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Labour and union chiefs fail coronavirus test

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Issue 2697
Union boss described public transport users as selfish
Union boss described public transport users as selfish (Pic: Peter Jozwiak/flickr)

The crisis caused by coronavirus is testing every political force in society—and exposing some basic truths. One remarkable feature is how often the Labour Party agrees with the right wing Tory government.

Not two weeks ago it would have been almost unthinkable that Jeremy Corbyn would agree to anything Boris Johnson did. Yet when this week Johnson announced sweeping repressive measures to force people into social distancing, Corbyn rushed to agree with him.

“This is the right response,” he said, adding it was “one we have been calling for”.

Corbyn added some mild demands, such as “clear guidance” on which workplaces should close. But fundamentally he agreed that this is the solution to the coronavirus crisis.

It followed a weekend in which the right and the media shifted blame for the crisis away from those at the top towards ordinary people.

“Commuters” were the problem on crowded trains, not bosses demanding people come into work. “Greedy shoppers” were responsible for food shortages, not a system that produces plenty but won’t ensure everyone can get what they need.

London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan led the way in demanding the measures that Johnson brought in. Trade union leaders were no better. 

Dave Prentis of Unison blamed “selfish” public transport users—echoing the words of Tory health secretary Matt Hancock.

The TSSA transport union demanded cops at all main London stations to check people’s reasons for travelling. 

Meanwhile Frances O’Grady—general secretary of the TUC—described support for Johnson as “solidarity”. The argument is that the crisis is so deep that everyone has a common interest in resolving it. 

But for every government across the world, ending the crisis means rescuing the system so that bosses can get back to making profits.

Labour and the unions might differ on how that system should work. But they believe it has to be rescued—so they end up agreeing with the Tory measures. Our vision is different.

We want to end the system that puts profit before people’s lives and safety and allowed coronavirus to spread.  

Urgent alternative measures would be to close the businesses that force people into work—with pay guarantees.

Take over essential services from private bosses to make sure people get what they need.

And distribute food to all to avoid overcrowding in shops and stockpiling.

Those measures point towards a fundamental challenge to how society operates. Winning them requires a political force that wants to end the system and replace it with a new one—not rescue it. 

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