Covid-19: Urgent action plan for the Labour movement!

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The response of the British and European governments to the Covid-19 outbreak demonstrates the failure of neo-liberalism and the market economy.

The British government’s response in particular seems to be chiefly based on social Darwinism: the ‘survival of the fittest’. Boris Johnson is clearly putting the needs of capital first. The policy of acquiring ‘herd immunity’ (although now officially abandoned) and the failure to introduce wide-ranging testing has allowed the infection to spread uncontrollably. Having been starved of vital funds by successive governments for decades, the NHS is unable to cope.

Thousands have already lost their job or are being asked to take unpaid leave. Having been driven into “self-employment” by the gig economy, millions of workers are not even eligible for statuary sick pay (a measly £94.25/week) and forced to continue working even though they might suspect they are ill. Many will lose most, if not all, of their income.

This health crisis is turning into a huge social, economic and political catastrophe before our very eyes.

As a party with over 500,000 working class members the Labour Party has a unique opportunity to strengthen working class organisation and solidarity in our communities. It also has the responsibility to step up to the crisis and to develop some serious strategic answers and demands.

We, the undersigned, urge all Labour Party members, branches and CLPs to get involved in setting up Mutual Aid societies and to help transform them into political centres of opposition to the government’s irresponsible policies. Details on existing groups and how to set one up are posted and updated here on Facebook. If you are not on FB, let us know where you live and we’ll try to get you in touch with your nearest group. Email info@labourleft.org

The Labour Party currently demands “decent sick pay for all workers, rent and mortgage holidays for people affected, suspension of sanctions and the five week wait for Universal Credit, and support for foodbanks via local authorities.” The party is also preparing a law which would mean any non-payment of rent due to coronavirus would not count as legal grounds for eviction.

These are decent demands – but they far from enough to stop millions of people of sliding into unemployment, poverty and despair. Much more is needed – and urgently so!

For a start, the Labour Party now must urgently develop its own media outlets. We need articles, videos and podcasts that can counter the daily government briefings. These would also help us to organise an effective opposition, on the ground and in the communities.

The Labour Party and union movement must now also demand extensive measures to combat millions of people from experiencing real and long lasting hardship:

1)    Universal income of at least £300/week for everybody over 16 living in Britain – now! Now is the time to provide everybody with a basic income, independent of means testing.

2)    Close schools now! The Labour movement should call on all teachers to stay at home except for a skeleton staff to teach the children of essential workers.

3)    Special, paid leave for those who have to self-isolate or are put in quarantine, on full wages and without any triggers of the sickness policy. Free and full healthcare and no prescription charges for everybody living in Britain, including asylum seekers.

4)    All utility bills should be cancelled for the foreseeable future. Ditto mortgage and rental payments. If the utility companies and banks refuse, they should be put under emergency public ownership. The Labour Party and its members should organise and support rent and mortgage strikes and organise to stop evictions.

5)    We need production based on need, for example when it comes to the production of test equipment, vaccine and respirators. If capitalism cannot deliver, we need measures like the emergency nationalisation of relevant pharmaceutical and other companies. Banks must be ordered to give extended credit on zero interest for small and medium-sized businesses. Make lay-offs and redundancies illegal. Shut the stock exchanges.

6)    Those being asked to stay at home need to be supplied with food staple packages at least weekly, to include dry and canned good, fresh fruit and vegetables, plus meat, vegetarian, or vegan items.

7)    If the big food suppliers cannot guarantee that the shelves remain stocked and deliveries are made in a timely and reliable fashion, they must be brought under emergency public ownership. There should be huge penalties for those trying to make a profit out of supply shortages.

8)    Massively extend Corona testing facilities. Massively expand NHS staff – attract nurses and health workers with decent wages and offer good working conditions. Bring all private hospitals and health facilities under emergency public ownership. Free and safe 24/7 childcare facilities for healthcare workers. Children should be looked after in much smaller groups.

9)    All empty properties, holiday homes and hotels should be requisitioned for accommodation for the homeless and those living in over-crowded housing. If necessary, the Labour Party and the TUC should forcibly requisition empty properties that are required for these needs. Close down detention centres. Release all but the most serious offenders from prison.

10)   No martial law! Real solidarity and local cooperation are now more important than ever. The Labour movement and class communities need to organise to defend their members.