wsws for the weekend

The murderous pseudoscience of “herd immunity”
Andre Damon, WSWS, May 16 2020

On May 12, ForeignAffairs.com, the journal of the CFR, carried an article arguing for large portions of the Pindo and world population to be infected with COVID-19. The article states:

Sweden’s coronavirus strategy will soon be the world’s. Herd immunity is the only realistic option. The question is how to get there safely. Efforts to contain the virus are doomed to fail in many countries, and a large percentage of people will be infected in the end. Managing the pandemic, rather than defeating it, is the only realistic option.

The central argument made by the proponents of “herd immunity” is that once enough people become infected with COVID-19, perhaps 50% to 70% of the population, rates of infection will naturally fall. As a corollary, the proponents of herd immunity claim that efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic, such as testing, contact tracing and isolation of those infected, as well as the closure of schools and businesses, should be abandoned to allow the disease to spread as widely as possible. Two developments this week have exposed this pseudoscientific theory as false and dangerous. In congressional testimony on Tuesday, Dr Anthony Fauci made clear that there exists no conclusive evidence that infection with COVID-19 results in long-term immunity, seconding the warnings of the WHO last month. Moreover, countries all over the world have begun reporting the results of large-scale tests of their populations for COVID-19 antibodies. Universally, these tests have shown that, even in areas with the worst outbreaks, only a small fraction of the population has been infected. One study released this week found that just 5% of the Spanish population has COVID-19 antibodies. This is despite the fact that Spain has the highest number of COVID-19 cases as a share of population of any large country in the world. Even if recovery from infection guarantees immunity, which again is not clear, the hypothetical immunity for five percent of the Spanish population cost 27,459 lives. This means that the 50% infection rate necessary to see a decrease in cases would require the sacrifice of a quarter million human beings. If similar figures hold in Pindostan, with its 330m people, a hypothetical “herd immunity” would require the sacrifice of nearly 2m people. It is for this reason that WHO spox Mike Ryan responded in disgust this week when asked about the policy of “herd immunity.” The veteran Irish epidemiologist said:

Humans are not herds. The term is relevant only to the field of animal husbandry, in which an individual animal in that sense doesn’t matter from the perspective of the brutal economics of those decisions. The use of the term can lead to a very brutal arithmetic which does not put people and lives and suffering at the center of that equation. This idea that maybe countries who had lax measures and haven’t done anything will all of a sudden magically reach some herd immunity, and so what if we lose a few old people along the way. This is a really dangerous calculation.

To justify their utilization of this “dangerous calculation,” the authors of the ForeignAffairs.com article cite the “Swedish model.” They write:

Swedish authorities have not officially declared a goal of reaching herd immunity, which most scientists believe is achieved when more than 60% of the population has had the virus. But augmenting immunity is no doubt part of the government’s broader strategy, or at least a likely consequence of keeping schools, restaurants, and most businesses open. Rather than declare a lockdown or a state of emergency, Sweden asked its citizens to practice social distancing on a mostly voluntary basis. Swedish authorities eschewed harsh controls, fines, and policing. Swedes have changed their behavior, but not as profoundly as the citizens of other Western democracies. Many restaurants remain open, although they are lightly trafficked; young children are still in school.

However, Sweden’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic has been fiercely criticized by doctors, scientists and academics, thousands of whom have signed a letter urging the government to pursue a more aggressive policy. These critics point to the fact that the country has suffered a substantially more deadly outbreak than its neighbors, with 361 deaths per million people compared to Denmark (93), Norway (43), Finland (53) and Iceland (29). Sweden’s wildly irresponsible policies have given ammunition to the far right internationally, which has used it as an example for arguing for a premature reopening of businesses and schools. Like all advocates of the policy of “herd immunity,” the authors of the article, who include a political scientist, a sociologist and an economist, do not attempt to square their claims with the universal statements by epidemiologists, public health experts and the WHO that COVID-19 can and must be contained through conventional public health measures. They simply assert in defiance of all available evidence that it is impossible to control the disease and prevent people from being infected. Countries that have invested in testing, quarantining and contact tracing, in line with the prescriptions of the WHO, have brought the daily number of new cases into the single or double digits. South Korea, an early center of the outbreak, has had only 260 people die. China, the country in which the disease originated, has a death rate that is nearly 100 times lower than Pindostan. Malaysia has seen similarly low numbers. By contrast, the disastrous toll of the COVID-19 pandemic in Pindostan, which has five times more cases than any other country, is directly related to the fact that Pindostan failed to conduct any widespread testing of its population for months, as indicated by the testimony Thursday of ousted health official Dr Rick Bright.

It is worth noting that the article in ForeignAffairs.com excludes the word “testing.” That is because it is thoroughly dishonest. It uses lockdown measures as a strawman for all measures to contain the pandemic, decrying the economic and social costs of lockdowns as an argument for inaction. In reality, the WHO has made clear that lockdowns are only a temporary measure to prevent health systems from being overwhelmed, and should be used to provide the time needed to massively expand public health care infrastructure to stop the pandemic. Regardless of whether they publicly embrace “herd immunity” or not, the reality is that no country in North America or Europe has a plan to prevent the widespread infection of its population with COVID-19. The temporary lockdowns carried out in Pindostan & Eurostan have not been used to build up the necessary infrastructure for testing, quarantining and contact tracing. Rather, states and countries are reopening regardless of their rates of infection, testing or medical capacity, all but guaranteeing, in line with the warnings of Fauci and Bright, a major resurgence of the disease, whether in the near term, during the next flu season or both. In accordance with the “brutal economics” of capitalism, the lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic are simply the cost of doing business. While trillions of dollars have been spent propping up financial markets, no serious efforts have been made to contain the pandemic, and whatever mitigation measures have been put in place, including the closure of businesses, are being rapidly abandoned. The efforts by the ruling class to counterpose workers’ lives to their livelihoods is an entirely false choice. Both can be defended with the necessary allocation of social resources to stop and eradicate COVID-19 and all other communicable diseases. Non-essential workplaces must remain closed for as long as it takes for these measures to be put in place. But containing the pandemic requires an investment in social infrastructure that the capitalist class is not willing to make. The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the utter incompatibility of the capitalist system with the preservation of the most basic social right: the right to life.

Trump threatens to cut all ties with China
Peter Symonds, WSWS, May 16 2020

In the latest escalation of the Pindo confrontation with China, President Donald Trump threatened to cut off all relations with Beijing over claims that it failed to take steps to prevent the COVID-19 virus from becoming a global pandemic. These bogus allegations have now been integrated into Faschingstein’s trade war measures, which predated the virus outbreak and are aimed at undermining China economically and militarily. Speaking on Fox Business News, Trump said:

They should have never let this happen. So, I make a great trade deal and now I say this doesn’t feel the same to me. The ink was barely dry and the plague came over.

Having previously hailed his personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump declared:

Right now I don’t want to speak to him.

Asked what penalties he intended to impose on China, Trump blurted out:

There are many things we could do. We could cut off the whole relationship. Now, if you did, what would happen? You’d save $500b.

This was a reference to estimated Pindo annual imports from China, described by Trump as “lost money.” The Trump administration has rapidly ramped up its attacks on China over the pandemic. It has not only repeatedly accused Beijing of a lack of transparency, but also promoted the big lie that the virus came from a Wuhan virology laboratory. Facing re-election in November, Trump is attempting to make China the scapegoat and deflect attention from his own administration’s criminal negligence, which has resulted in Pindostan having the world’s largest number of COVID-19 cases and the highest death toll. Globally the number of cases has passed 4.4m and deaths stand at more than 302k, with 1.47m cases in Pindostan and 85,884 deaths. However, Trump’s denunciations of Beijing over the pandemic are also part of a trade-war agenda and military build-up against China. In recent days, Pindostan has imposed or threatened a range of new economic penalties against China and Chinese companies, including:

  • Pindostan announced new export controls yesterday aimed at blocking access to semi-conductor technology for China’s hi-tech giant Huawei. While the Chinese corporation previously was barred from semi-conductors sourced in Pindostan, the new rules aim to choke off supplies from third countries, such as Taiwan and South Korea. Companies in those countries using Pindo technology will be required to obtain a Pindo license before exporting to China. Pindo Commerce Sec Wilbur Ross accused Huawei of trying to “undermine” earlier export controls, claiming it was not “a responsible corporate citizen” for doing so—in other words, for attempting to find new sources for essential semi-conductors in response to unilateral Pindo trade war measures. Ross declared: “These rules are needed to prevent Pindo technologies from enabling malign activities contrary to Pindo national security and foreign policy interests.” Pindostan claims that Huawei equipment facilitates Chinese espionage. In reality, the chief concern is that Chinese equipment will inhibit the extensive electronic spying operations conducted by Pindo intelligence agencies such as the NSA.
  • China has threatened to retaliate against Pindo technology firms. The Chinese foreign ministry called on Pindostan to immediately stop “its unreasonable suppression against Huawei,” saying it would not only harm Chinese corporations, but also Pindo enterprises, and “cause damage to the global industrial chain, supply chain and value chain.” According to Global Times, Beijing has threatened to penalise Pindo companies by placing them on an “unreliable entity list.”
  • This week Trump directed that the board overseeing a pension fund for 5.9m federal employees, present and retired, halt plans to allow investment in the shares of Chinese companies. The board, which was due to shift some money into investments based on an all-world index that includes Chinese shares, delayed the move on Wednesday. The White House is also seeking to replace three of the pension board’s five directors.
  • On Thursday, Trump threatened to impose new taxes on Pindo companies that produce goods outside Pindostan. He told the Fox Business Network that taxation was an “incentive” for companies to return manufacturing to Pindostan. He said: “You know, if we wanted to put up our own border, like other countries do to us, Apple would build 100% of their product in Pindostan. That’s the way it would work.”

As it intensifies its propaganda war against Beijing over the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration is discussing a range of penalties it could impose on China. These include bans on sensitive exports, additional tariffs on Chinese goods, restrictions on Chinese companies listing on Pindo share markets, and even the cancellation of Chinese-held Pindo debt. China has no progressive answer to the Pindo threats and punitive measures. Its responses vacillate between making concessions to Faschingstein in the hope of a deal and threatening penalties of its own. In reply to Trump’s latest threat to cut ties with China, Global Times lashed out at the Pindo president as “insane,” denouncing “the proverbial anxiety that Pindostan has suffered from since China began its global ascension.” The intensification of the Pindo confrontation with China has produced alarm in ruling circles internationally, with warnings of a new cold war and a breakdown of the international trading and financial system. A lengthy article this week in ForeignPolicy.com pointed out that in the 1930s rising tensions between Pindostan and Japan rapidly led to the outbreak of all-out war in the Pacific at the cost of millions of lives. The article noted that the Pindo ambassador in Tokyo, Joseph Grew, warned Faschingstein in 1935 about the necessity of not imposing economic restrictions on Japan, and continued:

But Faschingstein was in the grip of economic nationalists battling a historic economic downturn. Within a few years, Pindostan ramped up economic pressure on Japan, culminating in a trade and oil embargo. Six years after Grew wrote his dispatch, the two countries were engaged in total war.

In the midst of the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s, Pindo imperialism is engaged in a desperate attempt to maintain its global hegemony through all means, including military confrontation, and regards China as the chief obstacle to its interests. As in 1941, the rapidly intensifying Pindo diplomatic and economic attacks on China are lurching toward to a military conflict between nuclear-armed powers with incalculable consequences for humanity.

Faschingstein places Cuba and Venezuela on “terror” list
Bill Van Auken, WSWS, May 16 2020

Captured mercenaries in Chuao, Venezuela

Less than two weeks after an abortive mercenary invasion aimed at overthrowing Venezuela’s government and murdering its president that was hatched by the Trump White House, the Pindo State Dept on Wednesday renewed its classification of the country as “not fully cooperating” with Faschingstein’s global war on terrorism. Also added to the list was Cuba, whose embassy in Faschingstein was targeted by a gunman armed with an automatic weapon on Apr 30, an act that elicited not a word of condemnation from the Trump administration. This marked the first time that Cuba has been placed on the list since 2015, when it was removed as part of negotiations between Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro on the normalization of relations between the two countries. That move was backed by major Pindo financial and corporate interests seeking to compete with the Chinese and Europeans in and for the Cuban market. Prior to that, Cuba had been classified for 33 years as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” The designation stemmed from Havana’s support for both Nicaragua, at the time under siege by the terrorist “contra” army organized by the CIA, and El Salvador’s Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), carrying out an armed revolt against the murderous US-backed juntas that ruled El Salvador. Both the Sandinistas and the FMLM have since transformed themselves into bourgeois parties, leading right-wing governments in their respective countries.

The hypocrisy of Faschingstein branding Venezuela and Cuba as complicit in terrorism is as brazen as it is boundless. On the same day that the State Dept released its list, Venezuela’s delegation to the UN filed formal charges with the UNSC and the Sec-Gen over the armed terrorist attacks carried out on the country’s northern coast on May 3 and 4 by mercenaries organized, trained and financed by the governments of Pindostan and Colombia. The Venezuelan government reported capturing 39 more armed men on its border with Colombia Thursday, bringing the number detained since the landings in the coastal towns of Macuto and Chuao in the north of Venezuela to 91. Among those detained are two Pindo ex-SOFs, Luke Alexander Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, who have been formally charged with terrorism, facing sentences of between 25 and 30 years in prison. The two Pindo ex-soldiers were recruited for the operation by a Pindo security contractor, Silvercorp Inc, run by a former Green Beret, Jordan Goudreau, who was put into contact with Faschingstein’s puppet and self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó by Trump’s long-time security chief. A contract signed between the two of them, along with other members of Guaidó’s entourage, has been posted online, revealing that the Pindo puppet had agreed to pay $212m for an armed operation that, if successful, would have led to either the capture or murder of President Maduro, along with the killing of an unknown number of other Venezuelans, both civilian and military. Guaidó was named in the contract as the “commander in chief” of the mercenary operation.

While branding Caracas as “uncooperative” in the Pindo war on terror, the Trump administration has shown no inclination to extradite Goudreau to face charges of terrorism in Venezuela. On the contrary, it has vowed to use “all tools” at its disposal to free the two Pindo mercenaries caught red-handed on the beaches of Venezuela. Pindo terrorism against Venezuela did not begin with the landings on its northern coast earlier this month, but rather has been sustained through a “maximum pressure” regime of economic sanctions tantamount to a state of war, preventing the country from importing food and vital medical supplies in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Faschingstein’s claim that Caracas is “uncooperative” in the so-called Pindo war on terrorism is based on the claim that Maduro and other members of the Venezuelan government are involved in “narco-terrorism.” The Pentagon has deployed warships off the Venezuelan coast on this pretext, even as Pindo intel boxtops acknowledge that the vast majority of drugs coming into Pindostan are passing through the territories of Faschingstein’s closest allies in Colombia and Central America.

In Cuba’s case, the cynicism of the Pindo decree is equally blatant. Its principal charge is that Havana failed to accede to the demands of Colombia’s right-wing President Iván Duque to extradite representatives of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group, who had come to the Cuban capital as part of a series of peace negotiations that resulted in a settlement between the main guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government. For its part, Cuba has recorded the deaths of 3,478 of its citizens and the wounding of 2,099 as a result of terrorist operations launched from Pindostan and with the aid and complicity of the Pindo government. Also included on the list of those not “cooperating fully” with Faschingstein’s war on terror were Iran, Syria and North Korea. Iran responded with a statement from Foreign Ministry spox Abbas Mousavi, who said:

With a history of founding, funding & arming different terrorist groups, a record of state terrorism, and its outright support for another terrorist regime,Pindostan is not a good yardstick for measuring anti-terrorism efforts.

In January of this year, Faschingstein carried out an act of flagrant state terrorism with the drone missile assassination of one of Iran’s senior state officials, IRGC Gen Qassem Suleimani, as he was making a state visit to Iraq for peace talks on behalf of Yemen with the country’s PM. As for Syria, the country has been the victim for nearly a decade of a Pindo-organized war for regime change that has utilized AQ-linked militias as its main proxy ground troops. Pindo boxtops have told the media that Faschingstein is preparing to return Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism and to brand various elements of Venezuela’s security forces as terrorist entities. These measures would pave the way for redoubled Pindo aggression against both countries. While both the Maduro government in Venezuela and that headed by President Miguel Díaz-Canel in Cuba have sought to accommodate themselves to the interests of Pindo and world imperialism, Faschingstein has shown no inclination to compromise. The Trump administration, while currying favor with the right-wing Cuban and Venezuelan exile groups in Florida in advance of the 2020 election, is basing its policy on the drive by Pindo imperialism to roll back the influence of Russia and China in the Western Hemisphere. The charges of failure to cooperate with the “war on terrorism” are being leveled to prepare for a global war that entails unimaginable terror for the population of the entire planet.

Overwhelming opposition to reopening of UK schools amid worsening COVID-19 pandemic
Tania Kent, Harvey Thompson, May 16 2020

Health Minister Matt Hancock at yesterday’s media briefing

Mass opposition is developing among teachers and parents to the Johnson government’s reopening of schools across the UK. “Our Plan to Rebuild”, the UK government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy, published Monday, includes the phased return of schools starting with reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils (aged 4 to 5 years, 5 to 6 years and 10 to 11 years respectively) from Jun 1. The closure of schools, begun belatedly in the UK on Mar 23, is a key measure recommended by medical experts internationally to reduce the infection and death rate from the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, Education Minister Gavin Williamson issued a statement in the Daily Mail calling on teachers to return to work “for the sake of all pupils.” Williamson repeated the government’s contested claims that “we are now past the peak of the virus,” claiming the phased reopening of schools was “based on the latest scientific advice.” But yesterday, the head of the BMA Chaand Nagpaul warned:

Until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools. We cannot risk a second spike or take actions which would increase the spread of this virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK.

The WHO’s top official in Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, warned of the risk of a second and more deadly wave of infection caused by the easing of lockdown restrictions. Kluge told the Telegraph yesterday:

People think lockdown is finished. Nothing has changed. The full disease control package has to be in place. That’s the key message.

The Johnson government’s reopening of schools is the spearhead of its homicidal plans to restart the economy on behalf of the financial oligarchy. This cannot be achieved without transforming schools into little more than child-minding centres so that parents can be herded back into unsafe workplaces. Yesterday, teacher unions, including the National Education Union and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers met with the government and leading members of its scientific advisory committee, SAGE, including Sir Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser. The talks were billed by the government as a means for unions to “reassure” their members that the phased reopening of schools was in line with scientific advice. But none of the questions posed by the unions were answered, including the impact on the reproduction rate of current measures to ease the lockdown and the role of children in spreading the virus. Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, who has declared schools must reopen on Jun 1, blurted out the real purpose of yesterday’s talks, saying they would be “crucial for building a consensus.”

The union’s response is duplicitous. Science has already established the immense dangers posed by any reopening of schools. Figures released yesterday by SAGE show the reproduction rate for COVID-19 has risen to a national average of 0.7 to 1.0. Anything above 1 means the virus will begin to grow exponentially. The latest figures are based on data obtained three weeks ago, before the Johnson government’s easing of lockdown restrictions announced last Sunday. There is a mass outpouring of opposition to the Johnson government’s reopening of schools:
90% of teachers oppose the PM’s plan for primary schools to open from Jun 1, according to an NEU poll. Approximately 85% of respondents said they disagreed with the plans, while 92% said they would not feel safe with the proposed wider opening of schools. Of those with school-age children, 89% said they felt it would be “unsafe or very unsafe” to send their children back to school in current circumstances. A survey by the GMB union found 96% of school support staff are worried that reopening schools too early will put children and their families at risk. Only 0.6% of respondents think it’s possible for young school children to socially distance in school. Meanwhile fewer than 12% of school support staff are confident adequate coronavirus testing will be available for staff. More than 400,000 teachers have signed a petition by the NEU opposing the reopening of schools in the absence of safety measures including extensive testing, contact tracing and quarantine. A petition started by parent Lucy Browne demanding the right to keep children at home if schools are reopened has received well over half a million signatures, spiking just hours after Johnson’s television broadcast on Sunday evening. Yesterday’s announcement by Liverpool Mayor Jim Anderson that schools there will not reopen on Jun 1 reflects the depth of public sentiment. With new Public Health England figures showing the epicentre of infections has shifted from London to the North West of England and Yorkshire, Gateshead Council in Newcastle yesterday urged residents to ignore the Johnson government’s instructions on easing the lockdown and stay at home.

The push to reopen schools has been coupled with a vicious attack on teachers by Tory and Labour politicians and the media who have denounced calls for safety as “scare-mongering.” Thursday’s Daily Mail headline, “Let our teachers be heroes,” caused widespread public anger, with its implication that teachers opposed to ending the lockdown are cowards and traitors. Yesterday, the BBC promoted the comments of social entrepreneur Steve Chalke from the Oasis Trust, which runs 35 primary schools in England. He described teacher opposition to reopening schools as “rather middle class,” stating:

The greatest risks for many of our children are being stuck in a council block, with no fresh air, no exercise, little or no nutritious food.

Teachers are more than aware of these issues. They have spent the last decade fighting Tory austerity measures enforced by Labour-run councils which have created a £5.5b shortfall in school budgets and near bankruptcy for thousands of schools. More than 4.1m children live in poverty, nine in every classroom of 30, with 1.6m families relying on food banks. On Thursday, the witchhunt against teachers was joined by former Labour Education Minister David Blunkett who told BBC Radio 4 that teachers were “working against the interests of children.” His comments were welcomed by the Tory education minister. Scientists have called for the country to more than halve its current daily infection rate before it is safe to open schools. ONS data released this week has shown children were as likely to catch coronavirus as adults. Azeem Majeed, a professor of primary care at Imperial College London said the data suggests that previous studies, based on hospital admissions, may have underestimated the rates of infection in children. An ICL study found that school closures had reduced the death rate by between 2% and 4%, but the impact on peak intensive care unit bed demand is much higher, between 12% and 23%. The science is clear but that is not the basis on which decisions are being taken. The safety and lives of teachers, students and their families means a political fight against the dictates of a ruthless financial oligarchy which is determined to reopen schools and force a return to work whatever the cost in human life. Teachers can place no faith in the education unions, which have enforced decades of attacks under both Labour and Conservative governments. Independent rank-and-file committees must be formed in every school to lead decision-making on health and safety and to ensure that the lives of teachers and their students takes precedence over the drive for profit.

UK government ties Transport for London bailout to “back to work” drive
Jean Shaoul, WSWS, May 16 2020

Labour’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has accepted a £1.1b grant and a £500m loan for Transport for London (TfL), which is dependent on successfully implementing the Johnson government’s back-to-work agenda and imposing savage attacks on Tube, rail and bus workers. TfL, which runs the London Underground network and the capital’s buses and rail services, was on the point of breaching statutory “minimum cash balances” it is required to hold. Its de facto bankruptcy would have gravely undermined the government’s efforts to stampede people back to work and restore corporate profits. TfL lost 90% of its income from fares as millions of Londoners worked at home, eating through more than £1b of its reserves and facing a £4b black hole in its 2020–21 budget. This was despite furloughing 7k staff, 25% of its workforce, to cut costs. Khan had told LBC radio:

We’ll have to start reducing services. The only way to balance the books is to cut services.

Welcoming the emergency funding, London’s Transport Commissioner Mike Brown, said:

TfL will continue to do everything in our power to help deliver a successful recovery for our great city.

While the incidence of COVID-19 in the capital, which has seen around 22% of the total number of UK deaths, is falling thanks to the lockdown, the return to work in the densely packed London Underground and buses threatens a vast increase in the number of deaths among both passengers, transport staff and their families. The government has arrogantly urged people to walk, cycle or drive to work wherever possible, but these exhortations ignore the reality that millions and millions rely on public transport to get to work. To date, 33 London bus drivers have already lost their lives as well as 10 London Underground workers under the reduced travel during the lockdown, thanks to TfL’s contempt for workers’ safety and failure to provide even the most basic personal protective equipment. The TfL’s response to the deaths of its workers has been criminal indifference, not even bothering to compile and publish the figures. Transport officials have warned that the Tube can only run at about 15% capacity if it is to adhere strictly to the 2m social distancing guidance, while a double decker bus could only carry 15 passengers and a single decker 5 to 7 passengers. But neither TfL, nor the government has any intention of abiding by such strictures. Under these conditions, the government’s return to work order is nothing short of pre-meditated murder. It will eliminate anything positive achieved by the lockdown. All the hardships and sacrifices that working people have endured, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, are to be thrown aside to enable big business to make a profit.

The Tories are seeking to implement their policy on the cheap while at the same time launching a frontal assault on TfL’s workforce. The grant is just half of what TfL asked for and comes several years after the government terminated its already limited funding—leaving London the only capital city in western Europe without subsidy. The grant comes with onerous strings, none of which were attached to the far more generous rescue packages for the privatised passenger rail franchises that ensured them against any losses. The government is to put two people on TfL’s board to increase its oversight and “review” TfL’s finances. It has demanded a sharp increase in fares, under conditions where transport costs are already the highest in Europe, and for the cost of the bailout to be borne by “Londoners,” both of which will penalise the working class. In return, TfL will have to guarantee the return of all transport services back to pre-pandemic levels. This is higher than the 75% level London mayor Khan was aiming for next week. It will also have to post adverts telling people to “Stay Alert,” the government’s new and controversial slogan that replaces its previous “Stay at Home” campaign. None of these measures will address TfL’s financial black hole and its dependence on exorbitant fares for 47% of its income and 12% from London’s Congestion Charge, the new Ultra Low Emission Zone and commercial activities, as well as grants for Crossrail from central government and the Greater London Assembly.

With passenger numbers unlikely to reach previous levels due to the plummeting economy, the drop in tourism and travel and the inevitable re-eruption of the pandemic, massive cuts and austerity measures are on the agenda. TfL’s workforce will face a relentless assault on their wages, speed-ups and the threat of job losses. Immediately there will be a clampdown on anyone forced to self-isolate, or who exercises their legal right not to work under unsafe conditions. A special demand was inserted stipulating that absences of staff from work have to be reported to the government, which will prove to be a charter for victimisation. Going forward, the government’s power to vet TfL’s finances will provide the whip for cut after cut and constant speed-ups. There is no doubt that eliminating the role of conductor and bringing in driver-only trains on London routes will be one of the first cost-cutting measures insisted upon. Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA transport union, welcomed the cash injection for preventing services “coming to a halt.” Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train driver’s union ASLEF, said:

It would have been a disaster for the capital and the country if the Tube network and London buses had stopped running.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) struck a left pose, issuing a statement warning of possible strike action in the event of any attacks on “pay, jobs and conditions arising from this imposed settlement.” General Secretary Mick Cash wrote:

We will not accept one penny of austerity cuts imposed by Whitehall or passed on by City Hall as part of this funding package and our resistance will include strike action if necessary. We are seeking an urgent meeting with both the Mayor and Sec State for Transport. Our resistance will include strike action if necessary.

The RMT are past masters of such verbal posturing, as has been proved in the isolation and betrayal of numerous strikes across the rail network last year against Driver Only Operation trains. But their left rhetoric is in recognition of the anger among transport workers at the kick in the teeth delivered by the Tories and agreed by Khan, after so many weeks of working under dangerous conditions. The worst mistake rail and bus workers can make is to place any confidence in the RMT and other transport unions to act in their defence. Drivers, conductors, station, garage and maintenance staff must act independently in defence of their safety and in opposing the onslaught being prepared on their livelihoods by Johnson, Khan and TfL management. This cannot be left to the individual protest of withdrawing labour in unsafe conditions, as championed by the trade unions as an excuse for their own inaction. Rank and file organisations of class struggle must be formed, to unify the entire transport sector workforce and appeal for solidarity action from the working class throughout London, the UK and from transport workers throughout Europe facing the same threat to their lives and livelihoods.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.