Trade unionists, health workers, independence supporters and community activists have published a statement demanding radical action from the Scottish government to fight the pandemic
The statement was first published on 19th March. It was updated on 23 March containing additions and revisions in the light of recent developments. To sign up, visit the link at the end of this article.
The statement says:
The Covid-19 outbreak poses a real and significant threat to the people of Scotland, a country with a large elderly population, massive health inequalities and rural communities who will have difficulties accessing the health service when they need it most.
The Tory Governments "herd immunity" strategy is a catastrophe. The Westminster government itself predicted over a quarter of a million UK dead following this approach. Boris Johnson has now declared that "herd immunity" isn’t their strategy anymore because the science had changed! However, according to the editor of the Lancet in a tweet,” it took a study from Imperial to understand the likely burden of COVID-19 on the NHS. But read the first paper we published on COVID-19 on Jan 24. 32% admitted to ITU with 15% mortality. We have wasted 7 weeks. This crisis was entirely preventable.”
The government knew as early as January 24th that their strategy would lead to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. Confirming this horrific assessment, the Sunday Times claims: “At a private engagement at the end of February, Cummings outlined the government’s strategy. Those present say it was “herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.
Throughout this crisis the Tories have put the needs of the economy before saving lives. Until now they have ignored all of the expert opinion, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the experiences of China, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries that have been successful in reducing the rate of infection.
While Johnson has finally moved in the right direction by closing schools and leisure facilities, and launching an economic package of support for affected workers and businesses, it comes more than seven weeks late. These positive changes for workers have come about with pressure from the labour movement.
The Tories disastrous strategy means that we have lost seven weeks which could have been used to order and make ventilators, testing kits and protective gear for medical and care staff. This time should have been used to retrain staff and build health care capacity. The government has allowed the Coronavirus to spread for seven weeks when they could have held it back. The cost in lost lives is as yet unknown. However, in Italy where deaths are now spiralling, they introduced testing and social isolation far earlier than Britain. The later you begin social isolation, the worse the destination. It is likely that deaths in the UK will eventually outstrip Italy unless drastic action is taken.
As well as introducing measures to protect the incomes of some workers, the government bill will give them the power to detain and isolate members of the public, including children for potentially indefinite periods; the prohibition of public gatherings without the standard protections for strikes and industrial action that exist in the Civil Contingencies Act; and the weakening of safeguards on mass surveillance powers. These powers would be on the statute for at least 2 years this is despite Boris Johnson’s claim that he can beat the pandemic in 12 weeks
However, the kind of drastic action we need must increase the available health and social care workforce; to ease the burden on frontline staff; containing and slowing the virus; and supporting working people.
After years of austerity the NHS and local authorities do not have the capacity and resilience to manage the current crisis unless more immediate decisive measures are taken. The NHS 111 service is already overrun and will be unable to cope with a large upswing in demand. Stories of health professionals lacking even the most basic protective and testing equipment are all over the news. Our front-line health professionals are calling for support. A letter signed by 229 scientists from UK universities on 14th March said the government's approach would put the NHS under huge stress and “risk many more lives than necessary.”
The UK is the fifth richest country in the world, which means we are in a strong position to implement the bold, structural changes this crisis requires. Individual and community action is essential in tackling this crisis. But we also will require centralised support in order to be effective. Thus, where powers are devolved, the Scottish Government must be prepared to step in and change the direction being taken by the UK government.
The Tories are guilty of criminal negligence. Their attitude to Covid 19 mirrors their approach to Grenfell. We call on the Scottish administration to publicly break from this disastrous approach. We insist that the Scottish government focuses on saving lives and protecting vulnerable people above the needs of the markets and finance. They should reject the authoritarian attack on civil liberties from the Tories.
We therefore call on the Scottish government to:
- Invoke effective measures to stop the virus spreading as well as introducing a programme of aggressive testing and contact tracing, as called for by the head of the World Health Organisation.
- Call upon the UK government to release immediate funds to build emergency health care facilities and provisions as have been done in China and Italy. Stop the handover of £2.4M per day to private health for necessary hospital beds. We demand the immediate requisition of private hospital and hotel beds to meet the soaring need (as has happened in Spain) and hire thousands of extra care and health workers.
- We welcome the decision to close all schools and educational institutions - this is an example of how the Scottish Government can shift the UK agenda when it takes action that puts people before profit; however, resources must be made available to local authorities to ensure that free childcare is provided for those parents who are required to work, that support is available for the most vulnerable children and free school meals provided for all those in need.
- Put immediate arrangements in place for childcare for all health and social care frontline workers.
- Work with the Scotland Community Planning Partnerships that coordinate LG, NHS, Fire and Police in each LG area to establish a register of volunteering. This register must include tasks and skills that individuals can volunteer for and tasks that need volunteers.
- Seek full trade union engagement to ensure that workers’ interests are at the heart of any strategy.
- Use its power and representation at Westminster to amend the bill attacking civil liberties.
- Close down all non-essential workplaces.In addition to the measures announced to support working people, we are calling for
In addition to the measures announced to support working people, we are calling for:
- Full universal sick pay for everyone, including workers on zero hours contracts.
- Offer the same protection to those recently laid off and self-employed workers
- A ban on tenant evictions and utility ‘cut offs’.
- Rent and mortgage freezes.
- Emergency grants for those in serious poverty; the expansion of meals on wheels to feed the hungry; price controls on essential goods and other measures to help those most vulnerable.
- No unwarranted clampdowns on civil liberties.
- Opposition to any racist scapegoating of Chinese, Asian, Italian or minority communities.
The economy was fundamentally re-organised in the Second World War and we must do the same again now to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
To fund such a programme, we require:
- Sweeping measures such as a 20% windfall tax on the top 1% of earners
- An arms conversion program from military spending on arms, towards the manufacture of ventilators and other necessary military equipment to give our emergency services the tools and facilities they need to deal with this crisis.
The health service, not banks, should be bailed out. Protecting billionaires and offshore tax accounts while the rest of us take our chances with limited intensive care beds and oxygen therapy is unconscionable. Tax the corporations and divert resources from arms to health now!
The statement is published with a full list of signatories at https://tinyurl.com/rvbugjo (a Google document), where you will also find contact details to add your name to it.
As of 12pm 26 March, signatories were:
Poppy Gerrard Abbott (PhD sociology candidate & tutor, University of Edinburgh), Jim Aitken, Jamie Allinson (UCU), Allan Armstrong (EIS life member, RIC), Shereen Benjamin (UCU), Sara Bennett ( Unite, Edinburgh), Willie Black (Unite, Edinburgh), Pauline Bradley, Angus Brown (Unite, Edinburgh), George S Bruce (Branch President HW UCU), Grant Buttars (Branch President, UCU University of Edinburgh), Cait Ni Cadlaig (Unite Community), Councillor Graham Campbell (SNP Socialists, Musicians Union Scotland NI Committee (pc) ), Kevin Campbell (ex president SSTA), Pete Cannell (UCU, Edinburgh), Jane Carnall (local activist @EyeEdinburgh), Jim Cassidy (Trade Unionists for Independence / Airdrie for Independence, RMT member), Graham Checkley, Nicholas Cimini (Ex-President EIS/ULA), Gary Clark (Branch Secretary CWU Scotland No.2), Ramsay Clark (UNISON Edinburgh), Eileen Cook (EIS/ULA), Sylvia Crick (Unison, Edinburgh), Muireann Crowley (University of Edinburgh), Leslie Cunningham (Unite, Edinburgh), Neil Davidson (UCU, University of Glasgow), Elaine Dennis ( EIS Dumfries and Galloway), John Dennis (Secretary Dumfries Trade Union Council), John Devine (Glasgow South SSP), Emma Donovan (Edinburgh University), Mike Downham, Derek Durkin (Trade Unions for Independence, Edinburgh), Craig Ewing (Unison, Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh), Kevin Ferguson (GMB & IWW), Dr James Foley (UCU), Susan Forrest (SNP, EIS-Fela), Ross Gibson (Strathclyde UCU), Donny Gluckstein (EIS Council and FELA National Executive), Nick Gotts (Scottish Green Party, Edinburgh RIC), Bob Goupillot (UCU, Edinburgh RIC, RCN), Penny Gower (- EIS-FELA national executive, EIS Council, Edinburgh College EIS branch secretary), Ishbel Griffiths (EIS), Richard Haley (SACC), Luke Henderson (Unison, Edinburgh), Mick Hogg (RMT Regional Organiser, Aberdeen), Paul Hyles (Unison, Scottish Water), Tallash Kantai, Victor Lera (Extinction Rebellion), Kenny Logan (CWU), George MacDougall, George Mackin (EIS), Tommy Martin (Unite/ United Colours of Leith), Mike McCaig (RMT Org Unit - (In A Personal Capacity)), Chris McCusker (Membership Secretary SNP Trade Unionists, VC SNP Socialists), Helen McFarlane (Unite executive council election candidate for Scotland), Campbell McGregor (Scottish Socialist Party), Dr. Danny McGregor (UCU), Tracy Anne Miller (Branch Secretary of UNISON Lothian Health Branch), Peter Moonie, Ann Morgan, Raymond Morell (Unite Branch Chair, Edinburgh), Professor Elisa Morgera (University of Strathclyde), Elaine Murray (ex EIS Council), Duncan Neill (on behalf of the Scottish Unemployed Workers' Network), Katie Nicoll Baines (University of Edinburgh), Rob Paterson (Midlothian Trades Council), Muslim Womens Association of Edinburgh, Lynn Paterson (Secretary, Edinburgh and Lothians May Day Committee), James Richards (Vice President UCU Branch Committee at Heriot-Watt University), Neil Rothnie (Extinction Rebellion/ScotE3), Francesco Sindico (Co-Director, Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance), Pat Smith (Edinburgh RIC), SNP Trade Union Group, Ann Swinney (Dundee UCU Branch President and UCU Scotland Honorary Secretary), Dr. Mark Taylor (EIS ULA Edinburgh Napier University Branch Co-convener UCU Branch Committee at Heriot-Watt University), Ungagged editorial team, Colin Vetters (EIS, Glasgow), Lena Wånggren (UCU Scotland Vice President and UCU Edinburgh Vice President, Cathy Watkins (PCS, Edinburgh).