Workers in many parts of the world are facing a new pressure from the top of society—get a Covid jab or lose your job. The attack joins a list of others, such as fire and rehire, price rises and cuts in benefits and services.
“No jab, No job” is yet another example of people in positions in power telling those at the bottom to do as they’re told and accept their lot. No wonder then that new rules about mandatory vaccines have spread fury in both France and Australia (see right).
So far, relatively few employers in Britain have insisted that workers be vaccinated. But that’s set to change next month when new laws about working in care homes come into effect.
It will be compulsory for workers to be fully vaccinated before entering a care home in England from 11 November.
An estimated 1.5 million care workers will be affected. The measures will force up to 70,000 staff who have not yet been double-jabbed to leave their jobs.
It will also mean a bigger workload pushed on already stretched workers and leave many vulnerable people without the support they need.
The Tories, having put care home residents in terrible danger throughout the pandemic, are seeking to shift responsibility for the crisis onto workers.
Those in favour of mandatory vaccination argue that if even one care worker is infected with coronavirus, hundreds of vulnerable residents could die.
But threatening people with the loss of their livelihoods doesn’t even begin to address the reasons why so some workers have so far refused the jab.
For some people, there is a fear that the vaccine will have dangerous side effects. For example, many young women who work in care say they fear the jab will make them infertile.
Others are scared because they know that in the past the medical establishment has experimented on poor and black people. They simply don’t trust that the state has their best interests at heart.
These are important objections and can’t simply be steamrollered out of the way. Instead, the NHS and other bodies should have taken the questions head on in workplace meetings, online sessions and media adverts.
Most importantly, the state should have put black and working class people at the centre of delivering the vaccination strategy where they live and work—rather than relying on remote government press conferences.
Many care staff report that they want to get vaccinated, but fear that they will then be off work with flu-like symptoms afterwards and won’t get paid. Why didn’t employers and the government tell everyone they could have as much paid time as they needed to get over any side effects?
Those who demand mandatory vaccinations say they are worried for vulnerable people. But what will likely happen to those same vulnerable people when there are too few care home staff to keep them safe?
On this the government and its supporters are silent—and it’s not the only thing they are keeping quiet about.
Throughout the pandemic, care workers were let down with inadequate protective equipment, sick pay, training and ventilators.
If the government really cares about safety, why has nothing been done on these issues?
Care workers in a 150-strong union meeting on mandatory vaccines last week argued that being forced to get vaccinated is actually creating more hesitancy. One worker argued, “Why are others in similar jobs allowed to be unvaccinated?
“It’s not fair. I’m vaccinated but if there’s a fight against it being mandatory, I’m there.”
A vaccination strategy with the threat of unemployment also risks pushing people into the hands of the anti-vaxxers.
Professor Lydia Hayes, the head of Kent Law School, told the union meeting, “Choice and autonomy are vital in medical care.” She added that “vaccination is not a panacea for safety in workplaces” and the government’s “idea of the care sector being an ill-informed section of society is wrong”.
The meeting pointed out that vaccination among care workers isn’t low. The Social Care Working Group says an uptake of 80 percent of staff is needed for minimum protection. This has already been achieved in many care homes, and is close to being achieved across the sector.
But losing up to a fifth of workers in one go in just a few weeks’ time will create a crisis. In local councils panic is already setting in. The right wing Telegraph newspaper recently reported that councils are being “asked to draw up lists of who to redeploy to address shortfall, including those in ‘people‑facing roles’.”
One focus was on librarians who could be sent to work in care homes.
Far from keeping people safe, the Tories mandatory vaccine plan risks even more unnecessary deaths by avoiding the central issue. Until social care is taken away from the private sector, profit will come first and people will be last.
Construction workers’ protests and strikes in Australia cannot be dismissed as just ‘far right’
Construction workers in Melbourne, Australia, clashed with police last week as they protested against mandatory vaccinations.
The Australian construction industry, although still hugely affected by Covid and lockdown restrictions, has largely remained open. This has led the government to point the finger at workers, blaming them for the spread of new variants.
On top of the forced vaccinations, the head of government in the state of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, implemented a 14-day stoppage of all construction work.
According to the Australian revolutionary socialist organisation Solidarity, the construction industry doesn’t show any sign of being inadequately vaccinated.
Across Australia only six percent of the population claim they would never get vaccinated.
In response to the measures, construction workers held workplace sit-ins. These developed into protests targeting the CFMEU construction union which went along with the government’s plans.
CFMEU Victoria secretary John Setka could not explain the union’s response to “no jab, no job”. Workers were set to be sacked if they were not vaccinated by the end of the week.
The union dismissed the protest against them as “Heavily infiltrated by neo-Nazis and other right wing extremist groups.”
Solidarity said in a statement, “The possibility that right wing elements could have led workers to attack officials and smash windows is confronting.”
It goes on to say that it is true that conspiracy theorists and far right groups sent messages telling people to dress in high-vis clothing to masquerade as construction workers. But that “the protest can’t just be dismissed”.
“There were CFMEU members there because their jobs are on the line due to the mandatory vaccination decree by the state government,” it explained.
The CFMEU’s unwillingness to fight has seen some fall into the hands of the far right.
“The vaccine mandate has already driven some workers into the arms of the anti-vaxxers and the far right,” Solidarity added.
Australian workers in other industries could also face similar mandatory moves in the coming weeks. Sally McManus, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, claims the federation would accept a “no jab, no job” position if legislated by the federal government.
“The vaccine mandate has already driven some workers into the arms of the anti-vaxxers and the far right”Solidarity
The CFMEU and other unions need to take a stand against the policy.
Dismissing people’s concerns not only fails to take on any of the arguments and misconceptions that people have. It also fails to take up issues such as sick pay to receive the vaccine.
“The union could have organised for health workers to tour construction sites, talking to workers about their concerns and administering vaccinations,” Solidarity explained.
“Instead it has allowed the government to force them into it. This is the same authoritarian approach that has seen police and the army sent in to enforce lockdown measures.”
Throughout the pandemic, the CFMEU has prioritised working with employers to keep industry running and profits flowing.
Workers need to be encouraged rather than forced to get vaccinated, and struggle together to win Covid-19 measures in workplaces. That includes fighting for full pay for workers during the 14-day stoppage.
Staff suspended and many hospitals on brink in France
Compulsory vaccination in France has led to thousands of workers being suspended without pay, and hospitals closing wards.
Since 15 September hospital staff, ambulance drivers, retirement home workers, firefighters and community care workers have had to prove they’ve had at least one shot of a vaccine.
At least 3,000 have been suspended, and many others are waiting to see if managers move against them.
A hospital in the southern city of Montelimar cancelled dozens of operations due to a shortage of vaccinated anaesthetists.
“Four theatres will be unable to function as normal,” said Henri Osman, the director of the hospital’s medical commission.
At the main hospital in the city of Mulhouse, managers have suspended 169 people out of a workforce of 5,500.
A nurse who works there explained that the workload is now so impossible that she “will not be able to last long because of the lack of nursing assistants.”
Mulhouse administrators are postponing operations, hitting people such as a 75-year-old woman who was left waiting for eight days to have an operation for a fractured femur.
Unions have warned of a “health catastrophe” if all of those who have not been jabbed are suspended.
They point out that a government that has underfunded health services and failed workers during the pandemic is trying to scapegoat people without vaccines.
“Do you think that with the care system in its current state we have the means to deal with thousands fewer caregivers in our establishments?” said Sandrine Gerard, general secretary of the CGT union of care home workers in Le Havre.
She added, “Right now, we are suspending nursing staff who gave themselves body and soul to the pandemic response for 18 months. We are telling them that because they aren’t vaccinated, they will no longer be paid.”
In some of France’s colonies, including the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, the rate of vaccination at some hospitals and retirement homes is roughly 30 percent.
Gerard Cotellon, director-general of the main University Hospital of Guadeloupe, where 74 percent of non-medical staff have not been vaccinated said he “cannot apply the law”. This is because it would severely impact the hospital’s services to do so.
The unions are right to call protests over the government policy. But such actions need to be kept firmly away from the anti-vaxxers whose protests are dominated by fascists and other far right elements.
Sections of the revolutionary left have tried to intervene in protests. But they remain largely initiated and led by the right.