wealth gained from this.
This is the same social class which dragged the world through two world wars, and dozens of regional and national wars, in the pursuit of markets and resources.
We need only note the fact that the cleaning and catering staff of Parliament – for the Commons and Lords – have been ordered to turn up for their shift to understand the pig-headed callousness of the bourgeois politicians – some of them have even found their way into our Labour Party. To be fair to them, most Lords and MPs likely lack the competence to make something as simple as a packed lunch to take to work, and would starve on the back benches were it not for the workers keeping Parliament running. It is these same people – with absolutely no conception of what the life of a worker is like – who are in charge of the response to the Coronavirus. And now they’re going on holiday, while bricklayers, delivery drivers, doctors and nurses are ordered to attend work, risking infection by a dangerou virus, or never turn up again.
What choice do working class people have? Despite the scale of the crisis, we are still expected to pay rent and bills, pay for food and fuel or transport. If we turn up to work, we risk exposure to Corona virus on the commute on overcrowded public transport or at work. How many of us hot desk in a call centre, or have to work in pairs or teams on site? If we refuse to go to work, how many of us will be sacked? How many will be left unable to claim unemployment support because we will be classed as making ourselves unemployed? How many will never get another shift on their zero hours contract? After that, how long until we are evicted or have electricity cut off? We have no choice in these circumstances but to turn up for work because we are slaves to capital.
Just as with our working-class brothers and sisters in Spain and Italy, the greed of the bosses over-rides any question of protecting the lives and health of workers. In the Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant were ordered in for their shift. When they arrived, the workers in the plant went on striketo make it clear they would not accept the bosses taking potentially fatal risks with workers’ lives.
While in Italy, a series of wildcat strikes for precisely those concerns workers raise here – the inability to work and keep two metres apart – has developed into a general strike to enforce a lockdown.
The Tory government, like their Italian counterparts, has evaded any question of slowing down production in any way. We have been presented with no other choice. In order to protect ourselves, our friends, our families, we must prepare and carry out a strike for a complete shutdown of non-essential industries. The trades councils in every town and city should organise the strike to ensure that those working in the NHS and emergency services, food supply and distribution, public transport and schools can attend work. Those on strike should either stay at home or be organised in communities to ensure the vulnerable and those self-isolating have the support they need.
The ruling class, organised through the Tory government, have made it clear that the lives of their slaves – us – are worth nothing compared to their profits. We have the strength to shut down the economy, save lives and protect NHS staff slogging away hour after hour to help the victims of this capitalist pandemic. The questions we must ask are: do we have the will and do we have the leadership up to the task?
Stuart Leigh – 25 March 2020
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