Capitalism endangers the lives of workers and the population

Too little, too late policies with empty promises from Johnson

By International Socialist League (ISL)

The Present Crisis

The Coronavirus situation has laid bare the contradictions of capitalism, which is now leading the world into untold loss of life and the economy into a massive recession. Britain and the USA are about to endure, along with many other countries, an enormous health crisis. In Britain, it is against a backdrop of an NHS weakened by cuts, lack of staff and unpreparedness – despite the many recent warnings over pandemics from scientists.

Global health crisis predicted

The present global health crisis was predicted, as there have been over 300 instances of zoonoses – human infections of animal origin – since 1960. Zoonoses are a result of the expansion of food production globally. Where the outbreak originated, in China, small farmers were forced to rely on wild animal markets after huge farms made their traditional way of life unsustainable.

The expansion in food production is not solely the fault of China; for instance, the investment bank Goldman Sachs invested heavily in Chinese poultry farms after the 2008 recession. Chinese companies have also invested in large-scale farms abroad.

Whenever significant changes are made in land-use careful ecological impact assessments should always be prepared. Caring for nature and its environment cannot be left to capitalism. Proper husbanding of the planet can only be implemented under workers’ control with the help of scientists.

Austerity and privatisation created NHS crisis

The NHS was created in 1948 and came out of the huge crisis of capitalism that had caused the Second World War and the mass desire of workers not to go back to the 1930s. However, the capitalist class has long despised any form of social provision, which they see as an unnecessary reduction of their profits, whether it is the NHS, council housing or state education.

The NHS was subject to constant underfunding and attacks by the Conservatives. In 2012 introducing the commissioning of health services by local health trusts weakened the NHS. The Health and Social Care Act allowed privatisation of NHS services and the undercutting of the NHS, as a national body, and in so doing impede its ability to respond to emergencies such as Coronavirus.

During recent debates and interviews on the TV on the current crisis health ministers, such as Helen Whately, appeared not with the normal “NHS” badge on their lapel but with “CARE” – an umbrella organisation set up by health privateers deliberately to undermine the unique nature of the NHS.

This government continues Thatcherism. This is why in Britain, we are faced with the Coronavirus crisis with a weakened NHS.

Government empty promises deepen the crisis

During the present virus crisis, NHS hospitals use private providers for beds, protective equipment, and ventilators – while the privatised sections of the NHS are off-limits to anyone who cannot pay. The deaths of the first doctors treating coronavirus patients highlights the scale of the government’s incompetence.

Nine weeks were squandered in the fight against Coronavirus. These weeks could have been used to run simulations of the effect of the disease, set up supply and production chains for ventilators, PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) and implement mass testing.

On BBC Radio 4 on 28 March a manufacturer of Coronavirus tests in the UK confirmed that he was producing 100,000 a day. However, these were being sent abroad to other countries, especially in the Middle East, and no doubt to private health care providers in the UK. The government says it has been unable to test front line NHS staff.

Health staff have to listen to empty promises from the government while capitalism supplies 100,000 testing kits to private companies like Ocado.

The lack of proper urgency in responding to the epidemic reflects the ideology of the privileged class that rules Britain.

Ruling class indifference

Their indifference was reflected in an interview on BBC Radio 4 on the World at One program on Thursday 26 March with the ex-editor of The Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings. Under the guise of worrying about the cost of the measures to his children and grandchildren, he stated that the country could not afford a shutdown, as it would cost the country too much.

What he meant was that profits are more important than lives. Hastings’ contribution laid bare the class nature of society. The people that are most at risk in the epidemic are workers while the ruling class, who generally have much better overall health and do not have to work in risky occupations like care or in shops, are better able to survive.

No mass testing and lack of PPE is a crime

The UK government has not started mass testing to identify and isolate those infected. Even the lock-down was only partially implemented with discretion afforded to companies to decide if non-essential work was going to continue. Alarming scenes have been seen of commuters on the London Underground packed in together that provide the ideal transmission of the virus.

There are constant complaints by NHS nurses, doctors, paramedics, support staff including cleaners that they are not being given adequate PPE, and constant denials that there was a problem by the Chief Executive of NHS Providers (the umbrella body for all NHS trusts), Chris Hopson, and even the chief nursing officer.

The previous Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been conspicuous on the TV berating the government for not taking more draconian measures to halt the pandemic, but three years ago when he was in charge of health, a report urging the stockpiling of PPE in case of a future epidemic was ignored based on cost.

While there is a lack of PPE in hospitals, it is non-existent in many care homes, where there have been reports of COVID-19 related deaths.

There is only one unavoidable conclusion: capitalism sees profit more important than lives.

All unions and the TUC must start fighting

Every worker that is forced to work in non-essential work must be supported in their fights against the employers. Many workers in factories, building sites, the postal service, and others are fighting. Some employers are using this crisis to sack workers and to get rid of known union militants such as Percy, a cleaner at King’s College London a leader of the United Voices of the World (UVW) union.

There have been reports that NHS managers are trying to gag healthcare whistle-blowers about the lack of PPE in the NHS, with the threat of discipline on disclosure. Health workers are saying publicly that frontline staff such as cleaners and porters, not just nurses and doctors, are at risk due to the shortages and how workers of colour are disproportionately the most at risk in the NHS.

The UVW demand that the government pay all essential staff a £15 minimum wage and they demand that Percy who was fired for not attending a disciplinary hearing due to the lack of social distancing measures is immediately reinstated.

Meanwhile, the TUC says nothing about these attacks, the need to build an organised offensive against a government that does not care, or fighting to reinstate all sacked workers such as Percy. They agreed to work with the government and so abandoned the workers’ struggle. 

COVID-19 and capitalism are deadly viruses

In Britain, the present Conservative government has shown itself completely unable to protect the population from the Coronavirus. According to one report, at a Nº 10 event at the end of February, a government adviser outlined the then government’s strategy at the time as “herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad..’.[i]. Only when it was shown that 500,000 would die did the government change to more stringent, but still inadequate, measures.

Capitalism does not have a human face

The government and the NHS knew this type of crisis would arrive one day, just as sure that a new world crisis would happen. Ten years of austerity helped create the present catastrophic situation. Workers were hit before COVID-19: the Grenfell Tower disaster (which was a known deathtrap); the flooding affecting millions of people; the hostile environment to immigrants.  All of these are examples of a rotten system.

As the crisis for working people continues, now with the COVID-19 pandemic the guilt of the capitalist class in creating this crisis is becoming ever more evident. There is an accelerating decay of our rights, conditions and our lives lead by the capitalist class who will seek to profit from the pain and suffering.

Only putting an end to capitalism will stop these attacks. That means the struggle for a workers’ government, workers’ control of health, public services and industry. But to achieve that we need to build a mass struggle of workers and a revolutionary party to lead workers and dispossessed.

  • Mass testing now!
  • Full PPE for all workers in the NHS, Care Homes and all essential workers such as transport workers!
  • Full social distancing in all work places such as essential building sites – close all others!
  • No One Is Illegal – papers and free access to state services for all!
  • Full access to NHS!
  • NHS to take control of all health services including all privatised services
  • Suspend rent payments and evictions for a year (as demanded by the UVW)!
  • £15 minimum wage for all essential staff now!
  • Reinstate Percy!
  • Build the mass struggle to overthrow capitalism!
  • Build the revolutionary party to lead these struggles!

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/mar/22/no-10-denies-claim-dominic-cummings-argued-to-let-old-people-die