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THE Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed and intensified an already profound crisis of inequality and public health across Britain. It has just as dramatically heightened the stakes: the struggle is very immediately about thousands of lives, millions of livelihoods and the future of our whole society.
In this light, we are addressing an urgent call to the British labour movement and all socially responsible civil society organisations: join together to oppose the whole incompetent and socially irresponsible management of the crisis by the Conservative government and create a united platform for alternative strategy and leadership.
Working people are on the front line in this crisis. Healthcare workers, along with other key workers, have selflessly worked to protect the public, and hundreds have already made the ultimate sacrifice. Up and down the country, local labour movement organisations, community groups, charities, Labour Party members and other organisations have been creatively proactive to support their local communities.
But as the death toll continues to mount, there is an absence of organised political challenge at national level. The Labour Party, though now half a million strong with a socialist programme, appears wedded to a strategy of “constructive engagement” with the government — though many members are vocally arguing decisive political opposition.
This leaves a government — which has already catastrophically failed to protect the public and the NHS — in control of the powerful political and economic levers of the state and media. This government is ideologically opposed to the public-sector infrastructure on which the health of the population depends, and responsible for much of the destruction of the public-sector capacity needed to plan for and respond to the emergency.
Government failures and evident lies have brought critical commentary: from respected scientists and health experts, including the Independent SAGE Group, from Labour leaders such as Corbyn and McDonnell, from organisations like the People’s Assembly, trade unions and trades councils, and from non-mainstream media such as the Morning Star.
But these voices will be so much more effective if they coalesce around a shared and widely disseminated narrative, linked to a nationwide body gathering intelligence and providing solidarity, mobilisation and leadership.
The past week has brought new challenges and deadly dangers. Effectively ending what was an already inadequate lockdown with its confused, ill timed and misconceived announcement on May 10, the government abdicated all responsibility for a coordinated UK-wide response and pushed millions of people into still unsafe conditions at work and on public transport.
To their great credit, the National Education Union and support staff unions have challenged the reopening of schools in England on June 1 and a showdown with the government is building. But no organisation or section of the labour movement can or should fight on its own: this fight belongs to us all and requires solidarity action at every level.
In response to the government’s deadly mishandling of the crisis and the looming threat of renewed imposition of economic austerity, we therefore propose the formation of a nationwide “People’s HQ for Covid-19.”
The main message of the People’s HQ will be: the Conservative government has failed to protect Britain’s population and its health service from Covid-19 and we cannot trust them to lead us safely through the crisis and the inevitable reconstruction to follow.
Socially responsible people and organisations must unite to help save lives in the immediate term and begin to steer the strategic management of the crisis towards a longer term economic and social settlement that benefits the many, not the few.
We address this appeal to the People’s Assembly in particular, an organisation which has been the head and heart of the anti-austerity movement since the 2008 global economic crash and enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a principled, non-sectarian organisation committed to social justice.
We believe the People’s Assembly is well-placed to disseminate this call to supporters and affiliated organisations and to launch a bold, and badly needed, new level of collective action.
The People’s HQ will bring people, organisations and groups across Britain together, with all of their knowledge and experience, to:
1) Speak with a single united voice in order to shape the narrative of the crisis; challenge the whole governance of the crisis and project an alternative leadership rooted in popular action and local communities; break the dominance over information exercised by a failed government and subservient media, expose government incompetence and its misuse of “science.”
2) Connect and coordinate all actions and initiatives by individuals and organisations seeking to inform and protect the public; expose and oppose predatory privatisation strategies and other attempts to exploit the crisis for anti-social purposes; inspire with a new vision of a sustainable society, fit for everyone to live their lives with decency and respect; develop a realisable programme to regenerate our communities, our society and our economy based on principles of social justice and equality.
We hope the People’s Assembly will hear and consider this appeal.
Chik Collins holds positions at the University of the West of Scotland and the University of the Faroe Islands and Peter Jones at Sheffield Hallam University. They write here in a personal capacity.
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