It’s very important that the advice about social distancing is adhered to. The more we do this, the more we limit the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. However, there is a fundamental contradiction between that and the fact that, North and South, a significant amount of non-essential production and services continue to function. This puts hundreds of thousands of workers, their families and the wider community at risk. How can there be a “shutdown” when countless non-essential workplaces are still open? We need to put people’s health and safety before profits and have a complete shutdown of non-essential industry.
We don’t have to wait for the Government to take action – there is no time for delay. It is the right of all workers to have a safe work environment and, if they don’t believe they have one, to withdraw their labour to force a shutdown and protect health and lives.
In Italy, the government did not shutdown non-essential workplaces until Saturday night. This was undoubtedly a contributor to the spread of the virus. But workers themselves took strike action in workplaces across the country to force the hand of the government and employers.
If workers engage in a shutdown, which is only temporary and for the protection of everyone’s health, there must be no loss in pay or in jobs.
Full support must be given to all the workers in essential sectors, to ensure that they also have the maximum protection and the resources to combat this crisis.
Workers should take the lead on these issues themselves, and the leaders of the trade union movement should use their resources to back all workers, unionised and non-unionised, who take action to shutdown or ensure safety in the workplace.
Thousands of members of the trade unions have experience and qualifications in health and safety. The trade unions should immediately establish an emergency workers’ health and safety commission, which could advise and assist all workers on what they need to do.
We are already getting clear indications of a lack of capacity in terms of testing, results and lack of vital equipment. At the same time, Leo Varadkar has stated that the ‘’bill’’ for this crisis will be enormous. Ordinary working people are the force that will defeat COVID-19. It is undoubtedly the plan of the political establishment that, as happened a decade ago, working-class people will pay for the crisis through increased charges and taxes, and a new era of austerity.
We say no – use the vast wealth and economic resources that exist in society in the hands of major corporations and the super-rich to ensure every resource necessary is used to deal with this emergency.