Brian Singer, Vice-Chair (Membership), Hexham CLP
The corona virus pandemic is having a damaging effect on society. Already, around the world, thousands of people have lost their lives and hundreds of thousands have been infected, and healthcare systems are at breaking point. So far there is no vaccine in sight; it is still in the early development stages. Most countries are acting on their own accord, with little regard to advice from bodies like the WHO (World Health Organisation) who advised ‘test, test, test’.
The Labour Party in Hexham would like to say thank you to everyone in our NHS and all the key workers who are helping to save lives.
At the moment, the best way to repay our doctors, nurses, pharmacists, carers, social workers, bus and train drivers, council workers and many more is by following the Government’s advice to stay at home.
In communities across Britain there are people volunteering to help the vulnerable and those in need. By coming together, we will get through this. On the Hexham CLP website, you’ll find a regularly updated list of organisations set up to help each other, here: https://www.hexhamclp.org.uk/help-during-the-covid-19-crisis-is-here/
The scale of the crisis facing our country today is unprecedented. But one thing is constant: the Labour movement’s determination to save jobs.
Pressure from the labour party and from the trade union movement has persuaded the government to protect wages at an 80 % level and also extend these financial arrangements to zero-hours and self-employed workers. The Labour party is continuing to call for testing, as recommended by WHO, initially for the NHS front-tine, and then for key workers.
What will society be like after the pandemic is over? And what can we do?
There is likely to be a severe economic crisis, and the Conservative government will most probably want to relaunch Austerity to make ordinary working people pay the costs of the crisis, while giving tax cuts and compensatory grants to big business. Grants to business should only be given to save jobs, not to boost dividends to shareholders or to boost managers’ bonuses. The stock markets are in turmoil, and this nervousness reflects the pessimistic outlook of big business. They are terrified of the prospects for the world economy, which was already set to slow down. There is no sign of a quick recovery. Industry and commerce will go through cycles of disruption. Ordinary working people will be struggling after months of lower pay, rent arrears or catching up on ‘mortgage holidays’. As a result, consumption will fall. The world economy will go into a deep crisis.
Donald Trump was initially proclaiming that the virus would not affect the US. Now he has gone on a hysterical nationalist binge calling COVID-19 a ‘foreign virus’. He has imposed travel restrictions that will most likely push the US into an economic recession.
The Labour Party and the trade union movement will have to help working people protect their jobs. We also need to push the government to ban zero-hours contracts, and put an end to employers forcing their workforce to operate as self-employed, to avoid their responsibilities for sick pay, national insurance, tax and paid holidays. This pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of these two groups of workers.
The virus has demonstrated what can happen when you allow de-regulation and tax cuts and tax avoidance for and by the rich alongside austerity for working people. The result is: not enough slack in the system to deal with crises.
We will need to work through our trade unions and with the Labour party to make sure that the national health system is properly funded and properly staffed so that it is better able to cope with situations like this.
We must campaign to get nurses pay cuts reversed, and to reinstate the bursary for nurse training so that the shortage of nurses is properly addressed.
The pandemic has also exposed deep flaws in our social care system which will need to be overhauled and integrated into the health system.
We should campaign to get local authorities funded properly so that we can have good public services which will give us a strong and healthy country.
The COVID-19 crisis has also shown us that we can work in different ways. After the Pandemic is over, office workers should be able to continue to work from home much of their time, perhaps going into the workplace on fewer days per week. This would save on transport and help with combating climate change. Business travel can be kept down too, using modern communications instead, reducing the need for climate-damaging flights.
In Hexham we can campaign to get Hexham Hospital properly funded and properly staffed so that the Accident and Emergency department can be reopened. During the crisis, and afterwards, we can support small local businesses so that they keep running. The smaller shops are well stocked at the moment.
The Corona virus pandemic has highlighted many faults in the current system, and we need to grasp this opportunity to work together to transform society so that we act more as a community. We’ve shown how capable and willing we are to help each other across the societal spectrum; we must ensure that governments are never again allowed to award huge subsidies to big business in the form of tax cuts, while forcing ordinary working people to pay the price of the expected economic crisis.