Organising in response to COVID-19

As criticism of the UK government’s response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic mounts, rs21 members highlight the flourishing grassroots responses that aim to provide support and to demand more effective action from government and employers.

Illustration by Colin Revolting

Why do even many hospital staff still have no Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)? Why are people being told to self-isolate but not being given the sick pay and benefits to make this possible? How are selective closures of affected facilities expected to work when the government has stopped testing people? Why is the UK pursuing such a radically different approach to the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation: ‘Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all.‘? Why is the government keeping its modelling secret? Why are workers not protected from employers protecting profits by cutting jobs or hours?

No wonder people’s fear is mixed with rage. No wonder people are organising themselves – for mutual support, to demand action and to take action themselves.

Today #Covid19Walkout has been trending on twitter as school kids and some workers have taken matters into their own hands. Leaving schools open on the grounds that children are only mildly affected by the disease ignores the fact that many people in vulnerable groups work in schools. Instead of putting people at risk and treating schools as childcare rather than education, proper (paid) childcare for essential workers should be put in place immediately. If closure is good enough for Eton it’s good enough for us.

Universities are taking wildly different approaches and many are still demanding that non-academic staff attend as usual and that smaller lectures (often given by precarious workers) go ahead face to face. The UCU Left has highlighted the dangers of allowing employers to use the crisis to implement working practices that they always wanted – particularly when their dispute is unresolved. Universities’ need for staff cooperation to cope with the outbreak could provide the leverage needed to resolve the dispute.

Hundreds of mutual aid groups have sprung up across the country. These are providing vital support to people in self-isolation, but could also be the building blocks for a powerful movement to challenge the government. The model motion we published earlier in the week highlighted many of the demands people are making. Many left politicians, trade unionists, independence campaigners, health workers and others in Wales have come together to issue this statement challenging the UK government’s approach. Protect The People are trying to make the government do everything possible to slow down the virus and save lives. The Coronavirus Tech Handbook crowdsources technical information including how to run meetings and events online and work from home.

There’s now a Coronavirus support group for workers and a guide to Coronavirus and claiming Universal Credit. This afternoon the TUC ran a webinar on coronavirus at work. This was recorded and will be posted on the TUC Education YouTube channel. The TUC has already published guidance for unions on COVID-19 and plans to publish questions and answers from the webinar and to run another webinar in a week or two. The TUC is running a #SickPayForAll campaign. Community union ACORN have a petition demanding protection for private renters in light of the pandemic.

Many of us will face increased workloads in our jobs and caring responsibilities, disruption to established patterns of work and life, and greater social isolation alongside fear, grief and anger as we see family members, friends and comrades falling ill and dying. Mental health charity MIND has produced a guide to coronavirus and wellbeing. Avoiding spending too much time on social media and being active in tackling the crisis can help. We will all need to look after ourselves and each other.



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