Stop the Tories' back-to-work lurch!

Submitted by martin on 10 May, 2020 - 11:16 Author: Martin Thomas
back to work


On 10 May Boris Johnson called on construction and manufacturing bosses to force workers back into workplaces.

Without union agreements for safe working.

Without making PPE supplies adequate even for hospitals, GPs, and care homes, let alone for other workplaces.

Without full isolation pay rights for workers.

Without a track-and-trace policy for the virus even being sketched.

Without a sustained drop in infections.

Johnson dressed it up as "encouragement" to individuals to go into work. Furloughed workers in construction and manufacturing have not opted out individually. Their sites and workplaces have been shut, because of union pressure or because bosses thought it unworkable to continue.

The government wants to be able to cut furlough pay and avoid adding to the costly aid it's already granted to bosses. It wants to deflect the growing demand (from businesses as well as households) to cancel rent and utility bills during the emergency.

That is why it is pushing the bosses to reopen, as some construction contractors already have done.

This can be stopped. Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 entitles workers to walk out of any work area where there is a "serious and imminent" risk to safety. No workplace (except those with union agreements for safe working) is any safer now than it was on 23 March.

Section 44 has been used many times by workers in essential sectors since 23 March, and generally they've won improvements. We demand trade union leaders commit themselves to using it now, and to supporting strikes where necessary; and that the Labour leadership backs workers and unions on this.

We are not unconditional admirers of the Tory-designed "lockdown". At best it was only ever a measure to gain time for other policies. But no other policies against the virus are operating yet.

We do not idealise other governments. But other governments which have eased their lockdowns have announced specific measures - this or that activity to be restored - not issued blanket "push them back to work" appeals.

The Coronavirus Bill included many things we want rescinded - cancellations of rights for people in mental distress, of bereaved people, of children with special needs, and of people with social care needs. We want the right to strike, picket and protest restored (with due care for social distancing). We are not against the measured "lockdown-easings" planned in Wales and Scotland.

But the Tories' new slogan "stay alert, control the virus" has no meaning other than to displace "stay at home".

Another measure of it was Johnson's claim to base himself on estimating R, the reproduction rate of the infection. R is a ratio of one number we can only guess (new infections) to another number we can only guess (existing infections).

Johnson said R is "between 0.5 and 0.9". Like saying your height is "between 5 feet and 9 feet"! Johnson was using pseudo-scientific jargon to blur what is not just a guess: that infections are declining only tentatively, and remain at least twice as high as in other countries which have "eased" lockdowns.

Stop the Tories' drive to force people back to work! Demand requisitioning of industry to supply adequate PPE; workers' control of all reopenings; full isolation pay for all; cancellation of rent and utility bills in the emergency.

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