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The vaccine rollout plans are too important to be left to Tory cronies

Amid the pandemic it is falling on the labour and the trade union movement to build power to hold this negligent government to account, says HELEN O’CONNOR

HOW many more people have to die before the effective management of Covid-19 is taken seriously by those who hold power in this country? 

Public-health protection lags far behind protecting private profit and the lessons coming out of Manaus in Brazil serve as a warning that many more will die if business continues as usual.

All opportunities to funnel cash into privatising the pandemic response have been exploited by government. 

The result is a test, track and trace system that will never support a serious pandemic exit strategy unless it is taken back under public control, a demand that has been completely ignored. 

Never before has the private sector been so exposed as an inefficient, costly alternative to the state, that delivers so little for so few.

The vaccine rollout plans are too important to be delivered in a corrupt manner or to be treated like some half-baked experiment, but the manner in which vaccine information is filtering into the public domain does little to inspire confidence. 

Furthermore, Independent Sage is advising that the vaccine cannot be relied on as the sole solution to exiting the pandemic when there are other methods that could and should be more effectively deployed if the government was inclined to do so.

If those who run the country genuinely wanted lockdown to be effective enough to control the spread of Covid-19 they would consider bringing legislation forward that would compel employers to close non-essential workplaces and ensure that adequate funding was available to protect jobs and livelihoods.

There had been an unforgivable resistance from government and employers to close down non-essential workplaces during the last two so-called “national” lockdowns. 

Many more workers are being put under pressure by bosses to travel in to work unnecessarily, which creates additional opportunities for the virus to find hosts and mutate further. 

New strains of the virus could well prove to be resistant to the vaccines coming on stream.

This Tory government and its backers are pursuing an economic agenda that is increasing the type of grinding poverty that will limit our chances to exit this pandemic. 

Aside from the staggering increase in job losses, plans to remove the £20 increase to universal credit exposes these Tories as having a callous disregard for the health and wellbeing of the population. 

Rising poverty correlates with malnutrition, overcrowding, poor sanitation and homelessness which all spread disease.

This government is not leading in the interests of the people, as those in power want to have their cake and eat it too. 

The population has been pushed into the worst of all worlds as our civil liberties are being traded off on the cheap but poverty and excess deaths are rising. 

As the human contact that improves quality of life is gradually stripped away from working people and many are forced into workplaces when they could work from home, it is little wonder that trust and a willingness to comply with government Covid-19 messaging is breaking down. 

We are now seeing a bizarre situation develop where the public are being targeted and fined by police when bosses are getting away scot-free with demanding non-essential workers pack out commuter trains to travel to work. 

We simply cannot consent to slip into a Dickensian world where the mass of the people exist merely to work until they drop to swell the profits of the 1 per cent who own and control everything. 

So it is falling on the labour and the trade-union movement to build power to hold this negligent government to account. 

It is inspiring to see workers starting to stand up and fight back, and the GMB national British Gas strike will serve to build workers’ consciousness even further. 

NHS workers, university students, car-plant workers and others are all rising up and asserting their rights, and in the unions we have a responsibility to link up all of these disputes with the social movements that are growing as new layers of people are joining our ranks.

We must stick together and raise our sights to fight for every job, an effective safety net that will genuinely protect lives and livelihoods, our vital public services and a serious zero-Covid strategy to crush coronavirus. 

Defending pay, terms and conditions and pushing back against years of cuts that have driven working people into poverty is vital to creating the conditions for a thriving and healthy population.

The wellbeing of future generations rests with us and our drive and willingness to unite together to organise, because it is clear that this government will not delivering on the basics without sustained pressure from our entire movement.

Helen O’Connor is GMB Southern Region organiser.

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