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“You’ve got to give all employees in the country the ability to self-isolate on full pay and it’s only that approach, in my view, that will really get this Test and Trace system working properly”, said Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham on 10 August.
With Liverpool mayor Steve Rotheram and the TUC, and with the backing of the unions Unison, GMB, Usdaw, Unite and CWU, he has launched a new website calling for all workers to get full pay, guaranteed by the government, when they self-isolate because they have Covid-19 or are identified as contacts of someone who has it.
Since early in lockdown, Solidarity has been promoting the Safe and Equal campaign, whose leading demand is exactly that: full isolation pay for all. It’s great to have another website spreading the message.
But it’s also time for more urgent action than just websites.
From April through to mid or late July, countries in Europe bit-by-bit eased their virus lockdowns, and their infection curves kept going down.
Since mid or late July, many infection curves have been going up again, as yet modestly. The obvious explanation is that the lockdown-easing has been tipped over its safe limit by the reopening of tourist activity.
Most scientists expect virus-resurgence in winter, maybe slight, maybe strong. The virus may well be seasonal, as many are. Colder weather, with more people crowded indoors, will boost infections. An overlay of ordinary seasonal flu will make it harder to detect Covid-19 cases.
An officially-commissioned scientific report published four weeks ago called for July and August to be used to get systems into place to deal with virus-resurgence. We have just three weeks of August left. The government has done very little.
Opening schools should be a priority. The short-term costs of school closure bear almost entirely on the working class rather than on the government or capitalists.
Children and teenagers run much smaller risk from Covid-19 than older people. Taiwan and Sweden have kept schools open throughout without teachers getting more infected than other workers. The virus resurgences in Europe started in tourist seasons, after schools shut for the summer holidays, not as the schools were reopened after April.
Reopening schools can probably be made relatively safe. It is not automatically so, despite what Tory minister Gavin Williamson tells us. There is much we don’t know. We want reopening to go with democratic and transparent planning in schools, resources, workers’ control aided by expert scientific advice on safety measures, and workers’ readiness to use their legal right to refuse unsafe work areas. And policies to control infection in the towns and cities around schools.
• Isolation pay
• A public-health, publicly-accountable strategy, not the current mess of Serco and Deloitte profiteering in test-and-trace, not the webs of private-profit contractors, sub-contractors, and sub-sub-contractors in NHS supplies and logistics
• Taking over of the private hospitals and integrating them into the NHS
• Taking social care into public ownership, and staffing it on regular public-sector pay and conditions
• Extension of furlough payments, and rent holidays, to prepare for closing areas like pubs, cafés, and inessential travel if infections mount.
We now have a window of time when the labour movement is more confidently on the streets again, as in the NHS pay protests on 24 July and 8 August. We need to use it to go beyond e-campaigning.
Demand Labour backs the Manchester-Liverpool-TUC initiative! If Starmer won’t, then left Labour groups like Momentum should do so, and actively.
Get on the streets with stalls and petitions to amplify the demands!
Demand the unions which have backed the initiative discuss organising demonstrations, rallies, and workplace protests for it!
 S&E has run a website, of course. It has also organised Zoom meetings, and done systematic phone-rounds, agitation, and more which has helped (together with many other efforts) in moving full isolation pay in care homes from almost-nowhere at the start of lockdown to 40% or more of care homes now