As socialists in the mass party for Scottish independence, we call on all working-class people and socialists to acknowledge, oppose and resist the UK government’s dangerously inadequate response to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.
We also call upon the Scottish government itself to be more willing to challenge UK government strategy, asserting an appropriate independence in public health policy. The current crisis has raised a fundamental problem for all liberal democracies – in the UK, particularly those governed by the Conservative and Unionist Party; that is, the exploitation of workers and the need for our ruling classes to maintain this inequity by any means possible. Against the advice of the World Health Organisation, the UK government has denied and delayed personal protection equipment, proportionate testing and track-and-tracing services to NHS and other key workers. But this has clear implications for those who have already contracted the disease and for the safety of workers and our entire community.
The crisis has highlighted the fact that those people who do the most essential jobs are also those who are least valued by the market which sets the price of our labour. Whilst public sector workers are generally exploited and poorly paid, it is clear that many private sector workers are even worse off and in fact, much of the vital social care in our society is entirely unpaid. We have to recognise the specific impact on women in this regard, especially those who are forced to continue going out to work with no childcare and no school.
Having initially admitted it had a “strategy” whereby herd immunity via a 60% contagion rate was being actively considered (and pursued?); the UK government has since adopted a position of stay at home but go to work if your boss says so. It was not willing to directly challenge those bosses who continued to demand that their staff work in unsafe conditions. However, the Conservative government has been forced to abandon its core position on public sector borrowing – pledging massive bailout packages – “incentivising” bosses to close workplaces. This is the same party – in government since 2010 – which consistently denied the need for stimulus in the preceding financial crisis. The chickens have come home to roost. Both of these are crises of capitalism because each shows that the continuing, dominant mode of production is incapable of dealing effectively with such difficulties when they arise.
We therefore call on the Scottish government and the STUC to work together to ensure that whatever mass investment becomes available is targeted towards the needs of the exploited classes in the first instance using the agreed policies of Fair Work and Just Transition. We call on unions and the STUC to pledge support to workers who take action on industrial or safety grounds and we call on all workers to recognise and respect picket lines. We appreciate that some workers are frustrated with their own trade unions so we also call on the STUC, all unions and all workers to highlight and if necessary, to exercise their legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions for themselves, their fellow workers and the public.
We know that some employers are directly in breach of government guidance on social distancing and call upon all local councils to use their legal powers to intervene in these cases to protect workers and the public. Unfortunately, we don’t believe that the political left has been particularly effective over the last forty years of neoliberalism, so we ask every leader in the workers’ movement to seriously consider their position and whether their jobs would be better done by others, rotated, or scrapped and replaced by organising roles without undue status, or excessive pay.
We ask all members of CommonWeal to engage constructively with the SNP CommonWeal group and work with us in good faith to develop good policy for the SNP, Scottish Labour and other parties. We also call on everyone to consider community and workplace organising strategies that go beyond current party boundaries.
We are very encouraged to see mutual aid and other volunteer support groups forming to ensure solidarity for everyone in need and hope that this experience will provide a foundation for future organisation beyond the constraints of the market and the demands of capital. The principle of an unconditional, Universal Basic Income is a challenge to the orthodoxies of mainstream political economy but UBI must be expressed as a step towards decommodifying all basic needs, starting with housing.
Access to food, clothing, housing, healthcare as well as social & political infrastructure are basic rights in a just transition and those rights won’t be guaranteed where individual needs are not provided for. Therefore, UBI should be implemented in co-operation with disabled people and civil service unions to ensure that no one is denied their basic rights. With these qualifications in mind, we call on the Scottish and UK governments to move to roll out UBI as quickly as possible.
This crisis will challenge our society to its very foundations and people will consider transformative changes. We can change the world but we must remember that it won’t change itself. We have to drive that change, or power will be returned to a self-appointed ruling class. If this happens, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the old elite or a new set of chancers in different clothes, we will have failed.
We call on those workers who aren’t already in the SNP to join and work with us inside and outside the party; to organise and to mobilise; and to help increase the confidence of working-class people in ensuring our own emancipation, safety and well-being.
We now need to overcome the false narratives of capital, showing due respect for our environment and each other, so as to create a society that satisfies our basic social and individual human needs, in an independent Scotland.
This statement was compiled by Craig Lundie and approved by SNP Socialists Executive Committee.