As the Stormont Executive permits production lines to reopen and teases an end to lockdown, PBP MLA Gerry Carroll says profit is being put before community health.
We must be extremely wary of those whose focus now is ‘ending the lockdown’ before we have even the basic measures in place to community test en masse, contact trace, or while we struggle to supply frontline staff with PPE.
And we should reject calls for an end to a lockdown from those who resisted any lockdown measures in the first place, by refusing to close schools or businesses.
Take Boris Johnson, who championed Britain as the nation which would ‘take off it’s Clark Kent spectacles’ and ‘emerge cape flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of populations to buy and sell’ while others moved to lockdown.
What dangerous fool Boris Johnson is. His Health Minister Matt Hancock may try to claim that herd immunity was never part of the government’s official strategy, but the evidence shows that is patently false.
In the words of Johnson’s chief advisor Dominic Cummings: ‘‘herd immunity, protect the economy, if pensioners die – too bad”. This has always been the priority of the Tories and their ilk – guaranteeing profits can be generated while ensuring as little an impact as possible is felt by their rich chums.
And that is their rationale for ending the lockdown – to save the economy. They aren’t shy about saying it and neither are those in the Stormont Executive who have kowtowed the Westminster approach to COVID-19 from the very beginning. Shame on them.
The DUP and Jim Allistair in particular talk about having an economy to return to when lockdown is over. Indeed the latter suggested recently that any and all workers should be returned to work so long as they can socially distance.
These reckless remarks were made on the topic of Bombardier – a Canadian multinational which operates out of Belfast, producing parts for planes.
In clear contravention of warnings from the World Health Organisation that non-essential work should not go ahead and workers should be allowed to stay home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Stormont Executive this week permitted Bombardier to re-open.
That workers, their families and the community more generally will be put at risk seems to have played second fiddle in the decision making process. Bombardiers ability to generate profit comes first. It’s worth noting that Bombardier raked in around $400 million in 2019 alone. They aren’t exactly broke.
Bombardier isn’t a one off concession by the Stormont Executive either. Caterpillar – infamous for their work in the occupied territories of Palestine – have also been allowed to return almost 200 staff back to production lines.
Unsurprisingly, workers from both sites have raised fears about returning to work. I have personally spoken to dozens of these workers who do not believe the social distancing measures in place are adequate. They believe that their health is being sacrificed for profit.
Beyond reopening factory lines, some in the Stormont Executive seem intent on chipping away lockdown measures through reopening cemeteries last week, churches and garden centres this week. I have no doubt this pattern will continue in the hopes of sleepwalking us into a phased exit.
While these proposals come wrapped in reservations about ending lockdown completely and are usually admonished with ‘only when the medical advice says so’, the DUP are using every platform they have to push an agenda of phased reopening.
And let us not forget it was ‘on medical evidence’ which they based their refusal to close schools or businesses, before teachers and workers forced their hand by shutting themselves.
We in People Before Profit are very clear that any attempt to pit the economic interests of the wealthy against our health should be rejected. The current global contraction of economic growth is what is to be expected from international lockdown and, if anything, signifies that action is being taken to eradicate COVID-19.
It should not be used as an excuse to unbatten the hatches and kickstart the economy – risking a further surge of the virus. Nor does it follow that workers should lose out from a slowdown in the economy or recession.
If governments are worried about recession, their focus should be on immediate state interventions to ensure that working class people are not made to pay, rather than scaremongering support for a premature end to lockdown. Just as the bankers were bailed out in the recession of 2009, it is the people,now, who should be bailed out.
They should be pro-actively targeting non-essential businesses who threaten to open, issuing fines and using the money recuperated to pay for PPE for frontline staff. Instead, they’re taking a spineless approach, bowing to the interests of big business, even if it risks further spread of the virus.
The leaders of the Stormont Executive should show some backbone by refusing to allow workers to be risked for profit, and to protect our communities.
There should be no premature end to the lockdown – phased or otherwise – until we have proper community testing in place, and a contact tracing system which allows new cases to be tracked and isolated.
These fundamental measures have been called for by the World Health Organisation for months, and are credited with shutting down spread of the virus in South Korea and New Zealand. Yet the Stormont Executive have failed utterly to implement them here.
Until they are implemented, we can have no idea of the true scale of the spread of the virus, the death rate or the efficacy of lockdown measures. And therefore we will have no business attempting lockdown.
If Stormont does attempt to prematurely end lockdown, risking a fresh spike of this deadly virus, we should treat it as an attack on community health – particularly for vulnerable people.
Moy Park workers walked off site when told to work in unsafe conditions due to the virus. Debenhams workers in the South are currently engaged in similar protests. Amazon staff in France matched action taken by their co-workers in the states, alongside workers Target and Walmart.
This is being replicated globally, with masks and social distancing to protect workers.
Trade Unions, here in the North, should be prepared to mount a fightback if the Stormont Executive continues to put workers at risk in the name of profit.