On May 10, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the loosening of coronavirus lockdown despite large scale opposition from four biggest trade unions and many local authorities. The first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have refused to implement the new policy. The government has changed its slogan from “Stay Home, Protect the NHS and Save lives” to “Stay Alert, Defeat Coronavirus and Save Lives”.
Johnson urged the people to return to their jobs saying people “should be actively encouraged to go to work” if they cannot work from home. He also confirmed the plan to start opening schools in England, starting with reception and year one (aged four to six) and year six (aged 10-11) in primary school, from June 1.
Four of the biggest trade unions – Unison, Unite, the GMB and Usdaw – and the Trade Union Council have warned that they cannot recommend a return to work to their 3 million members until the measures are put in place for the safety of their members. They said many of their members have already lost their lives “transporting people and goods, protecting the public and caring for the vulnerable”. The government has not announced any policy to penalise those bosses who do not follow the guidelines for keeping distance, and providing protective equipment to workers.
The teaching unions called on the government to postpone the June 1 reopening date. They said that they certainly wanted schools to reopen but only when it is safe to do so. They pointed out that the government was showing a lack of understanding of the dangers of the spread of the coronavirus within schools, and therefrom to parents, siblings and relatives of students, as well as out into the wider community. They expressed the extreme concern of all their members that school staff would not be protected by physical distancing, and that classroom, especially of young children, could be sources of transmission of the disease.
The British Medical Association (BMA) — the biggest doctors union — has said that it is too early to open the schools when the infection rates are still very high. In its letter to National Education Union, the BMA supported their concerns saying the teaching unions are “absolutely right” to urge caution and prioritise testing before reopening schools on 1 June.
It is clear that the British government is taking the decisions to ease the Lockdown and reopen schools in the interests of the big capitalists whom it represents. It is necessary to open the schools in order to make it possible for the parents to go to work. It has refused to address the concerns of workers and working people that opening the schools without putting in place the arrangements for testing and tracing can put people’s lives at risk.
Successive governments have wrecked the NHS in by privatising various operations, closing down hospitals and accident and emergency units and they are still doing it now. Billions of pounds of NHS funds are flowing to private for-profit providers, shareholders and banks. Some of the private companies providing services for the NHS are: Alliance Medical, Atos Healthcare, Care UK, Inhealth, Fresenius, Interhealth, Nations Healthcare, Netcare, Partnership Health group, Ramsay Health Care, Spire Healthcare, UK Specialist Hospitals, Walk in Health etc. Some of the services like cleaning, patient’s food and security have already been privatised. The contracts for COVID-19 testing have been given to private companies.
The attitude of the British government shows that it wants to utilise the coronavirus pandemic to enrich capitalist monopolies at public expense. The working class of Britian is expressing its opposition to such a course.