The following statement was issued on 17th March by the Executive Committee of West Ham Constituency Labour Party.
For socialists, the signs of capitalism’s failed response to a health crisis are glaringly plain for all to see. Boris Johnson flounders from one poorly judged decision to another, holding up his medical experts as a shield should he come under attack for any failures to deal decisively with COVID 19.
This crisis follows on from other existing crises; homelessness and housing, social care, public transport systems, under resourcing of the NHS, full-time and secure employment, to say nothing of a deep new recession and the continuing environmental catastrophe. These are all signs of a decaying system which cannot as a matter of principle organise society in such a way as to reduce, let alone abolish, inequality, or provide meaningful well-paid employment, affordable housing, social care for those more vulnerable in society… the list goes on and on.
Therefore, it should be the task of socialists not just to get involved in community support but to challenge the politicians about the system they promote and these systemic failures. These demands must be radical, but to the vast majority of people be a reasonable set of demands that command support. In putting forward these demands we build upon the direction that the Labour Party has been taking under Jeremy Corbyn and the 12-point programme that has been put forward by Rebecca Long-Bailey. We fully support these demands, but believe they should now go further to expose the criminal responsibility of capitalism for this critical threat to our lives.
* The government must directly intervene to requisition personal protective equipment for health staff on the front line.
* The government must directly command and fund the production of equipment that hospitals will require if the numbers of severe case increase, e.g. ventilators.
* Testing for the confirmation of COVID 19 cases has been woefully inadequate. The government must fund the increased provision of testing facilities and equipment and follow WHO guidelines.
* Private hospital facilities must be requisitioned and their buildings, staff and equipment brought online as the numbers of severe cases grows. Now is their turn to assist in a time of dire emergency.
* There must be no loss of pay and no redundancies for the duration of this COVID 19 national crisis. Employers will use redundancies to get rid of anyone seen as trade union activists.
* The government must follow the example of the French government in suspending all rent and utility bills for the duration of the crisis. If in 2008 it could spend billions rescuing banks that were often complicit in bringing down their own banking system, then how much more should it rescue the people in this time of crisis?
* The government must guarantee statutory sick pay at the level of a full living wage for all workers who need to isolate themselves due to their showing symptoms or falling into high-risk categories. This must cover all workers including the self-employed and those on casual, temporary or zero-hour contracts. The measures announced so far are a completely inadequate response to the needs of people during these unprecedented times.
* All schools must be immediately closed to children, but re-purposed as community hubs where childcare can be provided for all essential workers who need it. This will be crucial in maintaining health and social care, food production and distribution, manufacturing and essential public services.
* Hubs should also include facilities for food distribution to vulnerable people in the catchment area of the school. Keep school kitchen facilities open to provide meals to those families whose children are in receipt of a free school meals.
* Hubs should be organised and run by local authorities. Workers who are fit and well, who have been laid off from their jobs would be required to work in their local hub alongside volunteers. This would be under the direction of local council officers who would ensure the full range of safeguarding procedures were adhered to.
We should spread these demands to our comrades in all areas and encourage them to raise them at work and in the community, directly or through social and traditional media, and with influential figures such as their local MPs, council leaders and senior Labour Party figures with access to the media. We could put enormous pressure on the government to act just as decisively as it did when the banking crisis brought the danger of economic slump.
The danger is far greater now, and the solutions needed are therefore far more radical. A group of protestors appeared on our TV screens on 16th March 2020 with placards and banners saying “pause the system”. This slogan is inadequate for the times we live in. Our demands and our goal are to CHANGE THE SYSTEM, and these demands will appear as common sense to a large swathe of the population who are currently being fed a diet of fear and gloom.