YCL: negligent Tories failing to protect working people from COVID-19

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The Young Communist League has issued an updated statement on the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and the criminal failure of Boris Johnson’s Tory government to protect working people in Britain.

The first cases in Britain were reported on 31 January 2020. The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed their classification of the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. The WHO immediately called for countries to take “urgent and aggressive action” to combat the spread of the virus domestically on the same basis as the efforts of the Chinese people.

Despite the significant and crucial passage of time, repeated warnings by the NHS and the WHO, the response of Boris Johnson’s Tory government has been criminally slow. It is only in the last few days that they have taken significant measures such as closing schools and workplaces, despite the fact that Britain’s trade union movement and communists have been calling for these precautions for weeks. A number of important measures which the Communist Party has consistently demanded are yet to be implemented:

Healthcare

  • The urgent provision of protective equipment, materials and specialist training to all medical and frontline staff.
  • The requisitioning of private sector technology and production of all equipment and materials needed by hospitals and medical centres, including respirators.
  • Building new intensive care hospitals and requisitioning resources and facilities of the private health sector and the armed forces.
  • A far more rigorous testing and quarantine regime for those with symptoms and their traceable contacts, including comprehensive testing of all people arriving and leaving Britain.
  • State direction of the pharmaceutical industry in Britain, where two of the world’s biggest corporations are based (GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca), to ensure that production and research target the crisis and its aftermath and that shareholder greed does not exploit the crisis or render the cost of life-saving medicines unaffordable to the NHS.
  • State direction of companies manufacturing materials for public purchase (soap, anti-bacterial gel, alcohol) essential to combating the spread of the virus.

Planning and production

  • National and regional forums with representatives of central and local government, the NHS and trade unions to coordinate, plan and ensure the implementation of anti-crisis measures.
  • A coordinated strategy to ensure the distribution of vital goods and services to the population, especially vulnerable groups.
  • Emergency measures to eliminate homelessness and provide essential care.
  • Legislating, if necessary, both to enforce the rationing of purchases of essential goods (including over-the-counter medicines; cleaning and disinfectant products; storable foodstuffs) and to combat price hiking and corporate profiteering.
  • Heavy penalties for companies or individual engaged in illicit market activities such as price hiking.
  • Taking control of the arms industry in order to develop and manufacture medical equipment and other necessities. This would include the freeing-up of billions of pounds currently allocated to nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Britain’s communists have been clear about why the Tories have failed to implement the bold and necessary measures needed to protect working people during this crisis. They want to maintain ‘normality’ for as long as possible to protect the value of shares in the City of London which have experienced historic losses as the pandemic has spread. They don’t want to interfere with the business or profits of the companies, banks and hedge funds which fund their party and whose directors and lobbyists they went to school with and who they take their orders from.

While the economic measures announced so far including guarantees of pay are to be welcomed, they are too little and come too late. Tens of thousands of workers have already been sacked or laid off without pay. The unclear timeframe and mechanism for guarantee payments make it almost inevitable that tens of thousands more will be laid off in the coming weeks while the government struggles to make cash available. Communists are calling for a comprehensive effort to protect jobs and salaries in the interests of workers and their families:

  • A nationwide ban on all layoffs and redundancies.
  • Full pay protection for all employees and no requirement to use annual leave during self isolation.
  • Guaranteed reinstatement for all employees already laid off or made redundant.
  • Fines for employers who fail to comply and damages for affected employees.
  • A guaranteed minimum income for the self-employed affected by the crisis.
  • Emergency legislation abolishing Universal Credit and providing full benefits to all unemployed, substantially increasing statutory sick pay and child benefit.
  • Free childcare and creche services to those in frontline healthcare and essential occupations.
  • Increased financial support for small businesses closed due to the crisis.
  • Emergency legislation to force insurers to cover lost income due to the crisis backdated to 11 March 2020.

While we welcome the closing of schools and cancellation of exams, Britain’s youth and students need concrete steps to be taken to provide them with more clarity and support:

Education

  • Maintain support for vulnerable young people in schools through free school meals and social work contact.
  • Ensure students’ bursaries are maintained and scrap student loan repayments.
  • More support for school students missing exams to ensure they are not disadvantaged in progress to further and higher education.
  • More online resources for students missing lessons to maintain their studies.
  • Mental health support for students and young people affected by the crisis.

At the same time we have to oppose any measures that seek to stifle political criticism and activity, increase state surveillance, prolong the term of office of the central government and ‘normalise’ the presence of uniformed armed forces on the streets.

We must also oppose attempts by mainstream media and political parties to pass off the coming economic crisis as a result of COVID-19. There were already signs of the coming crisis long before COVID-19. They will allow working people to suffer. They will put our lives at risk to maintain profits. Following the crisis, they will work to shift the burden on to us through austerity, just as they did in 2008. But only if they are allowed to do so.

The anti-people and anti-democratic face of the European Union has been further exposed by this crisis. It has failed to protect the peoples of Europe from the virus. It has abandoned Italy. Even in the midst of the crisis, the EU has sought to prevent many governments’ emergency economic measures as breaches of state aid rules including the UK government’s business rates holiday for the retail, leisure and hospitality industries.

The COVID-19 crisis demonstrates the nature of this Tory government and the capitalist system. They are unable and unwilling to safeguard working people. It is working people who can and must save ourselves from this crisis.

We extend our condolences to all victims of the COVID-19 in every country and to their relatives and friends. We salute the courage and dedication of our NHS staff and of medical and other front-line workers everywhere.

YCL members across Britain are mobilising now to support people during the COVID-19 crisis, spreading awareness, offering aid and organising in their neighbourhoods.

We echo the call of the Communist Party to the labour movement and the working class of Britain:

‘Fight together now for all measures necessary to protect the people! Be vigilant in the defence of our democratic freedoms and of our right to struggle for a better society and socialism!’

Executive Committee
Young Communist League

21 March 2020
London, Britain