Socialist Worker

As bosses seek return to business as usual—more will die if lockdown ends

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2702

Construction bosses want to get back to business as usual

Construction bosses want to get back to business as usual (Pic: Paul Anderson/Creative Commons)


Boris Johnson said on Monday that ending the lockdown in Britain would spark a “new wave of death”.

Top Tories regularly stress that lockdown measures must continue. In reality bosses are forcing more and more people back to work.

Persimmon, Britain’s second-biggest housebuilder, restarted work on Monday of this week. Workers at Vistry also returned to building sites on Monday, while those at Taylor Wimpey are set to return next week.

For all the rhetoric, the Tories are giving them the green light.

Tory housing secretary Robert Jenrick told Building magazine, “I welcome developers reopening sites. Work in construction can and should continue.”

One of Britain’s biggest brick-makers, Ibstock, also restarted production on Monday. And car makers Vauxhall, Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin and Bentley all plan to reopen.

B&Q reopened 155 stores last week, generating huge queues. DIY retailer Homebase opened 20 shops on Saturday while Dixons Carphone said it will launch “zero contact” stores.

Many more are looking to get profits flowing again. So, the British Retail Consortium said on Sunday that clothes shops could reopen with new rules to promote social ­distancing.

We are told this is in our interests and that workers will be kept safe.

Persimmon boss Dave Jenkinson said workers would return to “support the UK’s economic recovery” and that safety measures would be “strictly enforced”. Yet all evidence suggests that bosses do not keep staff safe. And the Tories pushing for a return to work are driven by fears for bosses’ profits.

Disgracefully

Yet disgracefully, Labour and union leaders are backing them up. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has ­repeatedly called on the Tories to spell out a strategy to end the lockdown.

And Labour’s Rachel Reeves complained last week that school closures mean children “are missing out on vital days and weeks and months of their education”.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “We all want everyone to get back to work and start rebuilding Britain.”

But lifting lockdown measures will mean more people will die. Leading scientists said last weekend that the transmission rate for Covid-19 is still far too high in Britain to ease the lockdown soon.

Professor John Edmunds said, “If we lifted the ­lockdown now, the testing and tracing system would be overwhelmed. We will have to get case numbers down a lot lower than they are now before we can think of lifting current regulations.”

On Sunday some 4,463 new cases of coronavirus were reported in Britain. Professor Paul Hunter said this number needs to be down to “a few hundred a day” before the lockdown measures can be lifted.

“Such a decline could take months,” he warned.

The Tories and the bosses are gambling with our lives to get their system going again. We shouldn’t be fooled into backing them.

There should be no return until it is genuinely safe—and meanwhile workers’ wages must be guaranteed.

 


Teachers in France threaten to go on strike if schools reopen next month

Teachers in France are preparing for strikes against a reopening of schools next month.

The plan, announced last week by president Emmanuel Macron, is a recipe for a new spike in coronavirus cases and deaths.

It will mean potentially nearly 900,000 teachers and 12 million students are brought together in classes.

Then there are all the administration and other support staff.

Alain, a teacher, told Socialist Worker, “It’s unbelievable that Macron is calling for this. How are we supposed to maintain any sort of separation of children from each other and from the staff?

“How can we manage the playground, the nap in the kindergarten, the coming together for meals and so on?

“It won’t work for students and teachers. But it will mean that employees are made free to go back to work.”

The FNEC teachers’ union, which has filed a strike notice, points to the calls for a return to work from the Medef bosses organisation—the equivalent of the British CBI. The union said, “The school is not a nursery for Medef. National education and its personnel should not be manipulated to meet the needs of the market. This decision does not deceive anyone, especially since the universities remain closed.

“Students there don’t need to be looked after so managements are not concerned.

“If the minister persists in pushing schools to reopen at the cost of workers’ health, the FNEC FP-FO union will invite them to strike and we have given notice of a strike from 11 to 30 May.”

The CGT union federation also says that there should be no return at schools until September.

The French government’s own scientific council has said the return on 11 May is a “political decision” and that it would have preferred to wait until later in the year.The teachers’ decision to strike is popular among wide sections of parents. One parent said, “My child brings back everything from school in terms of viruses and bacteria, it’s always like that. Why would this hugely contagious virus be an exception?”

If the Tories attempt a similarly reckless reopening of schools the unions will have to take similar action.

And it won’t be possible to go through all the mechanisms of the anti-union laws.

Charlie Kimber


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.