A Nationwide People’s HQ for Covid-19

11 May

Posted on behalf of Chik Collins and Peter Jones, as follow up to their earlier call

No unsafe return to work!

Stay at home!

Unite across the UK to save lives and to work for a socially just reconstruction!

In the wake of the Conservative government’s ending of the UK lockdown by its broadcast announcement of 10th May, we offer a proposal for a united, nation-wide labour movement response to the crisis, in the shape of a ‘People’s HQ for Covid-19’

In brief:

  1. The Conservative government has now initiated an ill-conceived, highly dangerous and very chaotic exit from lockdown.
  2. This strategy is motivated by a political ideology which runs against the interests of the great majority of society.
  3. The government has abdicated all responsibility for leadership of the UK as a whole by consciously destroying the possibility of a coordinated strategy across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  4. In the face of this profound governmental irresponsibility and incompetence, the UK labour movement must challenge the whole governance of the crisis and work with others to provide a united and coordinated alternative leadership: A People’s HQ for Covid-19.
  5. As a first step, the TUC, STUC, Wales TUC and Northern Ireland Committee of the ICTU should join forces and announce a united command and control HQ for lockdown, lockdown exit and for a socially just reconstruction.
  6. The HQ will base itself on Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the legal requirement for risk assessments by every employer prior to return to work.
  7. More generally, the HQ will require independent corroboration of full and rigorous test and trace implementation as a condition of Section 44 fulfilment.
  8. The People’s HQ will assert its presence and consolidate its authority through an online National Day of Action.
  9. The HQ will seek to work together with a wide range of constituent organisations and affiliates at local and regional levels, acting as a media hub for information and intelligence gathering, as a centre for advice and support, and an organisational focus for supporting all of those working to save lives, protect frontline workers and build for a just future.

Chik Collins, @ChikcollinsUFI and Peter E Jones, @PeteJonesSHU

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The People’s HQ for Covid-19: For a united labour movement response to the Covid-19 crisis (Summary – see the complete proposal here.)

Alarmed by the lack of a robust, coordinated challenge from Labour and the TUC to Johnson’s governance of the Covid crisis, we’re presenting a plan for a united labour movement response in the shape of a nation-wide ‘People’s HQ for Covid-19’.

The message of the People’s HQ will be simple: the Tories have failed to protect the UK population and its health service and we don’t trust them to lead us safely through the crisis. The labour movement must unite to help save lives in the immediate and begin to steer the strategic management of the crisis towards a longer term economic and social settlement that benefits ‘the many, not the few’.

Working people are on the frontline in the fight against the coronavirus crisis. Health care workers have selflessly thrown themselves into the fray to protect the public, and many have made the ultimate sacrifice. Up and down the country, local labour organizations and trades councils have been creatively pro-active in different ways to support their local communities. Sheffield Trade Union Council, for example, has established its own ‘CV-19 Council of Action’ as a centre for sharing information, coordination and local solidarity action as well as for critical discussion of government response.

But as the death toll has steadily mounted, the lack of any organized political challenge to the Tories at national level leaves a Conservative government which has already catastrophically failed to protect the public and the NHS in control of the powerful political and economic levers of the state and media. These are the same ministers and advisors who are ideologically opposed to the public sector infrastructure on which the health of the population depends, and who are also responsible for much of the destruction of the public sector capacity needed to plan for and respond strategically to an emergency of this kind.

And this crisis is far from over. In fact, the pandemic has ignited a prolonged war over public health and social equality to be fought simultaneously on three interconnected fronts: 1. Preparation for the virus and present measures, 2. Exit from lockdown, 3. Economic reconstruction and longer-term settlement. What the labour movement can achieve in 1 will be crucial for any influence it will have in positively shaping the progress and outcomes of 2 and 3. If the labour movement does not begin right now to flex its organisational muscles, to assert its own independent voice, to struggle for control of the narrative of the crisis in the face of self-serving Tory propaganda, then the Tories may emerge on top to impose their own narrative and make working people pay for state-sponsored financial largesse, as happened in the post 2008 austerity years.

The stark reality, therefore, is this: in the greatest crisis that the UK (and the world) has experienced since the 2008 crash (and possibly since the second world war), there has been no united labour movement response to the crisis – no general mobilisation of the Labour Party and trade unions to denounce the criminal irresponsibility of the Tory government, no attempt to establish the labour movement’s independent voice and capacity to lead, no attempt to challenge Johnson’s whole governance of the crisis. Making the case for socialism in the future is all well and good but there is also a more important and urgent ‘socialism of the hour’ which is not about ‘when the Covid crisis is all over’ but about how we organize during the crisis to assert the political independence and leadership capacity of the labour movement itself.

The order of the day for the labour movement must be to act NOW to a) boldly establish its own independent voice on the national stage as a united opposition to the Conservative government’s mishandling of the ongoing Covid crisis, and b) show its capacity to assume effective leadership of the crisis as it progresses, based on its own strategic economic vision of a society constructed, funded and organized ‘for the many, not the few’.

To that end, we suggest that labour movement organizations join together as a nation-wide force – a ‘People’s HQ for Covid-19’  – to challenge the Tory government’s capacity to fulfil the basic  responsibilities of government and to create the popular foundations for a longer term settlement of the crisis in the interests of working people.

A ‘People’s HQ’ might progressively assume a variety of functions as the crisis develops, such as:

  • a united popular oppositional voice to the governance of the crisis
  • a media hub for information, critical analysis and challenge (with daily media briefings)
  • a centre for coordination and organization of joint action
  • a platform for strategy and leadership as the crisis progresses.

The Trade Unions and Labour Party between them have massive resources and people power that could be devoted to this task given the political will. Why don’t we start to work where we can in our unions, in the Labour Party and other political organizations, in community groups and as individuals to put the idea of a ‘People’s HQ’ on the table for urgent consideration?

Please read our complete proposal for more concrete analysis and argument.

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