Stop scapegoating ordinary people! Enforce workplace health and safety!

By Daniel Waldron

The Stormont politicians – like those at Westminster and in Dublin – are brazenly trying to scapegoat ordinary people for an increase in Covid infection which has been caused by their own pro-corporate policies. Socialists recognise the seriousness of this pandemic and support all necessary measures to protect public health, but the cost must not fall on the shoulders of workers.

Our ability to gather with friends and family in our homes or outdoors is to be further restricted. But, of course, these restrictions will not apply to workplaces where bosses are cutting corners on health and safety, or to pubs or cafés. It seems Covid can only spread in settings where profit isn’t being made!

Policy contradictions reflect whose interests Stormont serves

Stormont’s policy is completely contradictory. While taking measures to restrict gatherings in private households, Minister for the Economy Diane Dodds wants to force civil servants back into the office, explicitly to get them to spend money in town centres! They are being asked to put themselves at needless risk for the sake of ‘the economy’ – ie, the bosses. All workers who can work from home should have the right to do so indefinitely.

Similarly, schools are to fully re-open to all students within days, with completely inadequate social distancing and hygiene measures in place. Education Minister Peter Weir scrapped previous health and safety proposals when it became clear they were totally unworkable without major investment, which the Executive was unwilling to provide. Schools should only fully open with the necessary resources in place to make it as safe as possible.

Throughout this crisis, all the main parties at Stormont have bent the knee to big business – allowing non-essential business to remain open during lockdown, refusing to enforce workplace health and safety, rushing to reopen hospitality with reduced social distancing measures, and so on. Now, they try to shift the blame for the resurgence of Covid onto working-class people.

The meat processing industry has been a hotspot for infection. Clusters have been emerging at plants across the North for months, with the latest in Ballymena and Cullybackey. It’s no surprise, then, that the Mid & East Antrim council area has the highest level of Covid infection, twenty times that of Fermanagh & Omagh! Only now, after months of ignoring demands from workers and unions, have public authorities finally stepped in to temporarily close a factory to allow for full testing and cleaning. Wherever this happens, workers must be guaranteed full pay for the duration of this process.

Make the billionaires pay for the crisis!

In reality, profit-hungry bosses and the politicians who represent them will never put our health and wellbeing first. It’s up to workers to organise to fight for our rights – whether demanding safe workplaces, defending jobs or fighting against poverty pay. Every worker should join a trade union and organise with their colleagues to stand up to the bosses and politicians. With the threat of a second wave of infection, and a jobs massacre taking place in some sectors, it’s time for the union heads to show leadership and give workers the confidence to fight.

We will again be told that ‘the money isn’t there’ to invest in public safety, in healthcare and education, to support those in need, to create jobs for young people, and so on. We should reject this nonsense out of hand. Since lockdown was introduced, the UK’s super-rich have increased their wealth by £25 billion! It is a political decision to allow this parasitic elite to hoard obscene wealth while working-class people face poverty, insecurity and risks to our health. This inequality is a product of the sick system of capitalism which values private profit over the lives of ordinary people. We need to build an anti-sectarian, socialist alternative to challenge it.