europe (including britain)

Merkel in Brussels: Profits before lives and European great power politics
Johannes Stern, WSWS, Jul 13 2020

image-3Merkel addresses the plenary chamber at the European Parliament in Brussels,
Wednesday Jul 8 2020. (Photo: Olivier Matthys/AP)

Last Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a keynote speech in the European Parliament to mark the start of Germany’s EU presidency. It was her first foreign appearance since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Merkel spoke against the backdrop of new COVID-19 outbreaks on the continent, the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s, and growing tensions between the major powers. The chancellor said:

We are all aware that my visit today takes place against the background of the greatest test in the history of the European Union. The global coronavirus pandemic has hit people in Europe hard and relentlessly. We have over a hundred thousand dead in Europe alone. Our economy has been and continues to be severely shaken throughout Europe. Millions of workers have lost their jobs. In addition to worries about their health and the health of their families, many citizens are also worried about their economic existence.

Merkel, of course, concealed the fact that the ruling class is fully responsible for this disaster. As the pandemic spread in January and February, she concerned herself not with the health of the population, but with the protection of corporate profits. All of the European governments played down the threat and tried to keep the economy and public life running without any impediments. It was only when the terrible consequences of the pandemic first became apparent in countries such as Italy and Spain that governments were forced to take measures to contain the virus, driven largely by growing anger in the population. The lockdown was then used to organise the greatest bottom-to-top redistribution of wealth in history. Within a very short time, trillions were transferred to the accounts of the banks, the large corporations and the super-rich in the form of coronavirus “rescue packages.” At the same time, establishment politicians and the media began an aggressive campaign to revive the economy as quickly as possible so as to resume the extraction of massive profits from the working class. The same companies that received billions in state money are now, with the support of the trade unions, using the crisis to push through the mass layoffs and wage cuts they had long planned.

In her speech, Merkel left no doubt that the policy of “profits before lives” would be aggressively pursued. She cynically described the measures to contain the pandemic, which have now been largely lifted, as a “high price,” entailing an attack on “elementary basic rights.” The message was clear: despite the massive increase in infections and deaths resulting from the reopening of the economy, there would be no new lockdown. Nothing would be permitted that might endanger capitalist profiteering and the orgy of enrichment on the stock market. Merkel praised the €500b European reconstruction fund she had proposed in mid-May, together with Macron. Behind her mendacious lip service to “a socially and economically just Europe,” she made clear that the money would be linked to a new round of social attacks. Europe had to be made “more innovative and competitive,” she stressed several times in her speech. Above all, she reminded the members of the European Parliament, only by working together could European nations defend their global economic and foreign policy interests. Europe was “not just something that has been handed over to us, some destiny that obliges us,” but rather “something living that we can shape and change.” She stressed:

In a globalised world, Europe does not deprive us of opportunities for action. It is not without Europe, but only with Europe that we can preserve our convictions and freedoms.

In other words, only through a unified European military and great power policy under German leadership would Brussels and Berlin be able to impose their imperialist interests world-wide. She said:

The highest priority of the German presidency is that Europe comes out of the crisis united and strengthened. The aim is not only to stabilise Europe in the short term. We want a Europe that faces the challenges of the present with self-confidence and courage. We want a Europe that is fit for the future, that can assert its place in the world in an innovative and sustainable manner. One must decide for oneself what Europe wants to be in this rapidly changing world order, which underscores the need for a strong European foreign and security policy.

As in previous interviews and speeches, Merkel made no secret of the need to transform the EU into a massively armed military alliance capable of acting more independently of Pindostan, saying:

A glance at the map shows that Europe is surrounded on its external borders not only by Britain and the western Balkans, but also by Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco among others. Europe is living in a period of global upheaval, in which the force fields are shifting, and Europe, despite the integration of many member states into the trans-Atlantic alliance, is more on its own.

Europe had also to bring its weight as a foreign policy power to bear on China. Merkel said:

Even if the EU-China summit set for September, unfortunately, cannot take place, we want to continue the open dialogue with China. Strategic relations with China are characterised by close trade policy ties, but equally by quite different socio-political ideas, especially concerning the protection of human rights and the rule of law.

Alarm bells should ring whenever German and European heads of state speak of “human rights” and “the rule of law” in regard to foreign policy, since these phrases invariably conceal imperialist goals inevitably associated with attacks on democratic rights. In Brussels, Merkel called for “effective protection of our democracies against cyber threats and disinformation campaigns,” code-words for strengthening the state’s repressive powers, especially against the growing left-wing opposition of workers and youth. The German bourgeoisie has made it clear from the very onset of its presidency that it is willing to put its words into action. Last week was marked by the announcement by the Ministry of Defence of plans to purchase combat drones and the demand by leading German politicians to reintroduce a form of compulsory military service so as to anchor militarism more firmly in society. All parties, from the Left Party to the extreme right AfD, are working closely together, along with the media, to fuel nationalism. The Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland stated in a commentary:

Germany is now condemned to leadership. There is no other way.

Behind the increasingly aggressive calls for German leadership in Europe are two developments in particular. First, tensions between the European powers are constantly increasing. After Merkel’s speech, EU Council President Charles Michel warned that in the run-up to the Jul 17-18 EU summit, stark differences remained among the member states concerning the European reconstruction fund. The proposal that the EU Commission take on debt to give countries at least some money in the form of non-repayable grants rather than loans, he said, was “still difficult, even very difficult for some member states to accept.” Second, political and social opposition in the working class is growing. The coronavirus pandemic has not only exacerbated tensions between the imperialist powers, it has, above all, exposed the bankruptcy of the capitalist system. Thirty years after German reunification and the dissolution of the Soviet Union by the Stalinist bureaucracy, the bourgeoisie has nothing to offer the vast majority of the population but mass impoverishment, increasing police state measures, militarism and war. Resistance is developing world-wide in the form of mass protests and strikes, which must now be armed with an international socialist programme.

French trade unions agree to attacks on health-care system amid coronavirus pandemic
Will Morrow, WSWS, Jul 13 2020

On Friday, amid the accelerating deadly coronavirus pandemic, the French trade unions and the Macron administration announced a new health-care agreement that will erode conditions for hospital and other health-care workers, and do nothing to address the catastrophic conditions in hospitals exposed by the virus. The full contents of the agreements have not yet been published, but even those details published by the media make clear that it is a major assault on healthcare. They include:

  • A further ending of restrictions on the 35-hour work week for nurses. According to the financial daily Les Echos, the agreement stipulates “the possibility of individual contracts for completing an annual quota of supplementary hours” on top of the 35-hour week. The federal secretary of the General Federation of Labour (CGT), Patrick Bourdillon, was forced to admit that these “additional hours will be paid, but we do not have the details of how much. We are therefore being asked to sign a blank check to end the 35-hour week.” While loopholes already existed on the 35-hour week, these are to be further expanded, enabling hospital management to “use this more often,” according to Les Echos. The newspaper hailed the agreement for “permitting reorganizations at the hospital, giving management room to maneuver, and thus increasing overall productivity.”
  • No pledge for reopening beds. In the last six years, 17.5k overstay hospital beds have been closed in France due to continuous cuts to hospital budgets. Of these, almost one quarter were closed in 2017-18. Over the past 20 years, more than 100k beds have been closed. The agreement includes no pledge for hospital funding to reverse the impact of this bipartisan, decades-long assault.
  • A negligible increase in hospital staff. The agreement includes a pledge to increase the number of nurse positions by 7.5k. This amounts to a drop in the ocean, approximately one or two additional nurses per facility. Moreover, half of these positions had already been allocated within the existing budgets of hospitals but had not been filled because of the atrocious conditions for nurses.
  • An inadequate pay rise for nurses of €180/month. This is just over half the €300/month that the trade unions had claimed was their central demand in advance of the negotiations. Nurses will not see any increase until September, and the full wage rise will not come into force until March next year. This follows decades of real wage cuts for nurses and other health-care staff. The total funding budgeted toward nurses and retirement home staff comes to €7.5b, and an additional €450m for doctors. This is roughly two percent of the almost €400b that the Macron administration pledged to guarantee the loans of French banks and corporations as it imposed a lockdown in March. Moreover, as further details of the agreement continue to emerge, there will no doubt be even more far-reaching attacks revealed.

Nonetheless, three trade union federations, the French Democratic Labor Confederation (CFDT), National Union of Autonomous Unions (UNSA), and Force Ouvriere (FO), declared that the deal for nurses represented a great victory and that they would sign it tomorrow. It would therefore pass, since the combined vote these federations received in the last union elections was just over 50%, and they therefore claim to represent half the workforce. This has enabled the CGT to play its assigned role of fraudulently criticizing elements of the agreement, while committing it to nothing. The CGT is itself seeking to demobilize widespread opposition among nurses and health-care workers to the agreement. While the media has claimed that the CGT is opposed to the agreement, this is false. On Thursday evening, it published a video by Mireille Stivala, the general secretary of the Federation of Health and Social Work. Stivala said the agreement crossed a number of the union’s “red lines,” but concluded that the union may still vote for it anyway. She said:

The union will prepare a report for members on the deal, so that the point of support for the signature or the non-signature of the agreement comes from the base and the workers. Even if the agreement may be disappointing, we have to acknowledge all the same that it’s thanks to the mobilisation of staff over recent years, and thanks to the trade unions, that we’ve been able to get this wage increase.

She concluded absurdly by calling on workers to join a national protest on the national holiday of Bastille Day on Jul 14 to call for improvements in workers’ conditions that the unions and the government are in the process of tearing up. The agreement underscores certain definite social realities. The systematic assault on the hospital system in France and internationally over decades has not been the result of mistaken policies or a lack of understanding of the importance of the health-care system for society. In the midst of the greatest pandemic in a century, in which over 30k have been killed in France and 568k around the world, the response of the ruling class and its political and trade union representatives is to further trash the public health-care system. As far as the capitalist class is concerned, if more workers die, and particularly the elderly who are no longer able to produce profits for employers, this is not only unimportant, but can be a positive good, as it will reduce spending on both health-care and pensions. The slashing of social spending is necessary to fund the massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich that has been accelerated throughout the pandemic. And the rich will continue to enjoy the best quality health-care that money can buy. That is why governments internationally are maintaining their return-to-work policy, ensuring that corporate profit-making activities can be resumed despite the threat to millions.

It would be the greatest mistake for health-care workers to believe that the latest sell-out can be reversed through the placing of pressure on the trade union leaders, as is put forward by the recently-formed Inter-Urgences trade union. It is not merely a matter of corrupt individuals, though they are in great supply. Under conditions of globalized production, the corporatist and nationalist program of the trade unions in every country has transformed them into the open agents of corporate management and governments, tasked with suppressing opposition among workers and increasing profits. Health-care workers must instead break free from the corporatist grip of the union apparatuses and form their own independent organisations of struggle, rank-and-file committees, organized by workers themselves. An appeal must be made for the development of a unified industrial and political offensive of the working class internationally. This must be tied to a socialist program, for the taking of political power by the working class internationally, and the reorganization of society on a socialist basis. The coronavirus pandemic has made clear that the capitalist class is in a war against society. The fight against the pandemic means a war against capitalism and the fight for socialism.

Far-right Vox party to launch fascist trade union in Spain
Alejandro López, WSWS, Jul 13 2020

Amid growing social opposition of the working class against the Socialist Party-Podemos government and its affiliated trade unions, Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) and the General Union of Labour (UGT), Spain’s far-right Vox has announced it will create a new trade union in September. The call is a warning to the working class. Vox, the third largest political party in parliament with 50 seats, heavily promoted by the media, and with strong connections to the Spanish military, police and intelligence services, is to build a nationalist organization to strangle opposition among workers. According to Vox leader Santiago Abascal, this union “will protect workers, their families, our neighborhoods, and industry,” and “it will not kneel before the powerful or the communist nomenclatura”, and will not be “at the service of the left and its globalist interests,” in reference to Podemos and the PSOE. The union will aim to represent “all Spaniards and not to force a non-existent class struggle.”

Vox spox Jorge Buxadé, a former member of the Falange, Spain’s main party group during the 1930s, which became the sole legal party under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1977, accused the CCOO and UGT unions of not defending workers’ rights. He reiterated that the new organization “will not be class-based.” He stated that in a time of economic crisis and rising unemployment, the trade union “have lost themselves in many rights that are useless,” in reference to identity politics, “and have forgotten the only right that really matters is the right to work.” The Spanish unions “have not defended the workers from Airbus, Nissan or Alcoa”, companies implementing thousands of job cuts. To distance the new organisation from the current unions, funded to the tune of billions of euros by the state and the employers, Buxadé claimed the new organisation will be “funded by its members.”

The calculations of the fascists are very clear. The global economy faces its worst recession since the 1930s, whose effects are yet to be seen. The IMF predicts the Spanish economy will fall 12% to 18% this year, the worst fall since the Spanish Civil War. Its public deficit will grow from 2.8% in 2019, after social spending was decimated by a decade of savage austerity, to 13.9%. Unemployment is expected to grow to 20% to 25% of the working population by the end of the year. Intermón Oxfam estimates that 700k would fall into poverty, which could affect 26% of the population. In the interests of the financial aristocracy, the PSOE-Podemos government is preparing to implement draconian austerity, with billions of euros of cuts in health care, education and pensions. Spain’s central bank insists Spain must cut €6b/yr, impose new “structural reforms” to pensions, cuts and delaying further the age of retirement, and increase VAT, which overwhelmingly affects the working class. The PSOE-Podemos government has already passed a €100b bank and corporate bailout, the largest in Spanish history. It is widely understood among workers and by Vox that the UGT and CCOO support the PSOE and Podemos government and will not oppose such measures, which will provoke explosive social anger. The unions have supported all of the PSOE-Podemos recent measures. They recently endorsed the labour reform first passed by the right-wing Popular Party, and CCOO General Secretary of, Unai Sordo recently ruled out taxing the wealthy:

Raising taxes only for the upper classes is not enough, you have to tell the people.

The unions have also been the main enforcers of back-to-work orders amid the pandemic, risking the lives of millions of workers for corporate profits. The unions also refused to oppose the PSOE-Podemos government’s mounting repression of workers. They did not lift a finger when the PSOE and Podemos unleashed riot police against steelworkers strikes and protests by Glovo delivery workers against unsafe working conditions. They also kept silent when the government banned protests and rallies, cynically arguing that health considerations had to prevail over the right to protest—while sending millions of workers back to work amid the pandemic. Anticipating the further growth of social opposition to the government and the unions, Vox aims to build an organization to whip up nationalism, divide the workers and, when necessary, physically attack strikers. This development should be taken as a warning. It confirms two key analyses the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) has made of the growth of the far-right.

First, Vox, like other far-right parties internationally, does not reflect widespread fascist sentiments in the population. It is driven from above, by forces in the media, the state and the military & police apparatus. It has benefitted from endless media promotion of Spanish nationalism and police repression in Catalonia. Vox is aware of its own vulnerability. Its constituency is still overwhelmingly the middle class, security forces and traditional right-wing Catholic groups. According to a latest poll, Vox’s overall support is in fact decreasing. It has gone from 15% to 13%. Since the pandemic began, Vox has supported the big banks, private education and health-care, cuts in public pensions, the pharmaceutical companies, the electricity companies and tax cuts on high incomes. In addition, it has defended unpopular company bail-outs, while attacking those received by poor workers. In recent weeks, however, it has intensified its cynical attempts to tap into rising social anger at the PSOE-Podemos government and the unions. Vox has begun agitating for the defence of “national” products and companies against foreign capital and scapegoating migrant workers. Vox has also attempted to posture as opposing the plant closures announced by automaker Nissan and aluminium producer Alcoa.

Moreover, the struggle against the far-right requires a Marxist internationalist perspective. Keeping the ruling class from promoting fascistic forces requires building, an international socialist movement opposing Podemos and similar “left populist” parties on the left, mobilizing opposition among workers internationally to inequality, authoritarianism and war on a socialist basis. Social-democratic and Stalinist unions cannot seriously struggle against, let alone defeat fascist unions. Rooted in a nationalist and pro-capitalist perspective, they responded to the globalization of production with a decades-long collaboration with management to drive down workers’ living standards. In every country, workers’ struggles have faced sabotage by the unions, who have done everything they can to divide workers along national lines. These conditions paved the way for Vox’s advance. Podemos’ integration in a PSOE-led government has demonstrated that the “left populist” parties of the affluent class neither can nor will oppose the rise of far-right parties. Indeed, they are the fifth wheel of the bourgeoisie’s turn to fascistic forms of rule. Terrified at rising strikes and protests, Podemos is working with the PSOE to pass anti-democratic measures to strangle political opposition. Podemos leader and Deputy PM Pablo Iglesias praised Vox’s nationalism, telling the Italian newspaper La Stampa in a recent interview:

In times of crisis it is normal to re-evaluate national sovereignty. The extreme right has understood this debate. Buwever, it gives answers that are not democratic.

The struggle against Vox requires the building of a new political leadership in the working class: sections of the ICFI in Spain and across Europe. None of the problems of militarism, EU austerity, the COVID-19 pandemic and the national conflicts whipped up by the bourgeoisie can be solved in a national, capitalist framework. The way forward is a fight to unify struggles of the working class across Europe and beyond in opposition to capitalism and imperialism.

Greek government passes draconian anti-protest legislation
John Vassilopoulos, WSWS, Jul 13 2020

A protester holding a patrol bomb kicks a tear gas canister thrown by riot police
during a demonstration against new protest law in Athens, Thursday Jul 9 2020.
(Photo: Petros Giannakouris/AP)

Thousands marched through Athens and 40 other cities and towns last Thursday to protest a draconian Bill, severely restricting the right to protest and harking back to the repression imposed by the fascist junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. Many held banners reading “hands off demonstrations.” The march was peaceful until it reached the parliament οn Syntagma Square, where the Bill was being debated. There riot police attacked protesters using stun grenades and tear gas. There were many incidents of police violence against demonstrators. A video released by online news site pressproject.gr, shows a group of motorcycle policemen driving into a small crowd of protesters. The Bill was voted into law after a two-day debate by 187 MPs from the ruling conservative New Democracy party, the social-democratic Movement for Change (KINAL) and the far-right Greek Solution party. Introducing the Bill, PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said:
Our aim is to have a framework that is operational. Currently, 50 people shut down Athens every day whenever they feel like it.

Τhis chimed with the barrage of media propaganda in the run-up to the vote denouncing protests for harming commercial activity, especially in the aftermath of the easing of the coronavirus lockdown in May. In a statement released a week before the Bill was passed, the Athens Trade Association complained:

With 80 marches and gatherings in May when the market re-opened and 53 from the start of June till now, with the centre of Athens closed on average 3 times per working day, all this creates stifling conditions on a daily basis which make the operation of the city and the market impossible.

Under the new law, protest organisers are required to give advance notice of any planned public assembly “to the relevant local police or port authority.” The police or authorities are given the power to impose restrictions and even refuse permission for protests outright on public safety grounds, or if “there is a serious threat to disturb the socio-economic life of a particular area.” Spontaneous protests are effectively outlawed, as “unauthorised” protests and those which do not abide by prescribed restrictions can be put down. Organisers are required to actively collaborate with the authorities to police a demonstration by “co-operating with the police or port authority liaison and abiding with their recommendations.” They are also required to inform attendants “not to bring along items that can be used in acts of violence,” as well as “request the intervention of the relevant police or port authority to remove individuals who are carrying such items.” They must appoint “an adequate number of individuals who can assist in safeguarding the assembly.”

Anyone arrested for attempting to subvert the peaceful character of the demonstration will be punished by two years in prison, while protest organisers will be liable for any injuries, fatalities or damage caused to property by participants. The law echoes a 1971 decree, “Concerning Public Gatherings,” brought into force by the military junta. This decree provided much of the pseudo-legal basis enabling the junta to bloodily crush the Athens Polytechnic student uprising in 1973. The decree was never formally abolished following the fall of the junta in 1974, and until now has officially constituted the only legislation on the statute books concerning the policing of protests. It has been argued that in practice it has “laid dormant” on the grounds that the right to protest is protected by Article 11 of the 1975 Constitution. However, Article 11 explicitly allows the banning of protests by the police on the same grounds as those cited in the new law. It was this which allowed Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chryssochoidis to dismiss claims that the new law harks back to the junta era, stating:

The law is attempting to consolidate the constitutional right for a citizen to protest so that the right to assembly is fulfilled. All those who believe that the government will be led into far-right paths are mistaken.

This is belied by the text of the new law, which explicitly makes references to the 1971 decree and a 1972 decree stating that they are both now superseded by Article 14 of the new legislation allowing ministers to issue decrees which “regulate more specific issues in the enforcement of the [law]”. The government therefore has the power to impose additional repressive measures as dictated by circumstances! The mention of the 1972 decree, which established geographical zones in Greek cities where protests were expressly forbidden, is a clear indication of the repressive forms that such decrees could take. The aim of the legislation is to pre-empt a massive upsurge in the class struggle. In a recent report, the European Commission anticipates that Greece’s economy is set to contract by 9.7% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, while unemployment is set to rise to nearly 20%. Syriza leader and former PM Alexis Tsipras said as much during the debate in parliament, when, after citing the approach of a deep recession, he asked the government:

Is the new law was being passed out of fear of the developments and possible social backlash which are coming in the autumn?

Syriza should know. This was the rotten party, hailed by the international pseudo-left, who in 2015 ditched its previous rhetoric about “opposing austerity” to carry out the most savage attacks yet imposed on workers in Greece. Over four years of his premiership, Tsipras had no qualms in employing the full force of the state against the “social backlash” prompted by his imposition of austerity measures at the behest of the EU and the IMF. Τhe Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE) postures as opponents of the Bill, with General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumpas responding to the government:

You’re fooling yourselves if you think this monstrosity will be implemented. You will be forced to put it back in the draw even if it remains on the statute books. You will be forced by workers and the Greek people who will annul it in practice.

Such bluster seeks to cover the KKE’s long history in betraying struggles in Greece. Through its trade union federation, the All Workers’ Militant Front (PAME), it poses as the militant wing of the trade union bureaucracy which has ensured that the countless general strikes over the last decade against austerity, including mass protests in Athens and all the main cities, never got out of the bureaucracy’s control, allowing the punishing measures to pass. The legislation only formalises the role PAME plays in demonstrations. PAME’s bloc is always notoriously flanked with a security detail armed with bats who are there supposedly to safeguard the protest. Its real purpose was exposed when they supplemented the role of the police in Oct 2011 during a general strike, as they formed a wall in front of parliament and engaged in scuffles with protesters who tried to get near. Citizen Protection Minister Chryssochoidis alluded to a specific aim of the new law in preventing demonstrations outside the control of pseudo-left groups in and around the trade union bureaucracy. Referring to PAME, he stated to a parliamentary committee in the run up to the vote:

Are there certain citizens who are something special? Who do not request permission? Why does PAME request permission and they don’t? Why do we allow this? I don’t accept it.

Chryssochoidis threw an olive branch to the KKE and PAME following the police attack on last week’s demonstrations, implying that he sees them as enforcers of the new legislation. Responding to complaints by KKE deputies in parliament, he admitted that its members and other demonstrators were tear gassed and described PAME’s conduct as “exemplary.”

Bereaved family members march on Downing Street to demand UK COVID-19 inquiry
Robert Stevens, WSWS, Jul 13 2020

Becky with a photo of her father Peter.

Families representing over 1k coronavirus victims marched to Downing Street Saturday to protest the Johnson government ignoring their demand for an independent public inquiry into the Tories handling of the pandemic. Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK have set up a petition calling for an “immediate inquiry” that has been signed by over 154k people. It states:

The UK death toll has risen to over 40k, and it is one of the highest in the world. We’re urgently calling for an inquiry to find out why, and to stop this happening again. Especially as we may be on the brink of a second wave. Each person who has died in this pandemic is a loved person, a life gone too soon and a family torn apart. It is clear that there were huge gaps in the country’s preparedness including delays to locking down, inadequate supplies of PPE, policies of discharging into care homes and more. Despite this, the government continues to refer to its ‘apparent success’ and being ‘proud’ of its record.

According to the group’s lawyer, Elkan Abrahamson, an inquiry could be led by a High Court judge. If the government refuses to hold a public inquiry, lawyers representing the families say they are prepared to challenge the decision at the High Court via a judicial review. One of those attending the protest was co-founder Jo Goodman, 32, who lost her father Stuart, 72, on Apr 2. Stuart had to attend a hospital appointment in person on Mar 18 and it is possible this is when he became infected. Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Jo, from Norwich, said:

It’s been a month since we sent our formal request calling for an inquiry and we’ve been blanked ever since. The Prime Minister has not even given us the decency of a personal acknowledgment, let alone responded to our requests for a meeting. So we thought if he won’t come to us, then we would go to him. We won’t let the deaths of our loved ones be in vain.

Ellis with a photo of his grandfather, Berrice.

Another member is Ken Sazuze, the husband of Elsie Sazuze, a nurse at a care home who died in Sutton Coldfield on Apr 8, aged 44. She left behind son Andrew, 22 and daughter Anna, 16. Leshie, also a member, is the daughter of a London bus driver, Ranjith Chandrapala, who drove the 92 bus route from Ealing hospital, where he died on May 3, aged 64. The father of member Fiona Kirton, Bernard, was transferred from a hospital to a care home without first being tested for the virus. He died in Warwick Hospital on Tuesday Apr 7, aged 84. Many other families have suffered the same fate. Around 22k of COVID-19 deaths in Britain have been in care homes. Charlie Williams’ father, Rex, died of COVID-19 at the care home where he lived in April in Coventry. Speaking to Channel 4 News July 7, Charlie said Rex died within days of being diagnosed with coronavirus. He said:

We were first notified on Thursday Apr 16 that his health had deteriorated and by Monday he’s passed away. My father was bed-bound in a day care home, where he had lived for several years happily. We were told, that they had received patients from the hospital and before we knew it our dad had passed away.

As part of the government’s policy to free up NHS beds, thousands of elderly people were sent to nursing homes. Many were not tested for COVID-19. Charlie was interviewed on the same day that Johnson blamed care homes for deaths as “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures in the way that they could.”

Jade, who lost her father Larry, at the protest

Charlie said:

We got a reply, quite late on. It was two lines, not even condolences, a measly two lines he gave us. We are quite disgusted with that reply. They basically acknowledged that they had received the letter and that’s it.

While the petition correctly warns of the dangers of a second wave due to the reckless flinging open of the economy with all schools to reopen in September, the first wave of the pandemic continues. As the families protested at Downing Street, a further 148 deaths were announced and 820 cases. On Sunday, a further 21 people were reported dead. The deaths recorded over the weekend brought the official death tally to 44,819, equating to 660 deaths per million, a higher rate than every major capitalist country in the world except Belgium (844 per million). However, the government’s figures do not include “excess deaths,” understood to the be most accurate measures of COVID-19 deaths. Several newspapers, including the Financial Times and the Times, conclude that over 65k excess deaths have already occurred. The FT noted at the weekend:

The total number of people who died, directly or indirectly from coronavirus in the UK, during the phase when deaths were above average, stood at just over 65.2k. Jamie Jenkins, an independent statistician who formerly worked at the ONS, estimates a figure of just over 69k for the entire pandemic.

Jean lost her father Aldrick, known as Cleo

Numbers signing the petition have grown substantially in the last days, reflecting mounting anger at the horrifying human cost of the Conservative government’s “herd immunity” policy allowing the deaths of tens of thousands, including thousands of health and social care staff, education workers and teachers. Some of those signing the petition on Sunday commented:

We have been deceived and lied to by this Government. As a care worker, we are doing our absolute best to protect our most vulnerable. What a disgrace our PM is to imply the thousands of care home deaths are at the fault of care staff. This government has been reckless and incompetent and in my opinion their actions are criminal! The government have pushed for herd immunity without following the facts. They were incompetent with PPE, and continue to lie and deceive the public with death and test figures. The government has lied and put wealth over health.

The preventable mass deaths from COVID-19 in the UK are an act of social murder. They took place because the government took none of the necessary measures to protect the population, particularly the most vulnerable. Its refusal to impose a timely lockdown, social distancing and mass testing allowed the untrammelled spread of a deadly disease for months. Many have compared the neglect of the authorities for the health, safety and very lives of thousands of people to that of the deregulation, and profiteering that resulted in the social murder of 72 men, women and children in the Grenfell Tower inferno of 2017. Once again, the bereaved must have the answers to how their loved ones died of COVID-19, but all experience testifies that demanding that governments act to establish the truth though public inquiries after their policies have led to mass deaths is a dead-end. After more than 30 years of fighting, including during 13 years of a Labour government, the families of the victims of the Hillsborough football disaster were denied justice, with nobody held to account. More than three years after the Grenfell fire, not a single person in political and corporate circles has been charged with a single offence in relation to the deaths. The public inquiry has no powers of prosecution, and has extended to grant legal immunity to the parties responsible for turning Grenfell into a death-trap. What is needed to establish the truth is an independent political movement of the working class for socialism.

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