The coronavirus emergency is shining a light into every corner of society, and it is showing how rotten the system is.
Boris Johnson said, “I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” This is not a statement of inevitability. It is a political choice by the Tories to allow people—especially older, vulnerable, disabled and poor people—to die.
The creation of “herd immunity” that the Tories want means allowing around two thirds of society to be infected. That means mass deaths.
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said that worst-case scenario planning projected that 80 percent of the country would contract the virus, with a 1 percent mortality rate. This equates to more than 500,000 deaths.
Such callous calculation has to be fought now. We need emergency action that pushes aside the priorities of big business and profit and puts people first.
Mass testing, quarantining of those who have the virus, following up of contacts and the reduction of unnecessary social interaction can sharply reduce the scale of the virus’s spread.
The basic shift has to be away from all the normal activities that are dictated by the corporations and the market. We have, in effect, to suspend capitalism.
All production and services that are not essential should be shut down and resources transferred to the necessary societal offensive against coronavirus. We have to force the government to take action, but crucial decisions about what is essential should be the result of discussion among ordinary people. Self-organisation and solidarity are essential to getting us through this crisis.
Workers and students, for example, need to shut down the universities.
Nobody who is ill or self-isolating must be left uncared for or without food.
Every worker must have their full pay or benefits guaranteed by the government. We have had a decade of handouts to the banks and the big firms. Now we need money delivered into the pockets and the bank accounts of working class people.
The money is there. For example, the government could simply give every adult in Britain £2,000. That would cost £104 billion. Impossible? The quantitative easing programme for the banks since 2009 has cost £450 billion.
Rents and mortgage payments should be suspended.
In some areas people are already moving to set up mutual aid groups to make sure nobody is left behind by the abject failure of the government. We need these sorts of initiatives more widely—and they must be funded by councils and the government.
In every workplace trade unions should initiate meetings to discuss what’s needed and how to win it. These should be for every worker, not just union members, and they should then reach out to other groups such as community and faith organisations.
Here are some other basic demands:
- All necessary resources for the NHS.
- Requisition the beds of private sector hospitals across Britain if they are required to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
- All necessary forms of protection from the virus to be provided to workers in the industries and services that are necessary to continue.
- The government must assure all workers that additional costs of childcare and any social care they might incur will be met.
- Plans must be made to cover the extra financial cost of feeding children who are growing up in poverty and rely on school meals. MPs have estimated 3 million children are at risk of being hungry if schools close.
- Urgent measures must be taken to protect the most vulnerable – for example, elderly people whether living on their own or in social care homes.
- Councils should cooperate with local trade union branches, community organisations, churches, mosques, GP practices and health centres to provide the necessary support to self-isolating and vulnerable households—regular contact, supplies of food and other essentials etc.
- Benefit claimants should not be called for interviews, be expected to sign on, or be sanctioned for not being able to attend appointments.
- Homeless people must be moved into empty properties and provided with access to benefits.
- Absolute opposition to scapegoating and racism. We need international action and cooperation, not closure of borders.
- No extra repressive powers for the government or the police.
- Free broadband to enable discussion and reduce isolation.
- The trade unions to launch resistance and a broader movement to force the Tories to implement this programme.