Lambeth Unison Branch Committee met on 17 March, some online a few in person, to discuss our response to the Coronavirus crisis. The following motion was passed unanimously, though there were many additional points and acute problems of under-preparedness and poor (or no) advice from Government, the Labour Council and Unison and the TUC raised in the discussion.

Three days after it was passed and after days of being ignored, library staff walked off the job, citing Section 44 of the Economic Relations Act 1996, which allows workers to leave a site they believe to be unsafe and not to return until it is made safe. Within days, the Tory government closed all libraries: shame on the Progress-led Labour council.

In schools we have largely won payment of agency workers, massive reduction in the working week and staff control over working conditions, but there are still pockets of Heads and CEOs who are seeking to claw back money at the expense of their workers’ livelihoods. Worse has been the attitude of private contractors and we have been forced to call for immediate bringing in-house of those that do not agree to pay their workers in full.

Emergency motion on Coronavirus-2019

This Branch Committee notes:

  1. That Covid-19 is a deadly disease with 20% of cases needing hospital treatment, 5% intensive care and 1-2% who will die.
  2. That many millions in the UK are on the long list of ‘vulnerable’ people and that the poor and those in ill health (and health workers) will be among the most vulnerable.
  3. That the spread of the disease can be drastically slowed down – and health services thereby more able to cope with demand – with mass testing, closure of schools and other mass gatherings, enforcing home working where possible.
  4. That Johnson’s populist Tory government’s policy, at odds with nearly every European government, is to delay such measures, thus ensuring the peak of the disease comes sooner and is higher, both with callous deadly consequences.

This Branch Committee believes:

  • That the responsibility for this crisis lies with the bosses and the capitalist governments, who turn a blind eye to agricultural malpractices, cut health budgets, lie about scientific evidence and put business interests (keep working!) before the public health.
  • That they will nevertheless try and make us pay for their crisis through lay-offs, leaving millions without sick pay, bearing the brunt of the unnecessary excess deaths.
  • That the Labour Party and the unions must lead the fight for a working class solution to the crisis, including backing direct action, like walk-outs, where public or staff safety is compromised.

This Branch Committee resolves:

  • To demand that the council provide PPE, hand sanitizers and adequate washing facilities, organise deep cleansing and educate public and staff about health & safety.
  • To demand the council encourage every possible worker to work from home for the foreseeable future and to encourage schools and other public service providers to do the same.
  • To demand the council purchase testing kits so every staff member can find out if they are infected and act accordingly.
  • To demand the council calls on all contractors or service providers to give all their staff, as the council must give its staff, including agency workers, zero-hours, apprentices, etc. full sick pay from day one if they contract the virus or are advised to self-isolate.
  • To demand the council expand its environmental team and inspect and advise management of all council or educational premises with the power to order a shut down where necessary.
  • To demand the council provide free food for vulnerable isolaters and a rent and rate amnesty to all council tenants, and to recruit/redeploy teams of staff to relay essential items (food, medicines, etc.) to vulnerable people.
  • To call on Unison leadership and Labour Link to press the Labour Party to campaign for socialist measures, like the nationalisation of Big Pharma, immediate funding to rebuild and expand the NHS, closing the internal market and to call for internationalism, not racism in the face of this global crisis.

Lambeth Unison is campaigning for full sick pay for laundry staff. Please help by signing the petition