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People before profits: Covid-19 challenges for the labour movement

How can we defend workers as we head towards a possible second virus wave? MARY ADOSSIDES recommends an online meeting organised by London Morning Star supporters where the answers to this question will be explored

THE World Health Organisation warned recently against isolating the coronavirus pandemic into separate spikes, insisting: “It’s going to be one big wave” as the virus spreads globally, with spikes occurring across Asia, Africa and Europe. 

In Britain we are seeing hundreds of confirmed new cases.

Many areas across the country have been affected, with London facing the largest number of cases when coronavirus first arrived. 

By May 22, north-west England, Yorkshire and the Humber, the West Midlands, the south-east and the north east and east of England registered more deaths than the capital. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced coronavirus outbreaks in Kirklees, Weston-super-Mare, Kent and elsewhere — areas that have needed government intervention to bring their cases right down. 

Despite a recent fall in numbers of Covid-19 cases, resulting in a gradual easing of lockdown, uncertainty remains. 

On June 29, Leicester was the first city in Britain to be plunged into a local lockdown after public-health officials expressed alarm at a significant rise in positive Covid-19 tests. 

The outbreak started in garment factories where Asian women mainly were treated as modern-day slaves, working very long hours for as little as £3.50 an hour, far below the minimum wage of £8.72 for those aged over 25, and allegedly not wearing protective masks, with no social distancing, poor cleansing facilities and limited or no ventilation in the factories – measures which could have stalled the spread of the virus. 

The fashion retailer Boohoo is facing condemnation for its treatment of workers making clothes for its fashion labels, and campaigners are highlighting the links between the pandemic and poverty.

And then there is the global spread of the virus. The World Health Organisation guidance on social distancing and PPE to prevent spread of Covid-19 should be mandatory for all nations. 

Its call for an emergency global solution to the continuing acceleration of Covid-19 and the need for communities to come together must be adhered to. 

US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the WHO when US cases are well above four million is nothing short of criminal. 

The WHO must be placed at the centre of finding global solutions to halting the pandemic.

The threat of a second wave indicated for September is an urgent call on the labour movement to continue to press for health to be put before profits. 

As Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “We are at a crossroads.”

The government’s chaotic handling of the crisis, its drive to return the economy to the rule of the market to boost the profits of big corporations, its outsourcing of research into vaccination to big pharma corporations, its reluctance to put in place an NHS managed  testing and tracing programme to protect the people and its reluctance to institute health and safety legislation so that workplaces are safe must be responded to vigorously by the organised labour movement. 

This is the best way to protect workers from unemployment, resist sackings, defend pay and jobs, and ensure health and safety legislation is adhered to by employers as we could be facing the next big wave.

MP for Leicester East Claudia Webbe is uniquely placed to speak on Covid-19 challenges at the London Morning Star Supporters Group online public meeting on August 6 at 7pm, People Before Profits: Covid Challenges for the Labour Movement. She will speak alongside RMT regional organiser Eddie Dempsey and the Morning Star’s international editor, Steve Sweeney. This is a fundraising event in support of the paper’s Covid-19 appeal. Register on Eventbrite: tinyurl.com/y9baxfkf and a Zoom link will be sent to you.

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