The Prime Minister’s speech on Sunday relaxed the lockdown but went down like a lead balloon. He announced the conditional terms by which schools, some shops and workplaces may reopen, along with paternalistic approval for unlimited outdoor exercise. I myself was watching the announcement with my family; at the end of the speech, my dad (a self-employed bricklayer) remarked “Well what does that mean?”. The answer is that it meant that the working class would be going back to work before it is safe. Another COVID-19 peak could be triggered by this reckless Battle of Somme like edict and people know it.
Not only was the government’s new policy reckless, but it was confusing due to the unnecessary change in PR and messaging. The change from “stay home” to “stay alert” has left many scratching their heads. It is a long way from the clear and simple messages like “get Brexit done” and “take back control” that Boris Johnson is used to espousing. This came as the latest Opinium poll for the Observer said that the public believe the UK has been the second worst-performing country when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus – only pipped at the post by the United States (of course).
But the Prime Minister’s announcement did something more than just confuse people this week. The public were just not having it that people would be ushered back to work before the curve of coronavirus cases had flattened. Quite frankly, people woke up to the workers’ rights issue at the heart of this crisis. People on social media were sharing extracts of the Employment Rights Act, particularly Section 44 which gives workers the right to refuse to work in an unsafe environment.
Celebrities like Amy Hart from the ITV show ‘Love Island’, who has 1.2 million followers on Instagram, put out a call to join a trade union. The airline worker turned social media influencer and model from Worthing said that ‘If I could give you one piece of advice; join a union. They were my absolute saving grace and safety net when I was employed by a big company’. Even the TUC has been back on our airwaves. The discourse around workers’ rights has been broadened recently beyond just gig economy workers. The Labour Party has been at the forefront, fighting for small businesses, under-recognised key workers, and traditional tradesman – a constituency of workers that Labour should be solidly behind in times of crisis and in times of normality.
The financial hit to industries like construction, tourism, events, and hospitality will be felt for months if not years. It must be the Labour Party that stands up for the safety and rights of workers of all crafts, trades, and professions, in ‘peacetime’ and in crisis. These are the working class in post-industrial Britain, and these are the people we must strive to represent and fight for.
Written by Jacob Allen