England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Covid-19 what we say: don’t let workers pay for a crisis of capitalism’s making

In 2008-09 the financial system of global capitalism collapsed. Banks, building societies and other financial institutions were bailed out, at the cost of trillions. Over the next ten years working people the world over were made to pay the cost of these bailouts, through swingeing austerity programmes which wrecked public services and imposed job losses and benefit cuts.

This must not happen again over Coronavirus. Working-class people must not be made to pay again for the crisis in the system. Once bitten, twice shy!

No-one knows yet how Coronavirus originated but it didn’t need to develop into a pandemic. Capitalist governments have failed to protect us. In China and Iran they hid the initial outbreak so as not to disrupt prestigious events. In the US they were in denial – Trump called it a ‘hoax’, then tried to blame ‘this foreign virus’ on the Chinese! Millions of Americans without health insurance will be more concerned about whether they can afford a visit to the doctor. And in the UK the Tory government has systematically run down the health service, has failed to invest in intensive care beds and ventilators, failed to recruit to the tens of thousands of vacant posts, failed to provide protective equipment for healthcare staff. Their criminal decisions to put economic activity ahead of public health, by resisting widespread pressure for school closures, will cost lives. Never again must the Tories be entrusted with government.

No employee should face a choice between feeding their family and staying off work ill or in self-isolation. Workers – who mustn’t need to unnecessarily burden their overstretched GP – must be able to self-certificate on full pay from day one. Coronavirus absence must not be part of any sickness monitoring schemes and disciplinary processes linked to absence should be suspended. Where workers are too sick to work, or have been laid off, rent and mortgage arrears must be written off. The three-month ban on evictions is welcome but it must be extended indefinitely.

Students who are now missing their second semester should not be charged fees for lectures which didn’t take place. Many will return to family homes and their accommodation costs should be written off also. We should go further and use this opportunity to abolish university fees altogether, we need free higher education to develop the talents of our young people and find solutions to this and other crises.

It’s not the fault of workers that businesses are closing down. For some like hotels and restaurants the loss of customers is obvious; in others the virus may not be the problem but is being used as the excuse. Six months ago Honda announced job losses and blamed Brexit but in reality they were relocating other plants to Japan as part of a business strategy; what’s to say the capitalists aren’t just cost-cutting under cover of the virus? Whether they are or not we need to see their accounts. Even with an airline which has grounded its fleet due to travel bans: how much profit did they make last year? What resources do they have in the bank? Share out the available work with no loss of pay.

The big companies declaring redundancies should be subject to trade union scrutiny and they should be taken into public ownership under democratic workers control and management, while smaller companies should receive grants to stay in business. On a global scale private so-called enterprise has failed us. The vehicle manufacturers have lied about the particulates their cars spew out; people who live in highly polluted areas suffer lung damage which makes the virus more likely to be serious or fatal. Big pharma failed to continue the vital research into coronavirus which they began at the time of the SARs outbreak; now we are expected to wait a year or more for a vaccine. We need to fight for an end to capitalism and build a new society based on public ownership and the democratic control of workers who can make the right decisions for the health and wellbeing or the peoples of the world.


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