Protecting the rights of capitalists at the cost of workers’ lives

The UK government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been shambolic from the very start. From their failure to implement a national lockdown early enough which resulted in 20,000 additional deaths according to Professor Neil Ferguson (who was scientific advisor to the government at the time) to their widely criticised re-opening of various sections of the economy before it was safe to do so, it is becoming clear that the UK’s response to the pandemic has been one of the worst in Europe, and possibly the world.

The measures which have been implemented by the government are the subject of national confusion, as various pundits attempt to explain the contradictory pronouncements and regulations. Attempting to keep track of the shift in policy is an exercise in futility as rules are changed frequently and with little warning, due primarily to the fact that the government wishes to ensure that the pandemic has as little impact as possible on capitalist profits.

I previously wrote an article about the impact that the Coronavirus Act would have on the working class. You can find that original article here. Continuing the theme of poorly thought-out regulations imposed on the British public without notice, the government has now decided to implement the so-called “Rule of Six”. This is a belated and thoroughly insufficient attempt to prevent the second wave, of which experts have been warning for the last several months.

The new rule comprises a nationwide limit on the number of people that can attend social gatherings to six. Fines for non-compliance begin at £100, doubling with each repeat offence up to a maximum of £3,200. The rule only applies to social gatherings organised by ordinary members of the public, with economic activity allowed to carry on as normal.

The level of the fine is not based on a sliding scale dependent on earnings but is rather a flat fine imposed on all members of the population, regardless of socio-economic status. This makes it easy for the rich to flout the new law with impunity, as the level of any potential fine they will receive is only a fraction of their earnings. For members of the working class, receiving a fine even of £100 could be devastating.

This creates in effect a two-tiered regime in which rich people are able to do as they please, increasing the threat of coronavirus to all members of the public, while the poor face punitive fines for seeing their friends and family while simultaneously being forced to work in unsafe conditions.

The list of those exempt from the new requirements demonstrates the priorities of this government. This new rule only applies in venues without a commercial element, such as parks, homes and gardens. Pubs and restaurants are to remain open, as of course are offices, schools and factories. Coronavirus only spreads where no-one is making money, it would seem.

The government’s contempt for working class people is clearly demonstrated by the list of sports which are and aren’t allowed under the new rule. Only so-called “organised” sports involving groups of more than six people are allowed, with fines potentially being imposed for playing sports which are not considered to be “organised”.

The list of exempt sports includes such famously proletarian pastimes as grouse shooting and sailing. However, playing football in the park with more than six people has been made illegal, as this apparently doesn’t entail a sufficient level of “organisation”. There is no explanation whatsoever as to why the government believes that “organised” sports are less likely to spread coronavirus.

The right to protest is officially protected, by the exception clause “Protests and political activities organised in compliance with Covid-19 secure guidance and subject to strict risk assessments.” However, this adds massive overhead to any attempt to protest, with protest groups having to draft and submit health and safety documents well in advance of any action. There is also no guarantee that any request will be granted, giving the police both the ability to ban any activity that they deem sufficiently annoying, and much better intel on proposed protests than would previously have been provided.

As has been shown by the successive restrictions on strike action, it is possible to render something technically legal but so bound up in rules, restrictions and delays that it is effectively illegal in most circumstances. These controls will undoubtedly be used against environmental and workers’ rights protests, with the aim of suppressing those movements rather than protecting public health.

The Rule of Six is simply another example of this government putting the interests of its capitalist overlords ahead of those of the working class. It is clearly not gatherings of families and friends in their homes which are causing the surge in cases – the blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of the bosses who force their workers to cram back into offices and factories without adequate social distancing in place, and who prioritise the strength of the economy over public health.

It is clear that the government’s approach has been wholly inadequate in preventing the long-prophesied second wave. Without instituting a full national lockdown, including closing commercial venues such as pubs and restaurants, not to mention schools and workplaces, the spread of coronavirus cannot be controlled. Clearly, the government is unwilling to do this.

Therefore, this new “Rule of Six” is merely a cynical attempt by the government to appear to be doing something to slow the spread of the virus without having to implement measures which will impact on the profits of the capitalists. They are attempting to shift the blame for the continuation of the pandemic onto ordinary people who want to see their family and friends, rather than the exploiters who demanded that the economy be reopened before it was safe to do so. Workers should reject this imposition of blame and instead demand the closure of unsafe workplaces and schools without loss of pay until actually effective safety controls can be implemented.