Socialist Worker

Profit is behind Starmer lining up with Tories to get people back to work

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2700

Starmer is backing big business on this question

Starmer is backing big business on this question

Labour leader Keir Starmer is helping those Tory ministers who want to see the lockdown end and people pushed back to work in order to make profits.

In a round of broadcast interviews on the BBC, LBC and Sky, Starmer said the government “can’t just park this” and ought to publish its “principles and approach” so that people can have an idea how the lockdown might end.

He hedged it round with various conditions, but the central direction of his remarks was to boost those who want workers to return even if it risks their lives. Such victims would be collateral damage towards the greater objective of kickstarting production.

Starmer could have focused on the revelations of a gathering death toll in care homes or the continuing failures over protective equipment for frontline workers. Instead he lined up with ministers who think the government is being too harsh on business.

The Financial Times newspaper wrote on Wednesday that, “There is some concern among cabinet ministers that the government’s ‘stay home’ message has proved so effective that certain industries have been crippled when they could still be operational—an issue which business secretary Alok Sharma has tried to address.

“Last week Mr Sharma discreetly sent out advice to companies on how they could continue to operate where home working was not possible, making clear that while social distancing was desirable it was not essential. Handwashing was offered as one alternative.

“’Businesses should consider shift working or the staggering of processes which would enable staff to continue to operate both effectively and where possible at a safe distance (more than 2 metres) from one another,’ said the Department for Business.

These people think safety measures are an onerous and optional extra. Starmer is helping them.

Starmer also said he thought reopening schools and mass testing should be among the first priorities for ending the lockdown.

These people think safety measures are an onerous and optional extra. Starmer is helping them.

That should worry the NEU union whose leaders this week wrote to Boris Johnson saying, “Our members are disturbed by increasing media speculation that schools will soon be re-opened.

“We consider this speculation to be most unhelpful—it may undermine people’s resolve to stick to social isolation. We are disturbed that it is seemingly being stimulated by unnamed government ministers.”

In Spain a return to work by large numbers of workers in factories, construction sites, shops and offices began this week even as hundreds die from coronavirus every day and a lockdown officially continues.

It is very unpopular among many people. Rafael Antunez, a construction worker, told El Pais newspaper, “I don’t know why the heck we have to go back if there’s no way of staying apart. I just hope that my workmates also work with a face mask. If not, we’re screwed.

The Tories would like to bulldoze aside such views, but are wary of widespread opposition.

That is why Starmer’s position is so dangerous. It can help to create the fake “national unity” that will be needed to break the lockdown before it is genuinely safe.

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