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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.

Coronavirus Guidelines

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CORONAVIRUS GUIDELINES

Useful information on Claiming Benefits and getting advice and support during the Coronavirus pandemic

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. 

Party delegation supports Yard workers

Steelworker and UNITE representative at Harland & Wolff, Joe Passmore with Workers Party members this afternoon

A delegation from the Workers Party has visited the protesting workers at Harland & Wolf to express solidarity with their actions and to demonstrate the Party’s ongoing support for their protest and the demands that the Yard be re-nationalised.

Support

The Party’s Northern Ireland Chairperson Gerry Grainger was joined by colleagues Lily Kerr. Tom Gillen and Joe Dowds. They met and talked with all the workers on the picket line and presented workers representative Joe Passmore with a letter of support and a contribution to the Yard mens’ Fighting Fund.

Speaking afterwards Gerry Grainger said,

The workforce at Harland’s has taken a decisive and progressive step. They deserve the full backing of the entire Northern Ireland community and immediate state intervention to save jobs and secure Northern Ireland’s industrial base.”

“The main parties here have failed to act in support of the Harland and Wolff workers and securing vital industrial skills, The contrast between the disregard shown by the DUP, Sinn Fein and the other parties and the decisive actions taken by the Scottish Assembly as they rescued shipbuilding on the Clyde could not be more stark”, he said,

Copy of the letter of support handed to Harland and Wolff workers

Sympathy, silence and the law of the jungle

As the workers of Harland a & Wolff continued to occupy the Yard and as the Administrators were appointed, there was ‘sympathy‘ from the DUP, silence from Sinn Fein and a stark reminder from the Tory government that the law of the free market jungle still applies.

Even if the Executive had been re-instated none of the main parties would have done anything different, or indeed, done anything at all.

Workers and trades union calls for the nationalisation of the Yard have been met with disinterest and contempt. The DUP has offered ‘sympathy and understanding’, the Tory government has dismissed the crisis as “ultimately a commercial issue” and Sinn Fein appears to have said nothing at all.

Neither they nor the DUP have made this a red line issue. Neither has demanded public intervention to keep H&W in business, retain its jobs and skills base or secure its future. But then, like the Tory government, the main parties here are ideologically opposed to state intervention in the economy – unless of course it involves bailing out the banks or lowering corporation tax. They too hold that it is “ultimately a commercial issue” .

There is a real danger that the administrators will now try to sell off Harland & Wolff to the highest bidding asset strippers: the final rivet in the coffin of a manufacturing and industrial base.

Workers Party members supporting the picket at Harland and Wolff

The struggle to save the jobs, the skills and the future of Harlands is not over. The Yard workers, their families, the trade union movement and everyone determined to see a positive future deserves our full and ongoing support.

Meanwhile, the free market parties who are happy to cut budgets, lower corporation tax, sell Northern Ireland as a low wage economy and now watch the shipyard slip away deserve to face the political backlash that surely needs to come.

H&W: a decisive and progressive step

Northern Ireland’s economy needs development and investment:
Party member Chris Bailie joined the picket line

The future of the Harland & Wolff shipyard is not just about the 130 jobs currently at risk. It is about how the the economy of Northern Ireland is organised and the absolute necessity for a centrally planned, publicly owned, strategic  approach to local manufacturing and economic development.

The fact that the work force at the Yard has been left with no option but to take matters into their own hands and occupy the premises, is a brutal indictment of the main political parties and their failure to form a functioning  Executive.

For over two and a half years we have been without a government. Workers at Harland and Wolff have taken more positive action in one afternoon than Sinn Fein and the DUP have done in over 30 months.

Northern Ireland industry needs development and investment. Our local skills base needs protection and expansion. Only a hands on, government led, industrial strategy can ensure that – secure  jobs and develop an indigenous manufacturing base.

Harland & Wolff, and Bombardier Aerospace, needs to be taken back into public ownership. They should be nationalised – to preserve jobs and  skills and to secure their future.

The workforce at Harland’s has taken a decisive and progressive step. They deserve our full support and immediate state intervention 

Nationalise H&W and Bombardier

Active intervention in the economy needed

The current threat posed to the future of Harland and Wolff and the precarious position of Bombardier Aerospace demonstrate clearly the urgent need for a strategic economic plan for Northern Ireland.


The failure of the main parties to form an Executive exacerbates the problems and makes a local rescue plan extremly unlikely.


Northern Ireland industry needs development and investment. Our local skills base needs protection and expansion. Only a hands on government led industrial strategy can ensure that, secure  jobs and develop an indigenous manufacturing base.


Both Harland and Wolff and Bombardier Aerospace should now be taken into public ownership. They should be nationalised – to preserve jobs and secure their future


Today’s news, and the ongoing refusal to form an Executive, further underlines Sinn Fein and the DUP’s arrogant and contemptuous disregard for working class people families and children.


 A fully functioning Executive committed to active economic intervention and the development of a state sponsored economic plan is the only way in which the local manufacturing sector can be saved, secured and developed. 

Welcome progress – but much still to do

Time to step up the pressure on Sinn Fein and the DUP

The prospect of significant changes to the laws on same sex marriage and abortion legislation in Northern Ireland are to be welcomed. 

Votes in the House of  Commons this afternoon amended the bill on extending the  deferral of  new Assembly elections until at least the  autumn, to include caveats which mean that unless an  Executive is formed by October 21 this year that  legislation on same sex marriage and changes to the  abortion laws in Northern Ireland would be  enacted.
 

This is progress but not as  we envisaged it.

It would be much better, politically and  socially, if these advances had been introduced and adopted  by a functioning Assembly. Two and a half years after Sinn  Fein collapsed the Executive that looked, and remains, a very remote possibility.


The difficulty with this  legislation being enacted through Westminster, welcome as  the outcomes are, means that ‘creeping direct rule‘  gains a stronger hold and the incentive for Sinn Fein, in  particular,  to thwart a return to devolution  here is strengthened.

Perhaps now is the time for  all social, cultural, civic and political groups in Northern Ireland to step up the pressure on the DUP and Sinn  Fein to restore an Executive  to debate the  economy, integrated secular education, health, housing, workers  rights, welfare reform, the growing  demand on food banks, in a local Assembly without the need for Westminster to intervene.

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