Socialist Alternative

Lockdown should end when workers say so

ICU nurse (personal capacity) and Socialist Alternative National Committee

At least 30,000 are dead in Britain as a result of Covid-19.

It is impossible to pinpoint exactly how many would still be alive had the Tory government put people’s lives ahead of private profits.

Their total lack of preparation for Personal Protective Equipment provision, their steadfast reluctance to close schools, cancel events or implement any economically damaging measures have undoubtedly been paid for with human life.

Now, cheered on by captains of big business, they are loudly and proudly campaigning for an end to the shutdown – a reopening of non-essential workplaces, the relaxation of social distancing, etc. The Tory Government’s failure to convincingly meet their own five tests increases both the likelihood and severity of a second wave of the pandemic.

1) “NHS must have adequate capacity to care for critically unwell patients.”

When the pandemic first started to claim lives in Britain, NHS critical care units were able to rapidly expand capacity by cancelling non urgent and routine surgery. This allowed operating theatre spaces to be repurposed as make-shift Intensive Care Units. ICUs are usually staffed at a ratio of 1 nurse to 1 patient, however during the most recent Coronavirus peak that ratio was stretched as far as 1 nurse to 6 patients. ICUs across Britain are still full of critically unwell Covid-19 patients. When the Government says there are over 1000 critical care beds spare, they mean potential beds in pop-up ICUs, staffed by the existing exhausted workforce. An end to the lockdown now would risk a second surge in critical care demand, resulting in further delays for patients in real need of routine treatments.

2) “There need to be a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths of Coronavirus.”

While thousands of hospital inpatients are already dead, the lacklustre approach to testing out of hospital patients for Coronavirus has led to countless deaths in care homes and in the community. Care home deaths continue to rise, with inadequate testing and PPE for staff being the driving force. The grisly toll of deaths continues to be underestimated by the government to disguise the shocking total which is now the worst in Europe.

3) “The rate of infection needs to reduce.”

Without mass testing it is impossible to say for certain what the current infection rate is, although reduced hospital admissions suggest

it has fallen. However, this is because the shutdown is working. Widespread returns to work and reopening of schools will allow the rate of infection to accelerate once more.

4) “Testing and PPE capacity is sufficient.”

Hundreds of health and care workers have died due to non existent or inadequate PPE. The Government’s figures on PPE distribution cannot be trusted. Thousands on the frontline still face a hand to mouth existence for access to gloves, gowns, masks and eye protection. The Government has failed to secure a consistent supply of PPE, competing on the global free market for stocks. If the shutdown is relaxed, millions of private sector employers will start competing for limited supplies, sold for profit. PPE will go to the highest bidder, not those who need it the most.

Testing capacity has been woefully short of what’s been required, with lack of infrastructure as a direct result of the decade of austerity imposed by the Tory party on public services. Their policies have set services up to fail. The responsibility for testing has been taken out of the hands of the NHS and sub contracted to private sector firms like Serco and Sodexo and even the failed accountancy firm, Deloittes.

5) “Any relaxation of the lockdown must not overwhelm the NHS.”

NHS services have functioned because of the collective determination of healthcare workers on the frontline, in spite of severe failings at government level. The NHS Nightingales diverted resources from existing hospitals and failed to contribute with the heavy lifting. Once again , the contracts to build them were handed over to the private sector! They were an exercise in Tory Propaganda, proving unable to admit substantial numbers of patients to relieve pressure on established ICUs because of a lack of suitable staff. Their “test, track and trace” strategy is several months overdue and hinges on the willingness of the general public to give their personal data over to a mobile phone app which has failed NHS cyber security tests.

At every step of the pandemic, the Government has repeatedly proven itself incapable of providing factually accurate information about its Coronavirus response. Acting on behalf of big business, which is desperate to resume profiteering, the Tories expect workers to l once again risk their lives. The Tory Government and the class of bosses whose interest they represent cannot be trusted to manage the shutdown’s end.

Early guidelines for employers offer toothless suggestions. They advise employers to implement social distancing, and provide hand washing facilities, but only “where possible”. The section on PPE is blank. The recommendations on the number of people permitted within a vehicle is vague. These guidelines were drawn up to allow bosses to coerce and cajole staff into working in unsafe conditions, in the name of business as usual.

All workers have the legal right to refuse to enter a dangerous workplace. Ultimately, safety standards cannot be decided or enforced without the control of the workers themselves and elected workplace representatives, without reprisals from senior management.

The National Education Union have devised their own “5 tests” for shutdown’s end, calling for a reduction in the number of new cases, testing and contact tracing, social distancing within schools, locally negotiated PPE, isolation protocols and protection for vulnerable people, including those who live with staff.

Although these tests are more robust than the government’s, the final say about whether a workplace is safe should only be made by the workers, collectively and democratically. Trade Unions already represent over 6 million workers in Britain. With the right leadership they could provide powerful organisation to workers across industries, not only to oversee safety standards in the workplace, but also to fight for justice for the hundreds who have had their lives stolen from them by a negligent government.

A safe reopening should be possible. The impact of the coronavirus has been felt most severely in working-class and impoverished communities, as have the negative effects of the Tories’ lockdown. In order to reopen without risking tens of thousands of lives, it requires a massive expansion of testing, expert contact tracing and PPE – all under the control of the NHS – on a scale far beyond the meagre targets the government has set (and in any case failed to meet).

Only with accurate information about the real prevalence of the virus and the current speed of its spread within society can it be possible to make informed and safe judgements about what is and isn’t safe.

And, just as in the workplaces, it should be working-class people, especially those on the frontlines, who democratically make decisions about what is necessary to protect our communities – not rich pro-capitalist politicians.

Such an approach would require a willingness to put people before profit. It would mean repurposing large parts of the economy to meet the challenges of responding to the corona crisis – something impossible for the capitalist market to do on the scale needed. It would mean democratic planning – both in workplaces and in communities – to ensure that reopening takes place in a way that puts people’s health and wellbeing first. In other words, it would require challenging the rule of the capitalist class – posing the need for socialist change, and a society run by and for working-class people.

Tory manifesto: a socialist nurse responds

Since 2011, almost one nurse per week has committed suicide. 

We have been acting as the human buffer zone between the sick and the vulnerable and the government’s savage austerity policies. This has taken its toll on thousands of us. Over the last decade, the numbers of overworked nurses leaving the National Health Service has tripled. We are now 40,000 nurses and 100,000 total staff short in NHS England. 

For those of us struggling to hold the National Health Service together on little more than goodwill, Boris Johnson’s manifesto pledge of 50,000 extra nurses is an insult. It is also a lie. 

These “promised” extra nurses won’t actually appear until 2025, at the earliest, if ever. They will include 18,500 people who are already nurses, that the Government hopes can be persuaded not to leave.  Under Tory plans, this is highly unlikely to succeed, with proposals to charge overseas nurses £400 a year plus visas. This will be in addition to the annual fees all nurses must pay to practice and will not convince a single nurse, overseas or UK trained, to stay in the NHS. 

Having scrapped the NHS bursary, the Tories now appear to be re-instating it. However this is more fake news. The manifesto pledges a maintenance grant for student nurses only, leaving trainee midwives, physiotherapists, and other healthcare professionals totally reliant on student loans. These divide and rule tactics will mean all graduate under the heavy burden of debt, as all NHS students, including nurses will still have to pay to train. 

Last General Election, Theresa May arrogantly overlooked the high regard which working class and middle class people have for our NHS. This time, Johnson thinks he can use a pseudo-pledge for “50,000 extra nurses” to divert attention from the real issues: a lack of beds, staff and funds; private vultures leaching resources out of public hands; a mental health crisis, exacerbated by savage austerity impacting the lives of millions; a social care system run for profit. 

Determined not to repeat May’s mistake, when she announced the “Dementia Tax” in 2017, Johnson is virtually silent social care. Beyond lies about nurses and rhetoric about Brexit, the Tory manifesto is thin gruel. They are on the back foot. Scared of provoking a backlash, the Tories have put forward an empty manifesto. By re-hashing their old austerity policies under the hashtag of #getbrexitdone, the Tories reveal who they really are; skittish and squabbling representatives of the billionaire class, desperately clinging to power. 

Corbyn’s Labour manifesto, although imperfect, does represent an opportunity for the many to reassert their interests against the few. Socialist Alternative supports all the progressive, anti-austerity policies Corbyn is pledging. But we say in order to succeed in the face of inevitable sabotage by the capitalists, he will need to go further – fundamentally undermining their power by taking into public ownership the major monopolies that dominate the economy, putting workers in control, and paving the way for the socialist reorganisation of society. From Thatcher, to Blair, to Cameron to now, the banks, big business and the super-rich have been well represented in Westminster. For more than a generation, capitalists have had political parties they can rely upon, but not any more. 

Prince Andrew: A stomach-churning example of the unaccountable, super-rich elite

“Going to Pizza Express in Woking is an unusual thing for me to do” sneered Prince Andrew as he struggled to contain his disdain for ordinary people.

In an astonishing interview with BBC Newsnight, Prince Andrew spectacularly failed in his attempts to distance himself from convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein. Epstein was a powerful billionaire who was recently found dead in his prison cell. He was awaiting trial for a series of child sex offenses and faced 45 years in prison.

When describing the relationship with Epstein, Andrew recounts jetting from mansions to palaces to private islands, from lavish parties to “a straight forward shooting weekend.” In the world of the super-rich, power and wealth go hand in hand. It was in this context that Jeffrey Epstein trafficked young women around the planet for the sexual gratification of his fat-cat mates, including, allegedly, Prince Andrew.

Self pitying and self entitled, Andrew is a fitting representative of not only the British Monarchy but also of the international ruling class. Utterly inept, he dismisses the account of victim Virginia Roberts, who recalls Andrew sweating profusely before she was forced to have sex with him. His defense – he is unable to sweat due to an adrenaline overdose during the Falklands war – has left healthcare professionals baffled.

His gob-smacking display of arrogance was topped off when Maitlis asked if the Prince had any feelings of guilt, regret or shame. Andrew replied, “As far as my association with [Epstein] was concerned, it had some seriously beneficial outcomes in areas that have nothing to do with what …we’re talking about today.”

Prince Andrew is using “seriously beneficial outcomes” as a shameless euphemism for making lots of money for British business people. Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson agrees. Refusing to be drawn on the relationship between the Prince and child sex offender, Johnson said “I’ve worked with Prince Andrew, I’ve seen the good he has been able to do for UK business overseas and other than that I have no comment.”

There were, however, no ‘beneficial outcomes’ for the young women – several of them minors at the time – who were trafficked by Epstein, allegedly aided by Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of former UK millionaire newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell.  A series of lawsuits are accumulating in the US, brought by former victims and represented by women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred, in which Prince Andrew may be required to testify.

One thing is certain. The public involvement of Prince Andrew with a billionaire sex offender has damaged the credibility of the Monarchy at a desperate cross roads for the British ruling class.

Both the Royals and BBC producers would have had high hopes that the Newsnight interview would allow Prince Andrew to spin his way out of a dark and sordid corner, however the car crash that ensued has done the opposite. A disaster interview at the worst possible time – in the middle of a general election where, for different reasons, neither Johnson nor Corbyn represent a safe pair of hands from the point of view of the divided British ruling class.

If Jeremy Corbyn were to lead a government implementing socialist policies that were threatening their interests, the capitalist class could seek to use the Monarchy as weapon against it, up to and including dissolving parliament and staging a coup. The Royal Family are not just pampered celebrities, living a privileged lifestyle at the expense of everyone else, they are totally incompatible with socialism. Like the human appendix, the Monarchy is a relic of a bygone feudal age. Benignly existing in normal times, it can become clogged, inflamed and life threatening, spewing its septic contents to every organ of the body if not skillfully removed.