Discussing Biden Win With American Socialists

Coventry Branch Online Meeting: 10th November 7.30pm

Biden appears to have won the US presidential election.
🔍How do we analyse this win, that saw twelve million more people vote and came down to the wire in the Electoral College system?
✊What will workers and youth in the United States have to do to fight for things like free healthcare, free university tuition, a decent minimum wage, to fight climate change?
🚩How do we get actual socialist change in a country in the grip of two parties that represent an incredibly powerful capitalist class?

Join us on Tuesday to discuss how socialists can build that fight!

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Click here to email us or copy CoventrySocialistParty@Gmail.Com

Click here to visit the Socialist Party’s national website

Live in the US? Visit the Independent Socialist Group!

#EndSARSCov Solidarity Protest In Coventry

Report by Adam Harmsworth, Coventry Socialist Party –

On Sunday I joined hundreds of mostly black youth gathering outside the Transport Museum to protest against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS] in Nigeria and its terrible record of brutality.

Nigeria has been rocked by weeks of mass protests against SARS, a unit of the police which is accused of decades of gang-style extortion, robbery, torture, and murder. After mounting pressure sparked by video recordings of murder by SARS officers being sent across social media, the Buhari government decided to disband SARS. However, the former SARS officers remained in the police. Some were moved into a newly-formed group of Special Weapons And Tactics [SWAT], which is considered to be just SARS reinvented. There is no justice for the victims, no serious change in the police, and vicious state repression continues. Amnesty International estimated that just last weekend 10 people were murdered in anti-SARS protests!

Nigerians and their friends and relatives in the UK have begun calling solidarity protests. The event in Coventry was organised by the Nigerian Societies at Coventry and Warwick Universities. It began with a short march around Trinity Street and brief rally in Broadgate before heading back to the museum where the main protest took place. We marched with chants like “End SARS!” and slogans in regional languages like the Yoruba phrase “Soro Soke Werey”; I was told the polite translation is a rallying cry to “Speak up, idiot!”.

A protester playing the saxophone as others solemnly sing the Nigerian national anthem

National identity and unity was at the absolute core of this protest. It began with a prayer and the Nigerian national anthem, which was sung several times in the two hour event. The first speaker emphasised how Nigerians were united in struggle even though “we are from different camps, we are from different religions”.

“The dream of our past generations is going to be a reality!”

Speakers from the Nigerian community in Coventry are very confident in the potential for serious change in Nigeria. Phrases like “system change” and a “new Nigeria” were repeated. One speaker called for Nigeria to “overhaul the constitution to allow all to thrive”, another said “the dream of our past generations is going to be a reality” referring to the 60th anniversary of Nigerian independence where the release from colonialism brought hopes of a better life.

The protest marched through the city centre, with a brief rally in Broadgate

The next round of speakers were far more solemn. Personal accounts from victims of police brutality and their friends and relatives left the protest in silence. One described being beaten, thrown into a river and being left to die. That level of violence is endemic throughout the Nigerian police, as a report from the Democratic Socialist Movement – the section of the Committee for a Workers International in Nigeria – showed clearly. Just a few days ago they joined a peaceful #EndSARS protest in Alausa district in Lagos, which was met by state-sponsored thugs armed with machetes who injured six protesters. The Coventry protest had a reading of the names of victims followed by a call of “End SARS!” for each.

Every leaflet was taken!

The organisers were pleased to have support from Socialist Party members, especially as a group with a political connection to the country through our international. I brought copies of the Youth Rights Campaign leaflet which calls for a 48 hour general strike with mass protests. As I spoke with fellow protesters I explained how we see the link between police brutality and capitalism. We recognise the police as a tool of the state to attack the working class, so that the capitalist class can continue to suppress wages and work conditions and harm the environment and communities to increase profit.

“Even the poor deserves free life” placard at a protest in Lagos

A key example is the cruel polluting of the Niger Delta, where Shell has spilled millions of litres of oil into the water. This has poisoned many local people and ruined livelihoods made from fishing and farming, yet they have not had justice and Shell continues to make gigantic profits in the country. Additionally, these massive profits from multinationals contrast with 102 million Nigerians in extreme poverty.

This is possible because the police including SARS have attacked protests and tried to strike fear into the community and prevent the mass uprisings necessary to make fundamental change.

To end the scourge of police brutality, the police must be run by the working class majority itself. Community and workers’ organisations must have control of police budgets, weapons, priorities, the power to remove officers and even abolish the police if they wish. To achieve that, the working class itself must take democratic control of the state and of the commanding heights of the economy currently held by a capitalist class that sponsors state brutality.

The YRC leaflet calls on working class organisations like the trade unions to join and spread the protests. It concludes this struggle can lead to “an equitable, safe and democratic socialist society where everyone, old or young, can live and go about their daily legitimate activities without fear of molestation, illegal arrest and detention, extortion and extrajudicial killing.”

The Democratic Socialist Movement is the Nigerian section of the Committee for a Workers International.

Solidarity with NUJ Strike at Bullivant Media

This report comes from Socialist Party members in Birmingham, who went to the picket to support the striking workers. You can read more here: Birmingham Socialist Party Facebook

It’s “nepotism not journalism” said one picket. The Bullivant Media NUJ chapel were out on their first ever strike on 25-26 August, opposing compulsory redundancies, demanding to be paid in full and wanting to protect high-quality journalism.

Warwickshire and Worcestershire newspaper publisher Bullivant Media Limited is owned and ran by the Bullivant family. One family member has started publishing their own ‘cut-and-paste’ type stories while bypassing editorial staff and undercutting news quality.

At the same time, the actual journalists – some on minimum wage – were not paid in full for three months.  Some received next to nothing and had to go to food banks as a result. There was no warning before these pay cuts – the workers just found out when they opened their bank statements!

Also undercutting news quality will be the proposed job cuts, including a compulsory redundancy that targets an NUJ member in blatant trade unionist victimisation. These cuts will result in higher workloads for the remaining staff, who are already overworked as management demand more journalistic output. Distribution staff have already been made redundant.

 

On 21 August, when Acas talks between the union and employer ended, Bullivant confirmed three jobs would go, including one compulsory redundancy. While better than the five posts originally under threat, the chapel remains steadfastly opposed to any compulsory lay-off.

The 18 journalists produce nine weekly freesheets, including the Coventry Observer and Redditch Standard. The chapel voted unanimously for and is 100% solid behind the four-day strike, set to continue on 1-2 September, with pickets at the company’s Redditch office.

 

The NUJ chapel has received solidarity and financial support from trade unionists across the UK and Ireland. Donations, labelled ‘Bullivant strike’, can be made to the NUJ strike hardship fund: sort code 60-83-01, account number 20049274, account name NUJ Manchester. Emails raising concerns and asking for the dispute to be resolved can be sent to Bullivant’s managing director – chris.bullivant@bullivantmedia.com

NUJ l

STOP the ‘Going to Work Tax’ on NHS workers!

This is the latest leaflet from the Socialist Party fighting hospital parking charges:

As Government plans to bring back Hospital Parking Charges for NHS staff:

STOP the ‘Going to Work Tax’ on NHS workers!

The “Going to Work Tax” on NHS workers is a disgrace.

Socialist Party and other NHS campaigners vow to redouble our efforts to oppose Hospital parking charges.

We’ll be stepping up our campaign to stop the government re-imposing a ‘going to work’ tax on our NHS workers” said former Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist.

The Government recently announced that measures to stop NHS workers having to pay to park at work will be ended.

Socialists have been campaigning against Hospital Parking charges for years, but we’re sure that most people in our city will be outraged at the Government backtracking on this.

Our workers were ‘heroes’ for a few months now they face a bill of hundreds of pounds a year, being charged to turn up to work to be those heroes.

People should not be being charged to go to work and nor should people be charged for being ill and having to attend hospital and certainly not to boost the profits of a private company.

It’s reasonable for hospitals to cover costs of providing parking, but this is a private company, not the NHS, that is making millions of pounds profits every year from hospital parking charges. And those profits are soaring, from £2m a year at the start to nearly £7m last year.

We see this profit extraction from our NHS happening more and more as more NHS services are being handed out to private companies.

We welcome the Early Day Motion put by local MP Zarah Sultana, calling for free parking for staff –though we’d have liked it to be signed by a lot more than just 24 Labour MP’s.

We need public support more than ever to pressure this shameless government and the private companies behind them. We’ll be out even more collecting signatures but maybe you could help get a petition sheet circulated. If so, message Dave via 07530 429441.

 

Disgrace of over 4 million children in poverty!

Low pay, no way! photo Paul Mattsson

Article by Jane Nellist, Socialist Party Member and Coventry NEU [Personal Capacity]

Austerity policies from successive governments have pushed an increasing number of  families into poverty.  Over 4 million children live in poverty in the UK and that number is rapidly rising.  That is over 30% of all children in a country that is one of the wealthiest in the world!

The Tory cuts to welfare benefits and the underfunded Universal Credit scheme has left families in crisis- whilst the rich continue to be insulated from austerity.

Children from black and minority ethnic groups are more likely to be in poverty:   45% are now in poverty, which makes the Black Lives Matter campaigns even more important.

Disgracefully, two thirds of children living in poverty have at least one parent in work, many working long hours with very low pay.  Rising living costs, low wages and cuts to benefits are creating a perfect storm in which more children are falling into the poverty trap.

But it’s not just the lack of money that impacts on  poorer families. Services that families would turn to for support, are no longer there.  The huge cuts to Local Authorities funding, down 49%, with an unwillingness of councils to mount campaigns and use their reserves, hits the poorest families hard.  Children’s centres,  youth clubs, libraries and other support services are either cut to the bone or have disappeared. The safety net the working class had fought for has huge holes or has been taken away all together.

Barnsley Unison lobby of council cabinet 29.5.19, photo A Tice

Free school meals and  breakfast clubs, whilst not enough, have helped to ensure that children get a balanced meal during the day at school but ‘holiday’ hunger takes it toll on families.  The absolute catastrophe of the government’s voucher system during Covid-19 saw more and more families turn to food banks to feed their families.

The decision by the Tories to discontinue the  free school meals vouchers during the summer holidays has enraged families was spectacularly overturned following the letter from  Marcus Rashford, Manchester United and England footballer.  He wrote passionately, highlighting his own experiences. He wrote, “The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked.” This system does not work for millions of people which is why we fight so hard to change it!

Housing and childcare are two of the costs that take the biggest toll on families’ budgets.  But it’s not just finding a roof over your head, it’s the quality of housing that has the biggest impact. Energy costs for poorer families are high due the reliance on pre-paid cards. Families should not have to make choices between heating or eating!

Too many disadvantaged families are living in cramped conditions, especially in cities with no outdoor space, sometimes in just one room. It’s a nightmare at any time, but during the ‘lockdown’ it’s even worse. The lack of good quality council housing is a scandal – with private landlords making a fortune!

With schools still closed to most pupils, and a reliance on home schooling, much of it ‘on-line’, a national free Broadband scheme and free laptops would ensure young people could access the tools to help their learning. Yet again, the government’s promises have failed, and educational inequalities will increase enormously.

Thousands more families are living on the edge of poverty. One unexpected setback,  like redundancy or an illness or even cuts to hours- could push them into the poverty trap. The furlough scheme has helped in the short term to alleviate some of the risk, but as the government seek to pull back from this, we will see a huge rise in the number of families facing catastrophe.

The storms that were already  gathering because of a worldwide economic crisis, and made worse by the pandemic, will mean even more misery for millions, unless a mass movement of the working class rise up.  Capitalism is designed to serve the bosses and keep the rich enveloped in their wealth.  Our job as socialists, is to turn the world upside down and fight for the 99% and ensure that every family and every child has all their needs met through a democratic planned socialist system.

Help fight for a socialist society to end poverty for good – be one of the hundreds of people who has registered to join us this month!

 

 

“We’ve got to organise and overthrow capitalism” – Socialist Party member speaks at Black Lives Matter protest

Below is the speech from Deji Olay [Birmingham Socialist Party] at the massive Black Lives Matter protest in Coventry on Sunday 7th June.

Click to hear Deji’s speech yourself on our Facebook page!

My name’s Deji, I’m a member of the Socialist Party, and I’m here for the same reason as all of you. Because we’ve seen too much injustice, we’ve seen too much police brutality, and we’ve seen too much harm being done to our communities, and to our world around us.

And its not a bug; its a feature. This is systematic. The country’s democracy is a sham, and these laws are there to protect the elite. They’re there to protect capitalism, order, to protect the guys that control everything. But they don’t protect our communities, they don’t protect us. Its a racist elite that choose these laws. Its a racist elite that choose police violence because it protects their stores, and it protects their wealth. But we don’t own the stores; we just work in them. We don’t choose these laws. We don’t own these offices, we just work in them, and these laws aren’t for us.

We need to change the system. We need to protect our communities, we need to protect our libraries, and we need to protect ourselves. We need socialism to fund our libraries, and we need socialism to fund our gyms, and we need socialism to fund our community services.

Rest in peace, everyone that died because of police brutality. Rest in peace, everyone that died in Grenfell tower.

deji

This country has weaponised racism for profit. This country, the leaders, have got their wealth on the back of slaves. They got their wealth from Africa. They got their profits from exploiting Nigeria, South Africa… and they’re still profiting from Africa.

In America, in the UK, in the Caribbean, in Africa, we are all one people.

We’re all living under the same system. And nothing will change until we change this system, until we get rid of this racism, until we get rid of capitalism.

We’ve got to organise. Like the Haitians when they overthrew slavery, we’ve got to organise and overthrow capitalism in this country and in the world.

We need to educate ourselves after this demo. Because these people, they promised us education, but all they’ve given us is tests and scores and bull**** educations.

We need to learn about the Black Panthers Party, and we need to read about Huey P. Newton, and we need to read about Freddy Hampton, and we need to learn about the Black Panthers’ revolutionary programme. And we need to read Karl Marx because they did.

We’ll learn that racism won’t go without changing the entire system. Because its not just a few bad apples, its structural problems. Its these problems. Fred Hampton was the leader of the Black Panthers, and he built a rainbow coalition, uniting white people, Asian people, black people against racism, sexism, and capitalism. That’s why I’m so happy to see so many to see so many different people out here tonight…

I’ll finish with his words: we’re going to fight racism, not with racism, but we’re going to fight it with solidarity. We’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, we’re going to fight it with socialism!

Join the struggle against racism and capitalism! Join the Socialist Party today!

Black and Asian Covid-19 deaths: an indictment of capitalist inequality

This analysis from Jim Hensman [Coventry Socialist Party] of the Socialist Party BAME group was published in issue #1088 of The Socialist newspaper.

The figures for Covid-19 coronavirus deaths broken down by ethnicity caused widespread shock and anger when they were released on 7 May by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

After adjusting for age, black men were 4.2 times more likely to die than white men. The equivalent figure for Bangladeshi and Pakistani men was 3.6, and for Indian men 2.4, with similar proportions for women.

Figures for other black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups paralleled this to different extents.

The first ten doctors to die from the coronavirus were all BAME. The government was forced to promise that Public Health England would provide a report by the end of May.

There has been pressure for an independent inquiry, and the Labour Party has also launched its own investigation.

We may find out more through these investigations. But it is vital for socialists to understand what key factors lie underneath the grim statistics now, to determine how to fight back and rectify them.

The government’s general approach is to divert attention from its failures by peddling the line that it has done the best that was possible – in the circumstances.

The Tories attempt to shift any remaining blame and responsibility onto the individual.

With regard to disproportionate BAME death rates, the government points to supposed genetic factors particularly. This idea was taken up by a University College London epidemiologist, Professor Nishi Chaturvedi. “There’s no evidence that genes explain the excess risk of Covid susceptibility. It’s important to put a nail in that one because it feels as if we can abdicate any responsibility for sorting this out, and this really isn’t the case.”

In the US, attempts to put responsibility on the individual have reached farcical proportions. Jerome Adams, the (black) surgeon general appointed by Donald Trump, stated that to avoid the virus, “African Americans and Latinos should avoid alcohol, drugs and tobacco”!

 

Inequalities key

But as the pandemic has developed, the key factors that have emerged as responsible for inequalities in death rates are inequalities in society as a whole.

Consider poverty. The government uses a measure called the Index of Multiple Deprivation to help allocate local spending. ONS figures showed that in England and Wales, the most-deprived areas on this index had twice the coronavirus death rate of the least deprived.

Deaths, in general, are not recorded by ethnicity. But the connection can be inferred. Government figures from 2019 found black people were 56% more likely than the national average to be in the ‘persistent low income’ category. Asian people were twice as likely.

Occupation statistics are another indicator. A higher proportion of BAME workers are in ‘low-skilled’ jobs than the average. ONS figures showed men in ‘low-skilled’ jobs were four times more likely to die from the coronavirus than men in professional jobs.

Similarly, they found that women working in ‘low-skilled’ care jobs were twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as those in professional and technical jobs. In London, 67% of the adult social care workforce is BAME.

Overcrowded housing is yet another key risk factor. According to a 2018 government survey, 2% of white British households experienced overcrowding according to their definition. This compared to 15% of black African, 16% of Pakistani, and 30% of Bangladeshi households.

General health is an important consideration too. Existing health problems are significant contributors towards coronavirus fatalities. But the capitalist establishment states this as if it is a given, caused either by bad luck or an individual’s bad ‘lifestyle choices’ – frequently brought up in relation to ethnic minorities.

However, general health too is linked to the inequality of class-based society. In February 2020, a team led by the distinguished academic Michael Marmot published its latest Health Equity in England report. Using life expectancy as a general index of health, Marmot found there had been no improvement in the last decade – something unprecedented in over a hundred years.

The report highlighted the role of austerity in this. Among women in the most-deprived areas, life expectancy had actually fallen! The time people spent suffering poor health had increased since 2010 – directly increasing vulnerability to the coronavirus.

How this particularly affected BAME individuals was highlighted in a report from the British Heart Foundation. “Before the outbreak of Covid-19, BAME populations were already more likely to suffer ill health, including heart and circulatory diseases and their risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and from a younger age. Much of this is linked to social and economic inequalities rather than genetics.”

 

Other factors?

But do social inequalities explain all the discrepancy in BAME death rates? The ONS carried out an analysis which tried to measure how social conditions impacted on BAME deaths – so it could adjust the figures to take this into account. It is worth looking at this in detail.

ONS statisticians constructed a model for predicting coronavirus deaths in general. It used factors like location and the deprivation index associated with it, housing and other information, and indications of individual health and disabilities.

What they were effectively asking was: if you were white, but lived in the same area, had the same type of housing, and so on – would you still have died?

They found this reduced the discrepancy in the numbers. For black men and women it was now 1.9 times the white figure, and for Bangladeshi and Pakistani men 1.8 times – so the figure had roughly halved. This is a direct indication that class inequality drives up coronavirus deaths.

But what about the remaining half of the discrepancy that was still unexplained? To get an idea of what might account for this, we need to examine what the statisticians were doing a little more closely.

The government often tries to hide behind the claim that it is “driven by the science”. This is untrue; it is driven by the defence of the profit system, and its own political survival. But even if it was true, science always has to be seen in its context, so in a case like this it is important to dig deeper.

Let’s start with a simple example. Overcrowding is one of the factors the ONS tried to take into account. At any time, this can clearly have a detrimental effect on health. However, with the coronavirus, it takes on another dimension.

Everyone would have been deeply touched by the tragic stories of families in accommodation who share toilet and bathroom facilities with other families. This makes it almost impossible to self-isolate, despite desperate attempts to do so, often with the result that the infection spreads between families.

This situation will particularly be experienced by the poor. So it will be reflected to a higher extent in BAME people, including groups such as asylum seekers and refugees living in hostels and similar accommodation.

The problem is that general indications of overcrowding, which the ONS and others have to rely on, would not reflect the more specific situations that may affect ethnic minorities in cases like these.

Overcrowding can negatively impact on other factors known to influence coronavirus mortality. This includes intergenerational family groups living together – a situation with a higher prevalence among certain ethnic minorities.

And the ONS itself released numbers on 14 May showing that black people in England were nearly four times as likely as white people to have no outdoor space at home. Especially when the weather is warm and sunny, as it has been, people will need to make more use of outdoor spaces.

The ONS actually produced statistics showing average distances people would have to go to do this. But crowded parks can become hotspots for coronavirus transmission. Councils around the country have even closed parks, sometimes counterproductively.

Information like this about the different factors that can individually affect health, but also interact with each other, is clearly relevant. But it is not necessarily measured, and in some cases can be more difficult to quantify or record. Therefore, it may not be taken into account.

There is a technical point relating to this which illustrates how science is not a single objective representation of reality, but rather is influenced by many considerations. The methodology used by the ONS in this study on BAME deaths is called ‘logistic regression’. This method is not intrinsically suited to representing interactions between causative factors in general – which, as we have seen, could be relevant.

 

Health workers

Deaths among health workers have rightly received a lot of publicity. They can perhaps provide us with the best indication of what is going on, because of the greater detail available.

The figures for BAME deaths are stark. Taking the NHS as a whole, about 21% of staff are BAME. But figures released at the end of April showed that, up to then, they had accounted for 64% of NHS staff deaths from the coronavirus. So the huge discrepancy in society generally is also reflected here.

But how could this be? These were people working for the NHS, not a cross-section of all society. Doctors, for example, could hardly be said to sit at the bottom of the socioeconomic tree.

In mid-May, ITV News released a survey of more than 2,000 NHS staff, and broadcast interviews with a number of them. A key thing this showed was that there were many more BAME staff in frontline roles – with higher exposure to the virus. The reasons appear to be a combination of two factors.

The first factor is that, within each given health role such as doctor or nurse, all staff at lower grades have higher death rates. This is one expression, on a smaller scale, of some of the economic inequalities in class society generally. And within each given role, BAME staff are more likely to be in the lower levels.

According to one health charity, The King’s Fund: “On average, black doctors in the NHS earn £10,000 less and black nurses earn £2,700 less annually than white colleagues. Minority ethnic-group staff are systematically over-represented at lower levels of the NHS grade hierarchy, and under-represented in senior pay bands.”

This helps explain the situation in what would seem to be a relatively privileged group, the doctors. One BAME consultant cardiologist explained it like this in the ITV survey: “Many of the white doctors are in management positions, leaving more BAME at the coalface.”

This differentiation occurs at every level. NHS information shows it is mirrored with junior and senior doctors, and junior and senior manager grades.

The second factor is clearly direct racism and discrimination. Half of the respondents in the ITV survey felt that this played a part in the high death rate, and 20% said they had experienced it personally.

One BAME doctor reported that “suggestions from the BAME group are not taken by hospital management. The concerns or comments are ignored. Not a single BAME member was included in the Covid response team.”

A number of workers, including a Filipino nurse who appeared on the programme, stated they were scared to speak out about concerns like the shortage of PPE, because they feared losing their jobs.

In some cases, visa regulations and other measures made staff even more vulnerable to this.

Both socioeconomic factors and racism are thus responsible for the higher number of BAME deaths. But these causes are not independent. They interact with each other: discrimination is obviously the key factor in BAME workers tending to be among the staff in harder-hit lower grades.

 

Class and race

What can we conclude overall about BAME death rates? It is possible that much more of the discrepancy between white and BAME deaths is based on class inequalities than officially estimated. But racism is nevertheless also a very important factor.

Although it’s not ruled out that other factors may play some subsidiary role, class inequality and racism are undoubtedly the main problems. The key question is: how can they be addressed?

The struggle against racism and institutionalised racism must be a priority. BAME workers will need to play a central part in this. But racism cannot be separated from issues of class inequality.

The struggles against each must be combined. Inadequate PPE, for example, may impact on BAME workers to a higher extent – but it still affects all frontline workers, and must be fought against as part of a general struggle by all workers.

There are many ways to fight, but crucial will be trade union and political action. If existing workers’ institutions in these fields do not prove adequate for the task, they must be transformed or replaced.

The workers’ movement must also be careful not to be diverted into playing off one section against another. BAME workers are particularly affected in many areas, but not alone, and not necessarily in all areas.

For instance, 95% of care home residents are white. But obviously, a campaign against the care home deaths scandal is not just a ‘white issue’.

The traditional motto of the workers’ movement – an injury to one is an injury to all – must be central to all struggles.

There are lessons from a previous disaster. On 14 June 2017, a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower in west London. Over 75% of those who died had a BAME background. This was definitely a BAME issue.

So how could the campaign make sure this atrocity is not repeated? Undoubtedly, BAME workers are disproportionately residents of similar, unsafe working-class accommodation. But the only guarantee would be eliminating unsafe housing in the population as a whole.

In one sense, we can consider the Covid-19 death toll, at its peak in Britain, equivalent to 15 Grenfell Towers a day.

There are more lessons from Grenfell. One is on public inquiries. These can be used by campaigns to apply pressure and get information, so they shouldn’t be disregarded.

But the abject failure of the Grenfell inquiry, nearly three years after the fire, is a warning not to place too much reliance on anything similar with regard to coronavirus deaths.

Neither, if something is a BAME issue, can we rely on BAME politicians for support simply by dint of their being BAME. We only need to consider Priti Patel and Rishi Sunak.

The failure of a strategy which looks to individual racial representation rather than class politics is underlined by the tragic situation in the US today. Many of the worst-affected cities with large black populations have had black mayors – as well, of course, as the country having had a black president.

The excessive rate of coronavirus BAME deaths is important and highlights several aspects of what is wrong with society under capitalism.

What is required is taking up the fight against this scandal as part of the wider class struggle, and linking it to the fight for a socialist society that will eliminate the inequalities and irrationalities of the current economic and social system.

Coventry Says Justice for George Floyd! Report from Tuesday 2nd June Demo

Read the reports from across the country here: Early June anti-racist demonstrations across Britain

Cov BLM 2nd
On Tuesday 2 June members of Coventry Socialist Party proudly joined several hundred people at Coventry’s ‘Justice for George Floyd’ protest.

Black youth led the protest on a spontaneous peaceful march across the city centre, rallying outside the police station twice. Protesters were furious at George Floyd’s murder, the brutal response of US police, and the ongoing racism and police violence black people face in the US and here.

Chants of “no justice, no peace!” and “I can’t breathe; black lives matter!” rang through the city as the huge demonstration blocked roads.
Speakers called for justice for other victims of police violence including Darren Cumberbatch, a black man from Coventry who died in 2017 after police punched him 10-15 times and used a taser on him.

Some also spoke about the fight for black lives across Africa, where they pointed to the mass exploitation of black people across the continent at the hands of imperialism.

Socialist Party members brought leaflets, posters, and petitions calling for a mass movement to smash racism. We pointed to capitalism as the cause of racism and the need for socialist change and a united fight of all workers to end it.

And our message was popular – we sold out of copies of the Socialist and ran out of our 300 leaflets before the protest ended!

How the NHS Was Made Unprepared for Covid

5The following article has been published in the May edition of Socialism Today, our monthly magazine carrying up-to-date socialist analysis of events in Britain and internationally.

This article will be of interest to our readers as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to stretch services at Walsgrave Hospital, our local PFI hospital predicted to pay out £3.7 billion to profiteering private investors despite initial investments being worth just a tenth at £379 million.

You can subscribe to Socialism Today here: Subscribe

Despite the heroic efforts of health workers the NHS has been ill-prepared to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. But the roots of this lie in years of neo-liberal policies, including the marketisation drive of the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, argues Jon Dale.

Ten years of ConDem coalition and Tory austerity left the NHS ill-prepared for the sudden huge increase in very ill patients suffering from Covid-19. Over 100,000 unfilled staff posts (one in twelve), 17,000 fewer beds to their lowest level ever, equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpiles run down – these resulted from annual 1% funding increases when 4% was needed just to stand still.

Financial cuts were aggravated by years of upheaval following Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act (2012). This caused such disruption to services that even his successor, Jeremy Hunt, was forced to row back on some of its measures. Lansley wanted NHS services provided by ‘any willing provider’ – private companies who would tender to win contracts. In a dire financial situation the lowest tenders were always likely to be picked, whatever the price in terms of quality. The drive towards privatisation has weakened NHS capacity to respond to Covid-19’s challenge.

But Lansley followed tracks left by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s 1997-2010 New Labour governments. Although elected pledging to end Thatcher’s NHS ‘internal market’, within four years Labour re-introduced and accelerated it. Frank Dobson, Blair’s first health secretary and an old-style Labour right winger, was shunted aside in 1999 to make way for Alan Milburn, who was fully committed to the project.

“We must develop an acceptance of more market-oriented incentives with a modern, reinvigorated ethos of public service”, said Blair in 2003. “We should be far more radical about the role of the state as regulator rather than provider, opening up health care, for example, to a mixed economy under the NHS umbrella”. ‘Market-oriented incentives’ meant big business profits.

Blair and Milburn saw the role of the NHS (and other public services) as planning and monitoring (the ‘regulator’), paying private companies to be ‘providers’. Milburn negotiated a ‘Concordat’ with the private sector, inviting them to take over clinical services paid for by the taxpayer. (After leaving government he became a well-paid adviser to Bridgepoint, a venture capital company closely involved with NHS privatisation. Another Labour Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, took a similar path after government, working for Syngenta.)

Tony Blair’s health policy adviser at the time was Simon Stevens, who subsequently became Vice-President of United Health, the giant USA health corporation. He is now the NHS Chief Executive, appointed by David Cameron. Stevens’ Five Year Forward View, due to be completed in 2021, breaks up England’s national service into 44 ‘Integrated Care Systems’, modelled along the lines of US Health Management Organisations and ripe for takeover by such companies. Had this plan been completed, the NHS response to Covid-19 would have been completely disjointed.

Neo-liberalism in public health policy

Capitalism tries to turn everything into commodities to be bought and sold. Profit-seeking corporations were happy to accept Blair’s invitations to carry out x number of hip replacements or y number of MRI scans. Less well-defined areas of health care, such as contingency planning for a possible pandemic in the next 20 years, were never likely to attract the marketeers.

Turning the NHS into a market led to a huge increase in health workers’ time measuring activities that could be priced and paid for. Contracts needed negotiating, results counted, procedures invoiced and paid for, disputes legally challenged and so on. Frank Dobson complained that “paperwork used to cost 4% of the NHS budget, but now costs 15-16%”. (The Guardian, 24 March 2006) The proportion of NHS staff in management increased from 2.7% in 1999 to 3.6% in 2009.

In 2002 the authoritative British Medical Journal published a biased flawed article written by a World Bank associate and former employees of Kaiser Permanente, the massive Californian health insurance company. It claimed Kaiser was cheaper and more efficient than the NHS, but compared costs for medically insured (mostly healthy) people to NHS costs, which included caring for older people and those with long-term conditions. Nevertheless, the article was used by Milburn’s Department of Health to justify accelerating privatisation. United Health and other companies were awarded the first contracts to provide the NHS with clinical services.

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Then Coventry Councillor Dave Nellist on NHS demonstration 1st November 2006, photo Paul Mattsson

Foundation Trust status was created in 2003. Hospitals and Primary Care Trusts could become semi-independent, no longer under direct Department of Health control. They were able to borrow money on the private market, enter into commercial agreements with private providers, and generally run as commercial companies.

 

Although ‘non-profit making’, Foundation Trusts could form profit-making joint ventures with private corporations and also sell off NHS assets, especially land. Competing for patients (who brought in ‘payments’) with other Trusts undermined the collaboration needed to plan services to meet community needs and absolutely vital during a pandemic. The scandalous treatment of elderly people with Covid-19 in privatised care homes, cared for by insufficient staff paid even less than the pitifully low NHS rates, is also partly a result of this competition.

The proportion of GDP spent on the NHS under Labour went up from 5.4% cent in 1996-97 to 8.5% in 2009-10. However, much of this increase ended up in private bank accounts through contracted out services and Private Finance Initiative (PFI) construction.

A former head of NatWest bank, Derek Wanless, was commissioned by New Labour to report on future NHS funding in 2002. With his background he was regarded as ‘someone the government could trust’. Pleased with his report, Gordon Brown asked him for another, which came out in 2004.

“Individuals are ultimately responsible for their own and their children’s health”, wrote Wanless. “People need to be supported more actively to make better decisions about their own health and welfare”. He anticipated a dramatic improvement in health and life expectancy through ‘efficient’ use of NHS resources and increased use of technology, saving an estimated £30 billion.

This outlook saw much ill-health as the result of individual failings rather than society’s. A COPD (chronic lung disease) sufferer needed support to stop smoking (which of course some did), but air pollution, damp housing, dusty working conditions, lack of accessible exercise facilities and other factors outside individual control got much less priority.

Boris Johnson’s government echoed this approach with its initial Covid-19 advice, placing responsibility for controlling the epidemic on hand-washing and coughing into our elbows, rather than testing everyone with symptoms, then tracing and isolating their contacts.

Blairism and the SARS experience

The 2002-04 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak was a global alarm bell of future pandemics. Like Covid-19, SARS was a new coronavirus crossing from animals to humans and then spreading between humans. Starting in China, where the regime covered up its emergence for months, it had a big impact in Hong Kong and Vietnam.

However, although SARS had a higher death rate than Covid-19 it was less infectious so did not cause the massive number of cases and deaths we see now. Twenty-eight countries recorded cases with 774 deaths, including 22 in Toronto in Canada. The Chinese economy accounted for 4% of world trade in 2003 compared to 14% in 2019, with many more people from all over the world travelling to and from China.

In 2004 another infectious disease reinforced the lessons from SARS. A new influenza virus spread from wild birds to poultry to humans. Industrial-scale poultry farming produced the ideal environment for its rapid spread. Many countries in East Asia had to slaughter all poultry to stop the disease spreading. Some farm and veterinary workers became ill and a few died but this virus did not spread from human to human. More dangerous was so-called ‘swine flu’ in 2009-10, first identified in Mexico. It spread quickly around the world with between 151,700 and 575,400 deaths estimated to have occurred.

What was New Labour’s response? They were certainly warned of these dangerous threats. Speaking in a House of Lords debate on SARS in May 2003, Baroness Finlay, a doctor and cross-bencher, said: “As of yesterday, there were 187 deaths in Hong Kong, principally among those who had a history of chronic disease… 20% of cases are among healthcare workers and their families and the volunteers working with SARS patients”.

“Research among healthcare workers”, she went on, “has shown that those who have become infected have had a significant failure in using one of the protections, particularly a surgical mask. Paper masks are inadequate… Long hospital stays are required… It is reckoned that 23% of sufferers have required intensive care and ventilation”.

“I ask the minister: could we cope with such a situation here if we had a similar number of sufferers? Could we cope in terms of the supply of masks? In Hong Kong there has been a major voluntary fund-raising effort to buy enough equipment to provide the staff with adequate masks, gowns and gloves. Are we accepting adequate precautions here? Do we have enough supplies of disposables? Could we cope – or do we have to take the model of the giving people who have worked in healthcare in China and Hong Kong to try to contain the epidemic so as to protect us?”

In the same debate Lord Turnberg (then Chair of the Public Health Laboratory Service – PHLS – and a Labour peer until 2019) said: “Some people might think that the £50-£60 million per year provided by the Department of Health for the Public Health Laboratory Service – which, interestingly, contrasts with the £170 million that we heard about for advertising – is so small as to suggest an unthinking disregard for the dangers that come from neglecting our defences against infection… the Chief Medical Officer has clearly stated that the change to the Health Protection Agency is to be achieved without additional funds”.

Other speakers in the debate made similar points. Yet New Labour went ahead to break up the PHLS and privatise NHS Logistics – two factors to have direct bearing on the current Covid-19 crisis.

PHLS dated back to world war two, when the threat of germ warfare loomed. It was formally established in the 1946 National Health Service Act to investigate disease outbreaks, drinking water and food products. In 2005 it was disbanded and its functions transferred to a new ‘arms length organisation’, the Health Protection Agency (which the Tories later turned into Public Health England). Its specialised laboratory work was hived off to hospital laboratories around the country, becoming a poor relation to the pressures of daily clinical tests in an NHS increasingly cash-starved by the Tories.

Hospital pathology (laboratory) services were prime targets for profit-seeking business. In 2009 a joint venture between Guys and St Thomas Hospital Trust and Serco formed Viapath, the largest pathology service provider in the UK. Kings College Hospital joined in 2010. A 2013 audit into three of its 15 laboratories found the NHS had been overcharged £283,561 in a three-month period. Internal emails revealed clinicians protesting that the company had an “inherent inability… to understand that you cannot cut corners and put cost saving above quality”. (The Independent, 27 August 2014)

The PHLS had a potentially profitable activity, supplying laboratories with materials needed to culture bacteria and viruses for testing. This was sold to Oxoid Ltd in 2005, becoming a subsidiary of Thermo Fisher Scientific – a $25 billion US corporation.

Johnson’s government has failed to organise Covid-19 testing on the required scale. Long-term lack of investment in hospital pathology services and privatisation, started by Blair, are part of this situation.

Privatisation, PFI and Profiteering undermined pandemic planning

and ‘pen pushing’ rose from 4% of the NHS budget to nearly 16%

In bed with Big Pharma

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Protest on workers’ memorial day, 28.4.20, in London, photo London SP

Blair’s government did prepare for a future pandemic in one way, stockpiling enough anti-flu drugs to treat 25% of the population. Tamiflu was made by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, Relenza by British company GlaxoSmithKline. The cost was £650 million but the money turned out to be wasted.

 

Between 2009 and 2013 independent researchers repeatedly asked for reports of the drug trials the companies had carried out or commissioned. Through persistent work the researchers eventually discovered that only some evidence available to Roche and Glaxo had ever been published. Drug trials had been deliberately designed to give the answers company executives demanded. Trials showing significant side effects or few, if any, benefits were suppressed. In fact, both drugs only shortened flu symptoms by about half a day with no reduction in serious complications requiring hospital admission.

Once the threat from SARS passed, pharmaceutical industry research into new anti-viral treatments dwindled. A financial analyst commented “many companies would hesitate to invest in this field. If the profit margins are horrible, why would any company take that chance otherwise?” (Washington Post, 27 November 2004)

Covid-19 shows vaccine research and manufacturing capacity must be enormously increased – dozens if not hundreds of new factories around the world are required. Traditional vaccine manufacturing facilities take three to five years to build and cost $500-600 million. Then there are filling and packing facilities needed to produce individual doses. Capitalist drug companies won’t invest in new vaccine production that might not be needed between pandemics.

New Labour’s 2005 privatisation of NHS Logistics (NHSL) handed an integrated system of purchasing, stockholding and distributing NHS supplies to DHL, the giant German courier company. This laid the roots for the current PPE crisis. ‘Just-in-time’ principles for supplying NHS trusts and maintaining stock levels meant that when there is a major outbreak, such as now, the system is already at full capacity and therefore struggles to meet extra demand.

In 2018 DHL failed to win a new contract, resulting in fragmentation into 13 different contracts for procurement, warehousing and distribution and marketing. The biggest was won by Unipart, better known for supplying components to the motor industry.

Despite a managing company, Supply Chain Coordination Ltd, which sets contracts on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care, these divisions and poor planning have exacerbated problems of getting sufficient PPE to frontline services. This January management started reducing stock levels – right at the time that Covid-19 was developing in China!

We are paying the price today for decades of NHS under-investment, cuts and privatisation. Public health services, laboratory facilities, hospital beds and equipment, PPE and social care have all been strained to breaking point. Where was the robust contingency planning for infectious disease pandemics – predictable in their occurrence if not their timing and cause?

Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn, when Labour leader, did not disown the record of the Blair and Brown governments, although he had voted against Foundation Trusts himself. Keir Starmer as Labour leader is not likely to attack that record. But a future Labour government would be unable to reverse damage the NHS has suffered without abolishing Foundation Trusts, renationalising privatised services, and scrapping PFI.

Moreover, the shortage of diagnostic tests, vaccines and lack of anti-viral treatments show a negligent pharmaceutical industry only concerned with short-term profits.

The industry needs to be taken into public ownership, on a global scale. All the big corporations should be nationalised, with no compensation except where proven need. Democratic planning by workers in the industry including scientists, medical experts, engineers and trade unions together with community representatives and socialist governments would ensure production was geared to meet need, not profit.

Medical supplies, including PPE, ventilators and other essential equipment must also be part of a democratically planned nationalised industry. The ingenuity shown by many workers quickly adapting machines and using their skills to produce PPE and ventilators is a glimpse of the possibilities under a future socialist society.

coronavirusRead the Coronavirus Workers’ Charter

West Mids Socialist Party Discusses The Fight Against Coronavirus In Workplaces

On Thursday Socialist Party members in the West Midlands met online in a forum to talk through workplace situations during the coronavirus pandemic, and discuss strategy to defend workers’ health against some truly despicable management practices from the private and public sectors.

The meeting included tax officers, teachers, union staff, probation officers, railway staff, shop and warehouse workers and more, as well as comrades recently made unemployed.

We heard that some MoJ and HMRC office management have been flagrantly ignoring government advice on working from home, that most supply teachers have been furloughed but no money has been paid out from the furlough scheme yet, that rail staff have had to fight for weeks to get social distancing in work. Despite heaps of praise for shop workers by their employers, supermarket upper management have utterly failed in protecting their staff by denying them PPE and anything close to social distancing.

Success in health and safety has only been won by the organised determined action of workers. Vigilant campaigns have ensured adequate PPE, social distancing, remote working, and even furloughing at 100% pay.

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Workers have been winning PPE and protective measures to protect from Covid-19 at work.

In an incredible success of worker action, one non-unionised office in the West Mids organised their own rotas to ensure skeleton staff to keep the office functioning, keeping the majority of workers home and the rest safely distanced. Management there had insisted they would all need to be in office, but the workers forced the managers to adopt their rota model!

Many workers have successfully struggled to ensure their safety from coronavirus in the West Midlands and across the country, but too often this has been with the absence of trade union leaders.

The leaderships of some of the biggest unions in the UK representing hundreds of thousands of workers have failed to lead the fight to defend their members’ safety. In this meeting Socialist Party members spoke out against union right wingers and careerists who have been far too concerned with bureaucracy and stalled negotiations with the government and employers, risking workers’ safety week after week in a rapidly changing situation.

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The Socialist -our weekly paper- details workers’ fights and the need for trade union action.

During and after the coronavirus crisis there will be massive attacks on workers as the capitalist class seek to recuperate their losses and minimise any increased consciousness among workers. Events so far have only been a small test in terms of what fighting leadership is needed from trade unions as the core organisations to defend the working class.

The Socialist Party branches and union caucuses continue to meet online regularly, discussing political and workplace situations and organising for militant working class action.

We fight for socialism -for workers’ democratic control and management over the economy- and will push the case for a determined fight for socialist change within the trade unions. Only the working class finally taking control will end the endless battles with bosses that workers face even during a global pandemic!

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