In the face of widespread criticism over the limited response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Boris Johnson has now announced a raft of restrictions on movement and gathering. Socialists support all necessary measures to prevent the spread of the virus. 

However, there is a glaring contradiction in these measures. While people are largely being asked to stay at home, many non-essential workplaces outside of retail remain open – offices, factories, construction sites. This reflects the Tories’ desire to defed the profits of big business as far as possible. Meanwhile, there are reports of insufficient distancing and protective measures in essential workplaces. 

As Susan Fitzgerald, Unite Regional Coordinator, put it, “It is beyond belief that workers are expected to come in and stand in close proximity in their hundreds – whether in aerospace or other non-essential manufacturing – at this time. It is simply not possible to keep these workers safe against the rising threat of Coronavirus.”

Workers’ action needed to defend public health

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.

All non-essential workplaces should shut immediately, without loss of pay. Appropriate health and safety measures must be put in place in all essential workplaces. If the politicians and bosses won’t enforce this, then workers themselves must take the lead.

Workers in non-essential workplaces should organise to shut them down, and must receive the full support of the trade union movement in doing so. The trade unions should immediately create a workers’ health and safety commission which can provide advice to all workers and assist in enforcing necessary measures in essential workplaces.

Mass testing now!

While asking people to accept serious restrictions to their daily lives, the government has not implemented one of the most important measures to get ahead of the spread of this virus – mass testing. This is the clear advice of the World Health Organisation. The pharmaceutical industry and other production facilities must be brought into public ownership to facilitate mass testing, so containment and treatment measures can be more effectively targeted.