The Tory government is giving the police extra powers to enforce the lockdown. Yet profiteering bosses are getting away with murder. Workers should trust only themselves to maintain safety in workplaces and local communities.
As part of the UK government’s chaotic attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19, the police forces have been given unprecedented powers to charge and fine people for breaching the current state of lockdown.
Those caught have in some cases been hit with a fixed penalty charge of £60. The police forces have even taken to harassing people for going into public parks and trying to get a little sun.
It’s alright for the super-rich, of course; they have personal gardens the size of parks. But workers in tower blocks and slum apartments are faced with having little room or access to sunlight and fresh air. Local parks and public gardens represents the only chance to escape from the enforced confinement.
The response of police chiefs seems to be first and foremost a cynical exercise in PR, with regional police social media accounts full of reports bragging about fines issued and arrests made.
For example, police in Warrington bragged on Twitter that they fined a man who was ‘out for a drive due to boredom’. There is no explanation given as to how driving is supposed to spread the virus from inside their car – although rolling down your window for a police officer might do it.
Overnight 6 people have been summonsed for offences relating to the new corona virus legislation to protect the public:
Out for a drive due to boredom
Returning from parties
Multiple people from the same household going to the shops for non-essential items pic.twitter.com/FstjlfdEkD
— Warrington Police (@PoliceWarr) March 29, 2020
Worse still is a video posted showing three officers who are not wearing protective equipment or social distancing, breaking down a resident’s door and rifling through his cupboards in order to see if he was hosting a party (spoiler: he was not).
Police smash residents door in to see if there was Party. It seems they are abusing powers and degrading the public. pic.twitter.com/c8Hf5c1vhY
— Odilitime (@OdiliTime) April 13, 2020
But the hypocrisy is astounding. On the one side, Derbyshire Police have been busy deploying drones to film and publicly shame rural walkers – hardly a serious threat to the nation’s health. At the same time, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick led a crowded ‘Clap For Carers’ party event on Westminster Bridge.
— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) April 17, 2020
Attempts by the establishment to demonise ordinary workers as criminals, however, are nothing new. One only has to recall the disgraceful headlines in the Murdoch rag The Sun in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy to see evidence of this. And police forces have been happy over the years to target and harass working class areas in general, and BAME communities in particular.
It is clear that, over a month into lockdown, with the death toll still rising, the bosses and their government are focused entirely on preserving profits. Meanwhile, millions in working-class communities are attempting to control the spread of the virus by self-isolating.
If the Tory government’s aim was really to save lives, they would start by shutting down non-essential work – such as construction sites – and ensuring that decent PPE is provided to frontline workers. Instead, we have police officers lurking around parks and shops, menacing ordinary people who are just trying to get by.
Protecting the system
But whilst police incompetence might be bad enough on its own, the recent extension of police powers has a more sinister side to it.
The police force are fundamentally an organ of class rule, existing first and foremost to defend the interests of the ruling class. This can be easily seen from many episodes throughout history, when the police have been deployed to break up strikes and protests – all with complete impunity when it comes to their own deadly actions.
As outrage grows over the injustices of the current crisis, the Tories and the bosses will increasingly lean on the forces of the state to defend their system. For example, we could easily see a situation in which strikes are broken up by police for ‘breaching lockdown conditions’. This is exactly what has been seen recently in Italy, where police in Modena arrested workers striking over failures to provide PPE.
Apparently it is safe to work in close quarters without protection from the virus – but striking to protect your life is dangerous to public health and you will be arrested!
In Quetta, Pakistan, dozens of health workers were beaten, arrested and tortured after a demonstration demanding PPE, so that they could minimise the risk to their own lives whilst treating their patients.
And across the US, a similar social explosion is fomenting in the healthcare industry, with many reports from across the country of medical staff being fired on the spot for refusing to work with PPE – or even for bringing in their own!
In the UK, the coronavirus has also been used as an excuse to curtail strike action. At Loughborough University, for example, towards the tail-end of the recent UCU strikes, the Vice Chancellor informed trade unionists that pickets would be shut down “in the interests of public hygiene”. Those continuing to hand out leaflets were threatened with removal from campus – presumably by the police.
Put workers in control
From all this evidence, it is clear that the bosses’ police cannot be trusted to protect the public or to enforce the lockdown. In every sphere, the ruling class and their institutions have shown that profits and PR come before workers’ health and lives.
In contrast to the chaos and disorganisation at the top, millions of local residents and Labour activists have self-organised into local community organisations to support each other during this crisis.
These mutual aid groups are fulfilling many complex tasks: organising food deliveries to vulnerable people; linking those with mental health difficulties to counsellors; and even hand-sewing PPE for hospitals! Compare this to the scandalous actions of unscrupulous bosses, who are only interested in making extra profits from the shortages and scarcities.
It is these community organisations that should be given the power and responsibility to run and manage their own local areas. Those known and trusted in the community – who are in-touch with the most vulnerable and who can communicate directly with residents – are in a much better position to organise and implement just social distancing measures than the heavy-handed police.
Similarly in the workplace. The police will not protect workers in construction and other non-essential sectors, whose lives are being put at risk by ruthless bosses. Instead, the trade unions must organise workers across the board, with democratically elected workplace committees established to decide upon and implement necessary health and safety measures.
Where management refuses to provide protective equipment or allow for social distancing to be put in place, then workers must organise and walkout.
We must be clear: the Tories, the bosses, and the police are only interested in protecting profits and private property. The working class can only trust in itself – in its own organisation, unity, and power – to maintain safety in workplaces and local communities, and to fight this deadly disease.