Socialist Worker

The battle is on - we can refuse to work

Issue No. 2704

Activists are organising to stop an unsafe return to work

Activists are organising to stop an unsafe return to work (Pic: Guy Smallman)


It is possible to refuse to go back to work. Teachers in the NEU union have said it clearest. They’ve laid out five tests that have to be met before they can agree it’s safe to open schools.

The first three represent a political challenge to the government.

They include waiting until there are much fewer cases of Covid-19, a national plan to ensure social distancing, and access to regular coronavirus testing.

Those tests haven’t been met—so the union says schools shouldn’t reopen. And its leaders have said they will back workers who take action to protect their safety.

It puts school workers on course for an important battle with the government—and there must be no backsliding by those at the top of the union.

If the Tories can’t reopen schools, it will do deep damage to their plan to get millions of parents back to work.

This would mark a far bigger defeat for the government than anything the Labour Party—laughably called the opposition—has even attempted.

Labour leader Keir Starmer meekly responded to Boris Johnson with his own televised address on Monday evening.

“What we needed from the prime minister was clarity,” he said. But what he had to say himself was equally unclear—just a load of questions.

“How can we be sure our workplaces are safe?” he asked. “How can we get to work safely if we need public transport? How can millions of people go back to work while balancing childcare and caring responsibilities?”

The obvious answer is that none of those things are safe or possible. But Starmer won’t say so because he’d rather “have the courage to support the government”.

Bleating

It speaks volumes that this bleating is seen as Starmer’s clearest opposition to Johnson so far.

And it makes a mockery of his deputy Angela Rayner’s claim this week that, “Labour MPs will always fight for workers’ interests.”

Rayner emailed Labour members encouraging them to join a union, because unions are “sorting safety measures” in workplaces.

This, when unions should be fighting against the government and bosses’ drive to return to work.

The TUC union federation published guidance this week on what to do in an unsafe workplace.

First, it says, talk to your workmates, then your manager, and then report to the Health and Safety Executive.

Only then, “you may—under certain circumstances—have the right to leave work”.

It’s possible to do much more. Postal workers in Royal Mail, library workers in south London and others have all staged health and safety walkouts without the bureaucratic rigmarole.

Union leaders will be complicit in Johnson’s deadly schemes if they facilitate an unsafe return to work.


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.