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Four things we should learn from the Coronavirus pandemic

Now we know how much we depend on front line workers
Now we know how much we all depend on front line workers

In the current circumstances, most of us are forced to think in the ‘here and now’. With the level of threat posed by Cornoavirus, the risk to life, and the disruption to our working, social and family lives, that is a very understandable and very necessary reaction.

#Number 1:

The deeper this crisis gets, the more we are all dependent on the people who keep our society functioning. The much talked about front line would not exist if it were not for supermarket staff and other essential retail workers, delivery drivers, warehouse staff, cleaners and refuse workers. They are the base which supports the rest of the front line, and ensures that all the other necessary support services can do ther job.

Yet some of the most important people we rely on are those on minimum wages, zero hours contracts and precarious employment.

#Number 2:

The National Health Service has stepped up to meet the challenge of C19 in a way in which few other organisations could do. Its staff and its work is quite rightly being lauded and publicly acclaimed.

Yet only a few months ago, for the first time in its history, the Royal College of Nursing, had to call on its members to take industrial action to secure pay parity and safe working conditions. Sinn Fein, the DUP and the other executive parties had been denying them both demands for years.

For at last ten years the NHS budgets have been slashed by Tories in Westminster and in Stormont. All seems to be forgotten as the very people responsible for the cuts fall over themselves to applaud the nurses they refused to pay

#Number 3:

The examples of businesses ignoring the health and well being of their workers by refusing to comply with basic public health and government guidance on social distancing and other measures, demonstrates the priority which the relentless pursuit of profit has over the well being of employees.

There are also many examples of non-essential businesses seeking to trade on the flimsiest of excuses and some times on no excuse at all. Viruses come and go: production and profit are a constant.

The importance and benefits of trade union membership and of a unionised workforce has never been more evident. This crisis has shown that the health and well being of many working people is threatened on several fronts.

#Number 4:

The Coronavrus pandemic will end. When it does, many of the changes which it brought about to the way we work and live our lives could have a lasting effect.

Capitalism has a single focuses: profit. It will not look back and say ” How can we ensure that front line workers get the best deal and the best wages?” It will not be meeting with trade unionists to discuss better conditions, better pay or greater involvement in firms, factories or services.

Neither capitalism, nor the political parties which support and administer it, will be looking at the NHS and saying ” How can we improve this, how can we make it better , or how can we fund it more effectively”.

They are much more likely to seeking ways of privatising and profiting from public and personal health. They are much more likely to be drafting plans for even more restrictions on trade unions and union membership and they are much more likely to be looking at ways of capping the minimum wage, extending zero hours contracts and diluting workers rights.

In times of uncertainty, only two things are guaranteed: capitalism will never waste a crisis and working people will be paying the bill.

The plans are drafted and waiting for the storm to pass. We must be prepared and waiting too.

Homeless people vulnerable to Coronovirus

Homeless people are three times more likley to have a chronic health condition

“We are all at risk from Covid 19, but homeless people, particularly those who are rough sleeping, can be amongst the most vulnerable”, Workers Party spokesperson Conor Duffy says.

Calling for a specific Covid 19 response package to meet their unique needs, Conor said, “homeless people are three times more likely to experience a chronic health condition, including asthma and COPD”.

“The support they depend on needs to be secured and strengthened as the demands on all resources increase at this time. It is vital that homeless people are recognised as a vulnerable group and that the Northern Ireland Executive steps in now to protect and enhance the vital services they need”, he said.

“I have been in touch with the Department for Communities and the Department of Health to bring these issues to their attention”, Conor added, “and, as a minimum first step, I am calling on the Executive to announce a programme of measures including:

  • securing hotel style accommodation to meet the increased need for self-contained accommodation so that people can self-isolate. 
  • ensuring that anyone who is at risk of, or is already homeless, can access self-contained accommodation.
  • providing additional financial support through the Universal Credit system to ensure that people are not pushed into homelessness. 
  • protecting renters from evictions
  • rapid access to testing for the virus and healthcare assistance for people sleeping rough and living in hostels and shelter accommodation
  • recognising frontline workers in homelessness organisations as an emergency service
  • allocating an emergency budget to fund homelessness services”.

Voluntary and Charitable sectors must be protected

Workers Party representative, Paddy Crossan, has called on the Communities Minister to announce an immediate and comprehensive package of financial support for the voluntary and charitable sectors here.

“Voluntary and charitable organisations play a vital and often life sustaining role in our society. Their work is affected by the Coronavirus pandemic in the same way as small businesses: they face many similar problems”. he said.

“I have written to Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, and the Emergencies Leadership Group which she is heading up, calling on her to announce a package of measures to support the voluntary and charity sector through this crisis. We not only need their valuable work now; we also need to ensure that they will still be here when this emergency has passed”, Paddy said.

“Many, many people in the community are dependent on the support of voluntary and charitable organisations: the young the elderly, victims of domestic violence, refugees and asylum seekers, people with disabilities and those living with mental health problems. For many they are a safety net and a lifeline.

“In their battle for survival every day counts. The Minister must act immediately,” Paddy added.

I have asked her to address the following measures specifically as a first step to ensuring the survival of this vital support network.

  • Extend support for small business to the voluntary / charitable sectors
  • Ensure that all charities and voluntary organisations are eligible up to 80% of salaries for retained workers
  • Set up a ‘stabilisation fund’ to help charities stay afloat during the pandemic
  • Establish a loan guarantee scheme for charities needing overdraft facilities to cover cashflow problems
  • Approaches the National Lottery to secure additional emergency funding
  • An Emergency funding package for food banks to allow them to continue providing vital support

If employers cannot protect their workforce they should close down immediately

Workplace guidelines on health and safety must be enforced

The Workers Party has echoed calls by the trade union movement and others for the immediate and enhanced protection of workers in all essential services.

It is very clear that many workers delivering essential services are being put at risk by their employers who are refusing to adhere to public health guidelines on social distancing and personal protection measures.

It is also clear that a number of companies whose businesses are not essential in the current crisis are continuing to trade and are putting the workforce at unnecessary and unacceptable risk.

If  employers cannot protect their workforce they should close down immediately

The Party is calling on the Health and Safety Executive to enforce public health and government guidelines by ensuring full compliance with safety measures at work and is also calling for an immediate Executive Order to be enacted by the Assembly directed against those non essential firms which continue to trade. .

Workers providing essential services which are keeping our society function at this critical time are being put at serious  risk through the lack of personal  protection equipment and social distancing measures. Other workers re being told to report for work in non  essential  services  and in dangerous and unhealthy conditions like some call centres and production lines.

Unionised workforces at least have power and leverage to effect change but many, many thousands of workers are in non-union firms and are at the mercy of employers who place the relentless pursuit of profit above health, well being and life .

Those who put their workforce at risk must be challenged  and sanctione. Those who continue to trade without justification should be closed forthwith.

Such developments, however, must take place in the context of providing effective financial support measures to avoid mass redundancies and to ensure that jobs are protected and workers paid. 

Eradicating Sectarianism: a long, long way to go

Party members (l:r)Tom Gillen, Joanne Lowry and Hugh Scullion at the launch of ‘Sectarianism: the Key Facts’ report at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

Sectarianism remains the single biggest obstacle to working class unity, but its eradication remains a long, long way off.

A research report, commissioned by the Equality Coalition, addressing the institutional aspects of sectarianism was launched at Parliament buildings Stormont, today.

The report makes the welcome move away from a focus on personal behaviours and ‘cross- community’ initiatives as a way of addressing sectarianism and focuses instead on some of its institutional and organisational aspects.

Difficulties and dangers

Welcome as that approach is it is not without its difficulties and dangers. Workforce imbalances in large organisations and big companies can result from a variety of often complex factors which cannot be over looked or simply dismissed.

Reducing an analysis of sectarian practice to a numbers game sheds no light and serves little purpose. So too with equating every adverse decision to a sectarian motive or using the accusation of sectarianism to address every ill .

Immediate steps

There are a number of immediate steps which could and should be taken to starts to process of eradicating sectarianism from our society. An integrated and secular education system, a Bill of Rights , an integrated housing programme and the criminalisation of sectarianism would be a good start.

However, for as long as institutionalised sectarianism forms the basis of government structures and practices, there will be no political leadership from Stormont and no pressure to address either sectarianism or the vested interests which help perpetuate it. There is still a very long way to go.

Death of John Jefferies

John Jefferies

The Northern Ireland Region of the Party is shocked and saddened at the untimely death of our esteemed comrade and friend, Comrade John Jefferies. John will be a serious loss to our Party at every level. He will be sadly missed by his comrades.

John was a good comrade, a committed Party member, someone who understood the fundamental importance of political ideas and the necessity for a radical transformation of the political, social and economic system in which we live. He understood well the nature of class and the class system and that capital confers political power which its ruling class uses to legitimise and protect its interests at the expense of the working class.

John had long service on the CEC and was a tireless member of the Party’s International Section and he had travelled frequently to meet with his international comrades in the Communist and Workers’ parties.
Comrade John Jefferies was a dedicated political activist, a committed Marxist-Leninist, a life-long fighter for the working class.

In acknowledgment of his long service to the Workers Party, the
Party in Northern Ireland recently made a presentation to John to mark his unstinting and loyal service to the Party.

Party members in Northern Ireland mourn the passing of a truecomrade. He will be deeply missed by us all.

Making Mental Health Matter

Party members at the launch of the new Mental Health Matters mural

A new wall mural highlighting mental health issues and providing information on support services has been unveiled in Belfast.

It takes the space previously occupied by the Workers Party anti-sectarian message on the Northumberland Street wall in a temporary arrangement between the Party and a group of local artists concerned about mental health.


The Party’s collaboration with  the local artists seeks to highlight mental health issues and signpost some of the services and help available to individuals, families and friends.

Regrettably it comes at an opportune time. The number of people taking their own lives  in Northern Ireland is the highest on these islands. The rate is almost twice that of England and deaths in the Belfast area remain the highest in Northern Ireland.

More people have now taken their own lives since the paramilitary ceasefires of 1994 than died during the period of ‘The Troubles’


The factors involved for each person can often be complicated, but research is consistently identifying the need for increased mental health service provision, rising drug and alcohol misuse, changes in family life and  expectations and the legacy of the ‘Troubles’ but austerity, high levels of poverty, social exclusion and disadvantage must be central to our understanding of this crisis.

Mental health matters and that needs to be demonstrated by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Funding, resources, service developments, long term strategies and new initiatives are all priorities but so too must be a commitment to address and tackle the root causes of much of our mental ill health.

Suicide statistics

  • Three times as many people die by suicide in Northern Ireland each year than are killed in road traffic collisions
  • A total of 219,000 people have been directly affected by suicide since 2005
  • More than 70% of people who die by suicide are not known to mental health services
  • 10% of 15-16 year olds have self-harmed at some stage
  • In 1970, 73 people took their own lives in Northern Ireland, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency
  • In 2013, there were more than 300 deaths – and that figure has remained largely the same since then

Source: BBC

‘We are deluding ourselves’

“Do we even listen to ourselves anymore”? Workers Party representative Chris Bailie has asked after this week’s announcement of work on the wall dividing the New Lodge and Tiger’s Bay areas.

“Media coverage, and some local commentators, have announced thatone of the oldest peace walls in Belfast has been demolished”. No it hasn’t, and there are no signs that it is going to be”, Chris says.

Grim reality

“Whatever the arguments that this somehow represents ‘progress’, the grim reality is that this dividing wall is being rebuilt, given a cosmetic make over and handed a new lease of life”. he said.

“We are deluding ourselves about what progress looks like, then we try to convince the rest of the world that this society is moving forward” added Chris.

“There are over 100 dividing walls and barriers in Northern Ireland. Over one third of them erected since the paramilitary ceasefires in 1994.

“North Belfast is scarred by them as they snake their way across and around the local community. We even have a dividing wall running through the middle of Alexandra Park”.

‘Progress’ ?

“Ten years ago, the Northern Ireland Assembly committed itself to the removal of all ‘peace walls’ by 2023.  Yet in 2020 the Alliance party’s Naomi Long in her role as Minster for Justice publicly welcomes the rebuilding of one of the oldest dividing walls in the city and calls it ‘progress’.

“We are told that one of the features of the new, modern, dividing wall in Duncairn will be an increase in natural light. Maybe those who see building barriers as progress would also like to shed some light on the continued educational segregation of school children and the extreme poverty, ill health, urban dereliction and low levels of educational achievement and employment which blight North Belfast and other areas.

That would be progress indeed”, concluded Chris.

Health Service will be the test of the new Assembly

“Promised funding is disappearing faster than wood chips in an RHI burner”, Hugh Scullion

Hugh Scullion, the Party’s Mid Ulster representative, has cautioned against optimism on the return of the Stormont Executive.

“The restoration of devolution is welcomed, and long overdue, but there is a real possibility that the Assembly parties remain wedded to the Tory’s austerity policies of the past. That means the continued under funding of public services, including health and social care.” he said

“The funding promised in return for restoring the Stormont Assembly is disappearing faster than wood chips in an RHI burner.  Politicians are now being urged to make “hard decisions” – as if this is a virtue. Hard decisions usually mean cuts in public services leading to longer waiting times in hospital Emergency Departments, longer waiting lists for treatments and agony for patients”, Hugh warned.

 Suicide rates

“The Mid Ulster area has seen one of the highest rates, only behind Belfast, of death from heart disease and cancers. The rates of suicide since the signing of the Belfast Agreement has surpassed the lives lost during the thirty years of “the Troubles.”

“More and more young people are turning to alcohol and drugs with increasing drug related deaths. Meanwhile the area’s health services are dwindling. These cuts particularly affect those in poverty and greatest need”.

Starved of resources

“The promises of the Conservative Government so quickly accepted by our local politicians will not solve the many problems faced by working class people in Northern Ireland. The NHS will continue to be starved of much needed resources both in terms of staff and facilities”. Hugh said

“For some time, the Worker’s Party has been calling for an inquiry into the financing and outsourcing of health care in Northern Ireland but we fear the present Stormont Executive will continue with a programme of austerity and privatisation of public services.

Holding to account

“We will be watching and holding the Stormont parties to account. For the past three years and one day the they have failed to serve the interests of the working class. the electorate will have their say at the next Assembly elections in two years’ time. That  will be the time for the working class to hold them to account.”, Hugh concluded

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