So 2022, the 3rd “plague year”, has begun under the shadow of Omicron. And while this latest Covid variant may not make people very sick, nor kill so many, it has effectively “de-manned” key public workplaces by its super-infectiousness.
So already, one in ten NHS staff and one in ten rail workers are absent from their jobs. At least six hospital trusts have declared a “critical incident” due to the “relentless and sustained pressure” caused by “unprecedented staff absences”. Trains are being cancelled...
All of this was easy to anticipate. But never mind. Anticipation and sensible precautions are too much to expect from Johnson’s government, let alone the bosses of public or private sector workplaces! Wasn’t the NHS already in severe crisis before the pandemic? In winter 2018-19 it was near collapse, due to lack of trained staff (the consequence of the pre-Brexit exodus) plus chronic under-funding, too few beds, etc...
Now, thanks to the combined post-Brexit effect and the pandemic, the situation is even worse. Omicron plus the usual winter viruses are the last straw for many hospital trusts - even those benefiting from “emergency” (but unpublicised!) recruitment of staff from India and other poor countries in the last few months. And never mind the effect of this de facto “stealing” of critical expertise from poorer countries who need it more than Britain does!
Nevertheless, despite being so indispensable, NHS staff still face a de facto 3% wage cut in 2022, just for starters... when the cost of living is predicted to soar and has already started rising fast with inflation at 6%! And rail workers are told they face a 3 year pay freeze!
Yes, and in the meantime some British health officials have decided to admit, due to the good, but imperfect, protection offered by vaccines, that the wearing of decent FFP2 (N94 or N965) masks can and will effectively help prevent the spread of air-borne viruses - including Omicron.
Had this obvious fact - accepted even pre-Covid in China and the Far East - been admitted 2 years ago here in Britain and, by the way, in the rest of the West too, then many more lives might have been saved. But the promotion of anti-Chinese and Cold War revivalist trade blockades - and prejudice - is placed above the lives of whole populations.
Having got off on the wrong foot right at the start of the pandemic, when it did not have enough masks to issue to hospital staff, Johnson’s government has refrained ever since from promoting this one easy - and relatively cheap - measure.
Not only did the Vallance and Whitty double-act (now both are “Sir”!!) officially announce that masks helped “only very slightly”, but not wearing them has been a badge of honour on Conservative benches in the House of Commons. Johnson himself has called them an infringement on freedom and liberty, announcing this weekend that he “will not ask pupils in schools to wear them for one minute longer than necessary”. The joke of this latest “restriction” is that (only) high school students must wear them in classrooms, but not their teachers! Even sensible measures are transformed into stupid ones by this government!
No wonder the opinion polls show Johnson & Co’s ratings at an all time low! By now, no amount of daily elbow-bumping in vaccination centres will convince anyone that Johnson really gives a “fig” about working people’s health or safety!
We’ll have to sort it out ourselves!
Unfortunately, opinion polls and confirmed stupidity are not enough to unseat a government, not even this one. Anyway, the real problem facing the working class is how to get rid of the profit system which all such governments defend - which, beyond the fact that it relies entirely on the unpaid labour of workers, is a totally irrational nationalistic system, whose limits have been exposed so graphically by this global pandemic!
The whole working class knows by now that 2022 is predicted to be a year of falling living standards - rising energy bills, rising rent, and mortgage interest rates, etc., etc., and just like for the staff in the NHS and railways, a cut in real wages is the order of the day.
The underlying economic recession which the pandemic allowed governments to temporarily cover up with their trillions of “Covid” subsidies to the bosses, is now uncovered... And it’s obvious how it’s going to further affect workers: already jobs have vanished and they are expected to do the work of 2 or 3 of their “redundant” workmates. Others are pushed into the ranks of the so-called “precariat”, that is temp, precarious work. It’s all the more of a disaster because they may not even qualify for the pathetic £96.35/week Statutory Sick Pay!
Can this be put right? Can workers get the wages they need and the “cut” jobs restored? Of course! But this means starting to organise without delay and without waiting for hot-air bureaucrats from unions to show up... The most successful strikes and battles which workers have waged in the past have always begun under their own leadership and control.
It is only if workers themselves take the lead that it will be possible bring all sections of workers together, regardless of which union they may - or may not - belong to, so that for once, our collective strength can be used to maximum effect.