Round-up: Union leaders must do more to beat Amazon

Posted on: November 28th, 2023 by Yuri
Amazon strikers in hi-vis jackets picket in the rain in Coventry

Coventry Amazon strikers are fighting heroically but need strike to spread across company

Hundreds of Amazon workers took to picket lines in Coventry on last week’s Black Friday — one of the internet retailer’s busiest days. Workers in the GMB union formed solid picket lines and argued with colleagues to join the union and not go into work. They also blocked the road and refused to allow delivery and distribution trucks onto the site.

Strikers were joined by solidarity delegations from the international UNI Global Union network, including striking teamsters’ from California. Also on the picket line were delegates from Germany’s Verdi union and Amazon CGIL union strikers from Italy.

Jessie Moreno, a teamster Amazon delivery driver from Palmdale, California, said, “This isn’t just a US fight. This is a global fight, so we are happy to come here to support our brothers and sisters in the GMB. We have to stand together across the world. If we do so, we can and will win.”

The UNI Global Union brought the international delegations together as part of its “Make Amazon Pay” campaign. The network said there were some 150 actions against Amazon in more than 30 countries last Friday. That includes strikes in Germany, Italy, Spain, and the US, as well as the walkout in Coventry.

GMB general secretary Gary Smith promised “solidarity from the GMB national union.”

But he argued that Amazon’s weak link was not strikes, but the tens of millions of pounds it made from the public sector contracts on Amazon Cloud. And, he said the GMB would push politicians to withdraw those contracts if the firm refused to recognise the union.

International support is welcome, of course. But to be effective, it must come alongside a stronger campaign of strikes in Britain. The only way to win a £15 an hour wage for Amazon workers is through strikes here in Britain, not by relying on action elsewhere.

Smith says the government and public bodies could use their purchasing power to pressure Amazon into conceding union recognition and better pay. This is nonsense. He has no power to make this happen.

Certainly, the Tories are not going to give in to such a demand, but who would trust Keir Starmer’s Labour to do so? Smith’s tactics are a diversion from what is needed.

Victory can only be achieved by spreading the dispute to other Amazon fulfilment centres. Amazon activists must organise themselves to push for the campaign they want. They need to organise meetings in their workplaces and push for strikes themselves.

This is a historic battle, and it can be won—but not if it’s left in the hands of the union leaders.

Richard Milner

Top docs should reject the Tories’ poorly pay deal

A new offer to NHS consultants in the BMA union is designed to choke off one of the few remaining battles from the 2022-23 strike wave. It would see many senior doctors in the health service receiving an extra increase from January, on top of the 6 percent annual rise they have already been given this financial year.

It’s a highly complicated deal, but the one figure anyone needs to know is that the government is putting just an extra 4.95 percent into the pay pot. The in-year pay increase will actually only cost the government 3.45 percent, after the BMA agreed to end one of the merit awards systems consultants can get to top up their basic pay.

The amount individual doctors collect will vary from zero to nearly 13 percent. And the next increase would not be until 2024-25.

The offer comes after consultants in England struck for nine days—the last one was in early October. The BMA was expected to consult with members soon with a result in January. It has agreed to call no further strikes until then.

The union’s leadership is not making a recommendation on the deal. But it’s not telling them to reject it. The offer is a result of the strikes. Without them, there would have been no improvement.

But is a long way short of the consultants’ claim. They should reject it. The government is also in negotiation with the much larger group of junior doctors over pay. They have been involved in numerous walkouts over the past year, but no deal has yet been offered to them.

Against Mini Imperialism

Lorry drivers at the BMW Mini plant in Oxford entered their third week of strikes and overtime bans. The Unite union strikers are battling sub-contracted delivery company Imperial Logistics.

Imperial is threatening drivers with a 20 percent pay cut for a minimum of 19 weeks next year, while BMW rejigs its production lines. Rather than absorbing the loss, Imperial wants to offload the financial hit onto the drivers, deducting a day’s pay per week from their wage slips.

To rub salt in the wound, the company has reputedly offered its office staff an 8 percent pay rise. Imperial has something of a track record. Management have provoked three industrial disputes in the last 18 months. In a classic divide and rule move, Imperial drivers are on four different contracts.

Imperial’s parent company, DP World, made profits of £4.5 billion last year. But bosses there are same ones that sacked workers at P&O Ferries and replaced them cheaper and more vulnerable foreign workers.

Pickets have been buoyed by excellent news of other union action at the Mini plant. According to shop stewards, another Mini plant employer’ s plant workers may soon enter the fray. They have won a ballot for strikes that could start next Monday. If many hundreds of Rudolph and Hellman’s workers walked out that would likely force the plant to close during the strikes.

Visit picket lines at the Oxford Mini plant this Thursday, 7am-12 noon, and again on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday next week.

Geoff Taylor

Israeli terror state itching to unleash more horrors on Gaza Strip

Posted on: November 28th, 2023 by Isabel
Destruction from Israeli bombs in Gaza

Destruction from Israeli bombs in Gaza (Picture: Wikicommons/ Norsk Folkehjelp Norwegian People’s Aid)

Hamas and Israel agreed another two days of truce at the beginning of this week. But Israel’s leaders also threatened to return to the mass killing afterwards. The truce has revealed the extent of the damage done already by Israel, as well as the scale of the human emergency in Gaza.

Hundreds of dead bodies still lay decomposing on the streets, especially around hospitals that had been held under siege by Israeli troops. The assaults on hospitals and healthcare facilities have brought Gaza’s healthcare system to breaking point. Last week Israeli tanks, bombs and snipers attacked the Indonesian hospital and damaged the building so severely that it may never open again.

Only one hospital in the north of Gaza, the Kamal Adwan Hospital, was still receiving patients on Tuesday. Over 80 of those being treated at the hospital desperately needed to be transferred to a better-equipped one. But doctors said this is only possible if Israel agreed to extend the truce.

Patients Professor Ghassan Abu-Sittah, who was treating patients in Gaza, told a press conference that he believed Israel’s attempts to destroy medical services were always part of their plan. “The creation of an uninhabitable Gaza Strip was the aim. The destruction of all the components of modern life at which the health system lies was the main military objective,” he said.

Disease and illness were spreading among those who had been displaced. Those in the north of Gaza only received fresh water on Monday of this week. Water sources have been a target of Israel’s, and it has destroyed many desalination plants and water wells. This has forced people to drink from unsafe water sources, leading to a spike in diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases.

Israel’s attacks have also collapsed food systems that sustain the people of Gaza. Palestinian farmers are struggling to keep their livestock alive due to a lack of water. They have no choice but to abandon their crops because of a shortage of fuel used to pump irrigation water.

And the Israeli bombardment has destroyed many of the shops and markets where Palestinians bought their food. Hundreds of thousands will now be completely reliant on aid. Tamara Alrifai, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said, “If there are no commercial goods in the stores, what we’re doing effectively is actively turning an entire population into a population that exclusively relies on food aid.” 

While the truce allowed for more aid to reach Gaza, the number of aid trucks allowed to cross the border was still half the number that reached it before the war. Israel has let in around 85 tonnes of cooking gas in the last four days, but this has been nowhere near enough. Its brutality has forced Palestinians to burn any wood they can find to both cook food and stay warm.

‘Everything is destroyed. We can’t take it anymore,’ displaced Gazans say

The number of people in Gaza that Israel has displaced is now more than it expelled during the 1948 Nakba, which saw 850,000 Palestinians forced from their land. Over 1.7 million people are displaced within Gaza—around 80 percent of the population.

The Palestinian minister of health said that more than 56,000 Palestinians are also homeless following Israel’s attacks.  Many of those Israel has forced from their homes are descendants of those who were displaced by the state in the first catastrophe. 

Israel’s latest round of slaughter has rained down for more than a month. With the bombing temporarily paused, Palestinians were able to return to their homes. Many discovered that Israeli bombs had turned them to rubble.

Oussama al Bass returned back to his home in Al-Zahra, south of Gaza City. “I came to see if there was anything left, or if there was anything I could salvage. We fled with nothing,” he said as he looked at the ruins of his home. “It’s nothingness, everything is destroyed, everything is lost. We’re tired. That’s enough. We can’t take it anymore.”

Israel is purposefully still starving, killing and injuring as many Palestinians as possible.  But it’s doing more than just slaughtering. It’s also set on destroying anything that sustains Palestinian life, or can support the people who have stayed alive.  Drones captured the levels of destruction in the south of Gaza City.

Israel had flattened residential towers in the Al-Zahra neighbourhood. In the Al-Shati refugee camp, where 90,000 people used to live in a tiny area, Israeli bombs had destroyed countless homes. In almost every part of Gaza, there are similar images being released of neighbourhoods reduced to nothing. 

Bombs have damaged most of the mosques in Gaza, and destroyed public buildings, such as the Rashad Al-Shawa Cultural Center in the Al-Rimal neighbourhood. Israeli tanks have even destroyed trees and targeted places Palestinians use for leisure.  The scale of Israel’s assault should never be forgotten.

Victory on pay at an academy after 43 days of strikes

Posted on: November 28th, 2023 by Charlie
Group of workers with fists raised, most of them women, celebrate pay victory

Ash Field Academy workers celebrate their pay victory (Picture: Unison)

Support workers at Ash Field Academy in Leicester have won their fight for fair pay.

The Unison union members voted to accept an improved pay deal backdated to September 2022 after 43 days of strikes.

The agreement includes the introduction of pay scale and pay progression. This, alongside the £1,925 salary increase for local authority workers, brings the support staff into line with similar schools the council maintains.

The agreement also included a one-off payment of £2,000 to all support staff and an agreement to comply with all future nationally-agreed pay awards for school support staff.

Unison says the deal increases pay for classroom-based support staff by between 18 and 25 percent.

Tom Barker, the Unison steward at the school, said, “We have won a historic victory.

“Part of this reflects just how badly staff at the school were paid previously.

“Education support workers are extremely underpaid and undervalued nationally.

“But at Ash Field Academy things had been much worse for a long time.

“We fought to correct this and we have won.

“But like all investment in public services, it is not just the workers who will reap the benefits.

“The actions of Unison members at Ash Field Academy will help to correct the recruitment and retention issues our school has faced and ultimately benefit us, our students and their families.

Judges back Deliveroo bosses against workers

Deliveroo cannot be legally compelled to engage with a union representing its riders for the purposes of collective bargaining, judges have outrageously ruled. It’s another sign of how the law aids bosses.

The decision is the latest in a long-running dispute, which began when the IWGB and other unions tried to represent a group of riders over pay and conditions.

The case was previously dismissed by lower courts but an appeal was brought to the Supreme Court.

However, judges at the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal.

Judge Vivien Rose said Deliveroo riders did not have an “employment relationship” with the food courier company and were not entitled to compulsory collective bargaining.

Judges said multiple factors, including riders being free to decline offers of work and to work for Deliveroo’s competitors, were “fundamentally inconsistent” with such a relationship.

Collective bargaining is an official process in which trade unions negotiate with employers on behalf of their members.

The IWGB said, “As a union, we cannot accept that thousands of riders should be working without key protections like the right to collective bargaining, and we will continue to make that case using all avenues available to us, including considering our options under international law.”

The only guaranteed way to break corporations such as Deliveroo is more of the strikes that have hit the firm.

Anti-racists win in Wigan

Anti-racists in Wigan confronted an intimidatory and racist gathering outside refugee accommodation last Saturday.

Last time the racists had big numbers at an anti-refugee rally outside the accommodation in Standish.

But last weekend there were 30 anti-racists—including trade unionists from the NEU, Unite, Unison and RMT—and only 15 on the racist protest.

They were demoralised and couldn’t get very near the hotel as anti-racists had taken the space.

Anti-racist protester Malcolm from Stand Up To Racism said, “The refugees were aware we were there supporting them. Also there were many cars sounding their horns in support.”

  • Join SUTR’s March Against Racism in London, Glasgow and Cardiff on Saturday 16 March 2024. Details here 

Keep Campsfield refugee prison shut

Around 50 protesters united to oppose the scheduled reopening of a refugee prison, Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, in Kidlington, near Oxford, last Saturday.

Speakers included local councillors, and spokespeople from the Oxford and District Trades Council, Asylum Welcome, Students Action for Refugees (STAR) Oxford, and the local branch of Stand Up To Racism.

They chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here”, “Keep Campsfield Closed” and listened to speeches.

From 1993 to 2018 asylum seekers and other migrants were locked up in Campsfield.

In June 2022, the Home Office announced plans to reopen and expand the centre from 282 to 400 beds. The Coalition to Keep Campsfield Closed swung into action.

Geoff Taylor

Is the US tired of its proxy war in Ukraine?

Posted on: November 28th, 2023 by Sophie
Ukraine Zelensky US

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky

Only a fool or a knave can now deny that the United States and its allies are waging a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. Let’s take two recent examples.
The Washington Post reported last month that, “Since 2015, the CIA has spent tens of millions of dollars to transform Ukraine’s Soviet-formed (intelligence) services into potent allies against Moscow.”
It even created a special Fifth Directorate of the Domestic Security Service (SBU) for liaison purposes. There’s also a Sixth Directorate that works with the British Secret Intelligence Service.
Since the Russian invasion in February 2022, both the SBU and Ukrainian military intelligence (GUR) have been carrying out aggressive assassination and sabotage operations. This includes, according to a more recent report in The Washington Post, the bombing of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline last year.
The Washington Post quotes “a former senior CIA official” who said, “We are seeing the birth of a set of intelligence services that are like Mossad in the 1970s” when the Israeli foreign intelligence service carried out a worldwide campaign of assassinations.
A state whose security and intelligence apparatus is so heavily penetrated by foreign powers can’t be described as fully sovereign.
The same is true of one whose diplomacy is dictated by these same powers. In a truly sensational interview, David Arakhamia, parliamentary leader of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, has confirmed what had been widely reported earlier.
In negotiations in Istanbul soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moscow and Kiev came close to reaching a peace agreement.
Vladimir Putin’s main demand was that Ukraine stay neutral and not join Nato. But while the Zelensky government was hesitating over the deal at the end of March 2022, Boris Johnson flew into Kiev and said, according to Arakhamia, “We will not sign anything with them and let’s just make war!”
It’s hard to think of anything more evil than prolonging a war that threatens the nuclear apocalypse and that continues to take tens of thousands of lives.
The rationale for this policy was stated succinctly recently by one of its defenders, the neoconservative Max Boot, “The United States has a strategic imperative at stake: The Ukrainians are inflicting massive losses on the Russian armed forces that will make Russia less of a threat to its Nato neighbours for years to come.”
Nevertheless, it’s clear that Joe Biden’s administration is growing weary of its war in Ukraine. There are three main reasons.
First, the Ukrainian army counter-offensive has only made limited gains. Ukraine lacks the airpower and troop numbers to break decisively through the well-entrenched Russian forces holding a fifth of its territory.
Zelensky reprimanded his chief of staff, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, for recently admitting that the war had reached a “stalemate”. Many military experts think that in fact, the balance is shifting in Russia’s favour.
Second, political support for continuing to flood Ukraine with military and financial aid is waning in both the US and Europe. The Republican right who now controls the US House of Representatives, generally opposes more aid, as does the European far right.
Brussels has got itself into a bigger than usual financial pickle, which Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán is exploiting to block more aid and EU membership for Kyiv.
Third, another dangerous and bloody war has erupted in the Middle East, distracting Ukraine’s two most important backers, the US and Germany.
Both are also strongly supporting Israel’s barbarous offensive against Gaza.
It is rumoured that Washington and Berlin now want to push Kiev into talks with Moscow. The German tabloid Bild reports that “both countries— as Ukraine’s largest arms suppliers—have decided to force the government in Kiev into talks with Putin’s regime by restricting the quality and quantity of their arms deliveries.”
“Zelensky should come to the realisation that things cannot go on like this”, a German government insider told Bild. “He should address his nation of his own free will and explain that negotiations need to be carried out.”
If these reports are true, Zelensky may soon discover how easily a proxy can be tossed aside when their sponsor decides supporting them is no longer worth the cost.

Hunger Games prequel tells of death to come

Posted on: November 28th, 2023 by Yuri
A still from the Hollywood film The Hunger Games, The Ballard of songbirds and snakes

The Hunger Games series of films hold up a mirror to our violent and unequal society

For the unfamiliar, the story behind the Hunger Games series is a “game” where children are forced to fight each other to the death. The latest installment, A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is an insight into how the games adapted and escalated to become a spectacle.

At the outset you see the oppressors, who live in the Capitol, and the oppressed, who live in the Districts. Both are united in opposition to the Hunger Games. They see the Games for their cruelty but are largely uninterested in watching.

What we learn in the film is how game-makers’ enticed viewers with ever more violence. How they turned killing into entertainment.

The central character, student Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), suggests that audiences should have the chance to get to know the Tributes—as contestants are known—before the games begin. This, they hope, will mean audiences have “someone to root for and against”.

Watching the Hunger Games’ brutality develop from the perspective of the Capitol is surreal. In this society, the Tributes from the Districts are considered subhuman. And the film tries to win viewers to feeling the same way.

During the screening I went to the filmgoers were laughing when the presenter made light of the deaths of children. At times, it felt like I was sitting in the audience of the Hunger Games itself.

On the other hand, we see children from the Districts desperately trying to assert their humanity. Their acts of kindness, anger and grief are all desperate reminders of this. This battle over representation makes the film an emotionally tough watch—­especially because it echoes what we witness in the coverage of Palestine.

Many people connect with The Hunger Games franchise because it feels like an extreme version of the system that we live in today. It speaks to how working class people experience some form of violence every day, whether first-hand or via screens. It also shows how the ruling class try to desensitise us so we will accept violence as part of our lives.

Another interesting part of the film is how class works in this society. Snow, is from a privileged background, but we still see him struggling and living in poverty. At the beginning of the film, he believes he can move up in the world as long as he works hard. He believes in meritocracy. However, as the story progresses, Snow learns that the system is not based on merit but instead on inherited wealth and power.

The rich succeed and are able to bend the rules to suit themselves. Sejanus (Josh Andrés Rivera) was once a District citizen. His father worked to build a fortune so his family could escape oppression. Now, despite his wealth, Sejanus remains an outcast.

The development of these characters gives us a more rounded view of how class, wealth and oppression can enter the lives of even of the ruling class. A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes explores a different perspective on the Hunger Games, one that once again reflects on how our own violent system continues.

A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is in cinemas now

Radical BBC? Doctor Who knows best

Posted on: November 28th, 2023 by Yuri
Darlek from BBC TV series Dr Who against nightclub lighting background

Whose side are we really on in Dr Who? (Picture: Mark Freeman/Flickr)

Tory magazine The Spectator declared, “The issue with Doctor Who is the tendency to moralise and lecture about peace, love and brotherhood.”

Doctor Who is too woke and preachy, and it was in May 1973. The serial was The Green Death. The Doctor tackles oil company Global Chemicals while reducing waste. Locals think glowing green slime oozing from the nearby coal mine is the result. A miner called Dai dies and the serial is fondly remembered for giant maggots.

In the Invasion of the Dinosaurs this third Doctor says, “It’s not the oil and the filth and the poisonous chemicals that are the real causes of the pollution. It’s simply greed.” The Monster of Peladon has striking miners. Many people didn’t see it because a miners’ strike led to power cuts. Both episodes come out against extreme methods to change things—don’t do bad things for good reasons. It’s a theme.

In the most political 1970s “classic” episodes the Doctor worked with a government military force known as Unit. Unit conducted extra-terrestrial interactions by blowing them up. The Doctor looks sad and stays with the military.

For much of its 60 years the Doctor appears on planets looking white and posh, telling people what to do. But on Earth the timeline must be respected. A liberal colonialism of middle class people being a bit embarrassed about Empire but glad they know right from wrong. The Doctor is the bane of bumptious bureaucrats, bad boffins and trigger-happy generals and extremists of all stripes. A safe radicalism.

Unsurprisingly this isn’t static and has regenerated often. The first Doctor mostly wants to get back to the Tardis after a bit of Timelordsplaining. But the first woman producer, an Asian writer and a boss who wanted television not to be for posh people, gave the world Daleks.

Doctor Two dropped history lessons for monsters. He sighs, since we are here we better fix things, he must fight “what we know to be wrong”. So it went. Script editor in 1987 Andrew Cartmel said he planned to use the show “to overthrow the government”. Perhaps. The Happiness Patrol sees a terrible Thatcher figure fought along with a monster made of Liquorice Allsorts.

But not everything was as good as that.

There is the earlier fan favourite and racist Talons of Weng-Chiang where the yellow-face “Chinese” are essentially Daleks. Its producer was sacked not for that but after a right wing campaign said his episodes were too violent. Such is the tightrope of establishment anti‑establishmentism.

Which leaves the other alien in the room. The overarching premise has been smart-arse white male hero saves world while subordinate female watches. Some were to scream, others were to have the plot explained to them—one had a leather bikini and lines like, “What is a spoon?”.

These days the companions are at least characters transformed by their experiences but some old tropes remain. Yet the entirely welcome moves over race and gender in major character casting including the Doctor matter beyond annoying the right.

Politics is always there. The post-2005 Doctor Aliens of London found the Blair-like prime minister murdered and shoved in a cupboard as the show railed against the march to the war in Iraq. The Doctor became a war veteran tortured by survivor’s guilt.

In Oxygen the Twelfth Doctor takes on and dismantles capitalism. Commenting on spacesuits designed to cut oxygen, the Doctor notes, “The end point of capitalism. A bottom line where human life has no value. We’re fighting an algorithm. A spreadsheet. Like every worker, everywhere—we’re fighting the suits.”

That isn’t just an anti-capitalist joke, it’s an anti-capitalist joke broadcast on a Saturday tea time on BBC One. That is a great strength and a weakness. Resistance is for all time and space but so is oppression and capitalism. There are always greed, avarice and extremists to be overcome.

So in Kerblam! the Thirteenth Doctor saves space Amazon from terrorist workers while insisting that “the systems aren’t the problem”. Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock said jailers don’t mind escapism, it’s people escaping they object to. It’s safe enough to be a national treasure.

Top Tory killers face Covid inquiry

Posted on: November 28th, 2023 by Isabel
Rishi Sunak at a Covid press conference in May 2020

Rishi Sunak at a Covid press conference in May 2020 (Picture: Andrew Parsons)

Four junior leaders of Britain’s biggest criminal gang were due to take the stand at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry this week. Tory boys Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab and Sajid Javid were all set to give evidence about their role in the government’s woeful response to the pandemic.

In the weeks before the Christmas break, they are to be followed by their leaders—then and now—Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. The result is likely to be an explosion of infighting and attempts to damage rival party factions. But the inquiry will also hear first-hand evidence of their collective, callous disregard for life.

Covid has killed some 230,000 people in Britain—a proportion of the population far higher than in many comparable countries. Vulnerable Old people and those most vulnerable to the disease were abandoned because, as the then prime minister Johnson said, “They’ve had a good innings”. As infections soared, current prime minister Sunak agreed.

He announced his notorious “Eat out to help out” scheme to protect profits, despite scientific advisers insisting this would cause more death. Former health secretary Hancock is today remembered for his incompetence. But it was his instructions to release untested patients from hospitals that led to the mass cull of people in care homes in 2020 and 2021.

Along with Johnson and Sunak, he has much blood on his hands. Lord Sedwill, Britain’s most senior civil servant, said he wanted Hancock sacked to “save lives and protect the NHS”. Deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara told the inquiry that Hancock displayed “nuclear levels” of overconfidence. He had a pattern of reassuring colleagues the pandemic was being dealt with in ways that were not true, she said.

Hancock and Gove spent last weekend with top cops from the National Crime Agency investigating the PPE Medpro scandal. Investigators wanted to know how a Tory lord’s firm had shifted £200 million worth of defective surgical gowns onto the NHS. While Tory ministers’ friends were busy making a quick few million pounds out of the crisis, the policies of the top tier made sure Covid infections surged.

The government’s chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance last week told the inquiry that Johnson’s tactics led to more deaths. Johnson first refused and then delayed a second lockdown in the autumn of 2020, saying he’d rather “let the bodies pile high”. Data showed “there were many more cases, it was far more widespread and was accelerating faster than anyone had expected,” Vallance said.

He added, “This was an occasion when I think it’s clear that we should have gone earlier.” Vallance’s diary at the time said Johnson began a meeting on possible restrictions by arguing for “letting it all rip. Saying yes, there will be more casualties, but so be it”.

The same entry also quoted Johnson as saying, “Most people who die have reached their time anyway.” Sunak is today eager to distance himself from his former boss. But back then they sang the same tune. Secret Vallance sent a secret message calling Sunak “Dr Death the Chancellor” during a meeting they both attended during the crisis.

Chris Whitty, the chief health officer, told the inquiry that he had to repeatedly intervene to stop the Tories letting Covid run wild. He explained how herd immunity—letting a virus run unchecked through a population—would have caused “an extraordinarily high loss of life”. 

Whitty said he urged people in government to stop publicly discussing a subject that they “half understood” at best. In the spotlight in the weeks ahead, we will see our so-called leaders trying desperately to cover themselves. All the while they will desperately sling mud at their predecessors and successors.

In millions of households across Britain, there will be people who watch the reporting while holding back tears. For them, the inquiry will have told them who is responsible for lost friends, family, and loved ones.

Meanwhile the Tories are also ripping themselves apart over immigration and tax. And the party right is also after their leaders’ heads because it wants more tax cuts. But this would lead to spending cuts even greater than chancellor Jeremy Hunt is already planning. That would only increase the likelihood of a wipeout at the coming general election.

Tory Hunt slashes services and squeezes workers 

Posted on: November 28th, 2023 by Daire Cumiskey
Tory PM Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt together in 10 Downing street

Sunak is very happy with Hunt’s Autumn Statement (Picture: Simon Dawson)

Don’t be fooled by the Tories’ Autumn Statement—it’s not going to help workers. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s announcement last Wednesday pretends to be putting money in workers’ pockets with tax cuts and rises in the minimum wage and benefits.
In reality it’s a distraction from the real-terms pay cuts workers are suffering as inflation stays high, wages stay low and public ­spending is slashed. Some 40 percent of gains from the tax and benefit measures will go to the richest fifth of the population.
The top 20 percent gain on ­average £1,000, while the bottom fifth gets just £200. And despite the cuts, taxes will rise by 4.5 percent of GDP between 2019-20 and 2028-29. 
The Resolution Foundation thinktank says that by the end of the 2020s the average household will be paying £4,300 more in tax than they were in 2019.
At the same time, even the tame Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned that average living standards are set to be 3.5 percent lower at the next election than they were at the last one. 
The OBR said this will represent “the largest reduction in real living standards since records began in the 1950s”. And, because it’s an average, the increased hardship and poverty is going to be even greater for millions of workers and people on benefits.
And frozen income tax ­thresholds drag more people into paying tax or paying more. Hunt laid out an election bribe of a cut in national insurance paid by most workers. 
But that’s a small gesture ­compared to the real-term cuts most workers have suffered as inflation has soared above wages. And 19 million adults are ­unaffected because their income is less than the starting rate for national insurance payments.
In any case, all such concessions are funded by the enormous ­spending cuts from 2025 onwards.
By 2028, day-to-day ­spending in some departments will be 16 ­percent lower than now.  
The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that investment ­budgets face cuts of £13 billion for the same period, relative to plans Rishi Sunak himself put together when he was chancellor under Boris Johnson.
Pranesh Narayanan, a ­leading economic researcher, said, “These spending plans amount to a second round of Osborne-ite austerity. Austerity was the policy that set us on the track to economic ­stagnation in the 2010s. 
“It was largely achieved by ­cutting public investment and holding down public sector pay. The results? Crumbling schools and record NHS waiting lists.”
But there’s plenty for the bosses. Hunt said his main £9 billion ­handout to the corporations was the “largest business tax cut in modern British history”. 
He said, “It means we have not just the lowest headline ­corporation tax rate in the G7 but its most generous capital ­allowances,” he crowed.
He also unveiled 12 more “investment zones”—what he called “mini Canary Wharfs”. These are low tax, low ­regulation business areas to encourage profit-making.

Brutal new attacks on benefit claimants and nothing for NHS
One of the most vicious attacks in chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s announcement is to force people off benefits and to do their “duty” by working.
From April 2025, if claimants deemed fit to work don’t find jobs after 18 months they will be forced to undergo “mandatory” work placements. Failing this, they have their payments snatched altogether.
People who don’t work because of ill health or disability incapacity benefit claimants stand at 2.4 million and the number is set to reach 2.9 million by 2028-29.
The changes mean some extra 370,000 people with disabilities and chronic health conditions will be ineligible for the incapacity benefits worth £390 a month on top of other benefits.
The cynical attacks ignores why people are unable to work. And claimants that currently face open-ended sanctions, where they have their benefits stopped, for more than six months will now have their claims closed.
This would also end their access to other benefits such as free prescriptions and legal aid.
National insurance is set to be cut by 2 percent and minimum wage has risen by £1.02 an hour. But frozen income tax thresholds drag more people into paying tax.
Elisa is on minimum wage. “I’m only just getting by—barely affording rent and with food prices going up and the cost of living crisis I make sure I’m tactical with my meals” she told Socialist Worker.
“You don’t get paid enough. Especially in London, it’s not even close to a real living wage.”
As she’s 22-years-old, Elisa’s pay will now be brought in-line with 23-year-olds. “I’m happy about that, but it’s still not good. I still need more than a fiver extra a day to survive” she added.
Jordan is a health worker. She said the absence of any extra funding or provisions for the NHS last week were “shocking”. “It’s so back to front,” she told Socialist Worker.
“The people in charge of us don’t give a shit if people live or die. They don’t care if we’re getting our health needs met.
Jordan said as winter hits, the NHS is going to be under extra strain. “People in the NHS dread this time all year round.
 “We have to be active, not just to campaign to get the Tories out, but in our workplaces kicking up a massive fuss. We can’t accept this—we can’t let these people be in charge of us anymore.”