Public health: workers and communities organise, Tory ministers undermine

May 29, 2020

In Downing Street, the prime minister has trashed the UK public health strategy, with his repulsive defence of his senior adviser making up his own rules. Elsewhere, health workers, teachers and communities are organising to protect people from the coronavirus more effectively. Here PHIL EDWARDS, Joint Secretary of Newham Save Our NHS, writing in a personal capacity, reflects on how the virus is changing the politics of health.

The Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, has announced that along with the London boroughs of Camden, Barnet and Hackney, our borough will be part of a local test and track (or trace) initiative.

The government in turn announced that local areas were to submit plans for carrying out local test track initiatives across the country. The Newham initiative, on 22 May, was the result of

Newham Save Our NHS on a national demonstration against cuts, July 2018

weeks of pressure nationally from public health experts, local authorities, medical practitioners, and of campaigns like our own.

This came days after the release of evidence that the national test and track scheme launched by the health secretary Matt Hancock’s friends in Serco, the private contractor, and recruitment agencies sub-contracted to contact people using the government-approved mobile app, was collapsing in disarray.

As the Newham Health and Wellbeing Board met this week, to respond to questions on the local test trace scheme from local residents, it was pointed out that the government would finally launch its app this week after several false starts.

We have to approach this “victory” with some careful qualifications. It is not yet clear what the relationship is between these “local” tests and the national effort run by Serco. The scheme in Sheffield (see “Testing times” below) is run and operated by local health professionals. In Read the rest of this entry »


The hostile environment. Who needs a virus?

May 29, 2020

A guest post by PHIL EDWARDS, joint secretary of Newham Save Our NHS, writing in a personal capacity. See also a linked post – Public health: workers and communities organise, Tory ministers undermine

The shocking, disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 virus on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities is the outcome of discrimination, exploitation and racism that has piled up over decades.

The heightened danger to BAME communities is one of the most alarming aspects of the pandemic.

The Guardian reported earlier this month that more than three-quarters of BAME doctors feared they would contract Covid 19.

As the Tory health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that they were “investigating” the high incidence of deaths from Covid 19 amongst the BAME community, our health campaign group

Health workers demonstrating against the “hostile environment”

in Newham, east London, circulated a report from The Voice newspaper by Dr Winston Morgan, a toxicologist at the University of East London, on this issue.

The article was used to question ministers in parliament, to challenge the racist idea that this was somehow genetic – even though hugely different ethnic groups globally were suffering disproportionately.

In fact, the truth is that deaths amongst BAME people, whether in the local population generally or among healthcare workers specifically, is the result of historic discrimination resulting in disproportionate economic and social inequalities.

The fact is that, if you are poor, living in overcrowded accommodation, struggling to survive Read the rest of this entry »


Test, trace, isolate, support. Don’t trust the government to do any of it

May 18, 2020

Download this article as a PDF here

Doctors and community health campaigners are working out how to start local testing and tracing projects, as building blocks of the public health strategy needed to combat Covid-19.

The local initiatives come in response to the government’s disastrous failure to organise testing and tracing, seen by public health specialists as one cause of the UK’s high rate of infections and deaths.

In Sheffield, a group of doctors including retired public health specialists, directors of public health and GPs have set up a pilot project, aimed at working out how volunteers without medical training could do contact tracing.

The Sheffield Community Contact Tracers work with the World Health Organisation guidelines on

Covid-19 is opening new fronts in long battles over health. Here, junior doctors blocking Whitehall in protest at long hours and poor working conditions, 2016. Photo: Steve Eason

Covid-19, which recommend that “cases are identified, advised to isolate, and that contacts are traced, advised to quarantine, and then followed up to identify new cases”.

The organisation points out: “Contact tracing is not currently part of UK guidelines, but there is a groundswell of opinion that it should be.”

Local authority and NHS staff have contact tracing skills, but there are not enough of them, the group says. Volunteers can be recruited and trained to do contact tracing, and to support people who need to isolate: the pilot project will determine exactly how.

In Oxfordshire, the Keep Our NHS Public group published a briefing this week urging that the Sheffield initiative be “supported and replicated”.

The Oxfordshire group call for the local authorities’ public health teams, and the Directors of Read the rest of this entry »


From a ready meals factory … to social revolution

May 4, 2020

Review by BOB MYERS of Class Power on Zero-Hours, by Angry Workers of the World (387 pages, £9.00, distributed by PM Press).

Here is the opening paragraph of Class Power on Zero Hours:

In January 2014 we chose to move to a working class neighbourhood on the fringes of west London. We felt an urgent need to break out of the cosmopolitan bubble and root our politics in working class jobs and lives. We wanted to pay more than just lip service to the classic slogan, “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”. Over the next six years, comrades joined us and we worked in a dozen different warehouses and factories. We organised slowdowns on the shop floors, rocked up on bosses’ and landlords’ doors with our solidarity network, and banged our heads against brick walls as shop stewards in the bigger unions. We wrote up all our successes, as well as the dead-ends, in our publication, WorkersWildWest, which we gave out to 2000 local workers at warehouse gates at dawn. We tried to rebuild class power and create a small cell of a revolutionary organisation. This book documents our experiences. It is material for getting rooted. It is a call for an independent working class organisation.

I only met the authors of the book, members of a group called Angry Workers, a few weeks ago, instantly liked them – and so looked forward to it. When I read it, I found myself in a continual inner debate: “Is this right?…. no it can’t be. Wait a minute, maybe it is. …” and so on. And, having finished

Reproduced with permission from classpower.net

the book, this is still how I feel. So I can only write this review with this debate going on in my head, and look forward to developing it with the Angry Workers, and hopefully with many other people.

Through my inner debate runs a clash of political backgrounds and of generations. I became active in the labour movement as a teenager, in the 1970s, in the aftermath of the 1968 uprisings in Paris and elsewhere. The Vietnam war was in full swing. I and many other people thought revolution was around the corner.

We nearly all joined one left wing political group or another but, though we didn’t see it at the time, all these groups were really sects – almost like religious sects – that all believed they and they alone were the “revolutionary vanguard”, the organisation that would lead the masses to victory. I joined the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), and my whole political education was based on the idea that we (the party) were the leaders, and the masses were the followers. The WRP fell apart in 1985 when its leader (guru) Gerry Healy was outed as a serial sexual abuser of young women in the party.

It has taken me and other ex members years to think our way out of the nonsense of us as the “revolutionary vanguard”, and find our way back to the idea Marx expressed in the quote above: “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”.

I felt we had made progress … and then along come these young people who not only worked that out long ago, but are trying to put this outlook into action.

I hope this review will encourage other people to read Class Power on Zero-Hours, and join the debate and possible activity/organisation arising from it.

The first part of the book, the bulk of it, is very detailed reports of what followed from the Angry Workers’ decision to move to Greenford and get jobs there. This is when my first bell rang: “Is this Read the rest of this entry »


China’s coal-fuelled boom: the man who cried “stop”

April 30, 2020

Download this article (and the linked one) as a PDF

“We can no longer act on nature with impunity.” The “classic” model of economic development “poses a threat to humanity’s very existence”. China needs a new development model, based on renewable resources used effectively and sustainably, that will be built on the old model’s ruins.

Deng Yingtao, a high-profile Chinese economist, made this call to action thirty years ago in his book A New Development Model and China’s Future.[1] Its message was ignored by the political leaders it was addressed to. In this review article, I will consider why.

In the 1990s, the Chinese Communist party leadership prioritised expansion of export-focused manufacturing industry. The industrial boom really took off in the 2000s, fuelled by mountains of coal – the classic unsustainable resource.

In every year since 2011, China has consumed more coal than the rest of the world put together;

Steelmaking is one of China’s coal-hungry industries

more coal than the entire world used annually in the early 1980s; and more than twice what all the rich countries together used annually in the mid 1960s, during their own coal-fired boom.[2]

The primary beneficiaries of this economic model are not China’s 1.3 billion people. The big fuel users are in China’s giant east-coast manufacturing belt – which produces, in the first place, energy-intensive goods for export to rich countries: steel bars, cement, chemical products, agricultural fertilisers and electronics products. Household fuel consumption remains extremely low.

This level of fossil fuel use can not go on, not in China and not anywhere else, without courting the most horrendous dangers brought about by global warming.

Deng Yingtao made a compelling argument against going down this road, BEFORE the decisions were made.

In the Introduction to his book, he pointed to the yawning gap between rich and poor countries; the multinational companies’ rising power; and the damage done to the global south by capitalist boom-and-bust.

The “classic” development model had led to “a world economy dominated by the developed West Read the rest of this entry »


China: reform economists who sought the road not taken

April 30, 2020

Download this article (and the linked one) as a PDF

Deng Yingtao, who in the 1990s called on China to reject the western-oriented industrial development model, was neither a dissident nor an environmentalist. As a senior economist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, he first made his mark in the late 1970s, in debates about reforming agriculture. (See MAIN ARTICLE about Deng’s work here.)

Deng’s father, Deng Liqun, was high up in the Chinese Communist party. He joined it in 1936, and served as a military leader, both before the revolution of 1949 and in the suppression of revolts in western China in the 1950s.

In the 1970s, during the cultural revolution, Deng senior, like many leading and middle-ranking Communists, was sent to the countryside. He worked in Henan province. There his son Deng Yingtao

Farmer with buffalo, 2007. Photo: Andy Siitonen / Creative commons

met Chen Yizi: their discussions about how the collective farm system obstructed the development of agriculture started a long collaboration.

Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, the purge of the Maoist “gang of four” that followed, and Deng Xiaoping’s emergence as the undisputed party leader in 1978, marked a big political turning-point. The cultural revolution was repudiated.

A “Beijing spring” was declared, allowing open political discussion that had been impossible under Mao. The “four modernisations” (economy, agriculture, science and defence) reform policy was adopted; the use of market mechanisms and some opening-up to capitalism were key elements.

At the top of the party, Deng Xiaoping sidelined Hua Guofeng, Mao’s obvious successor. In the ranks, intellectuals and officials who had been sent to the countryside returned to Beijing – including Deng Yingtao and Chen Yizi.[1] Along with Wang Xiaoqiang, Deng and Chen became central figures in a group of reform economists who in 1979 began to meet on weekends in parks and empty offices in Read the rest of this entry »


Coronavirus, economic crash and climate change: this could go either way

April 28, 2020

Download this article as a PDF here

The coronavirus pandemic has given human society a jolt, sent the world economy into depression – and is producing what looks like the sharpest-ever cut in the level of greenhouse gas emissions.

Is this going to help or hinder us in tackling climate change in the coming years and decades? Will it speed up or slow down the transition away from fossil fuels?

It could go either way, in my view. It depends on what governments do – but also on what

American health workers’ picket line. Photo: Elizabeth Lalasz / Labor Notes

society does, what we all do. This is a question with many moving parts, and below I list 12 of them.

A couple of themes run through all the parts. On one hand, capitalism thrives by emerging from the crises it has created; its powerful drivers endlessly seek new ways of producing, profiteering and exploiting. We will be up against that logic, whatever happens.

On the other hand, those crises – and the pandemic, with the resulting economic chaos, certainly counts as one of the greatest – produce glimpses of how we could live differently. They contain the possibilities of futures free of capitalism, in which we can take effective strides away from the wretched fossil-fuelled economy.

  1. The historical analogies are not comforting. Past economic crashes gave way to accelerated economic expansion and accelerated greenhouse gas emissions.

The 1930s depression and the second world war, the greatest dislocation of the world economy in the twentieth century, was followed by the post-war boom. That was the longest Read the rest of this entry »


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