Britain is experiencing its third Covid wave which is being made much worse by the ending in England of most Covid restrictions. As we write this, cases are over 50,000 a day with an estimate that this figure will rise to 100,000 cases in September. The numbers of those in hospitals is increasing, with some hospitals reconfiguring their layouts to re-introduce Covid wards.
Of course given the acute lack of beds in this country, every Covid patient in hospital occupies a bed that someone else could use. So we are seeing operations being cancelled, thus adding to the backlog of millions of people, many of them in pain, waiting for an operation.
Now the Government claim that the vaccination programme has broken the link between cases and hospitalisations and death. This is untrue. The programme has weakened the link but unfortunately not broken it; even people double vaxed (as proven by the Health Secretary of State contracting Covid) can still be infected.
In any case, as this article is being written, just over half of the total UK population have been fully vaccinated and around 70% have been partially vaccinated. Even assuming that approximately 20% of unvaccinated people are protected by previous infection, this still leaves more than 17 million people with no protection against COVID-19. Therefore there are millions of people who are unvaccinated or only partly so who are vulnerable to the third wave. This pool of people, much of whom are young, is where Covid is being left rip.
Whether by design or negligence, the UK Government is seeking herd immunity by infection rather than by vaccination. As such many more people will die, many more will be hospitalised and very importantly many more will get Long Covid. Already it is estimated that up to two million have Long Covid. The Government is adding to that number.
Then there is the chaos caused by people being pinged by the NHS app, the largely unreported crisis in school where at any one time, 100Ks of pupils are being sent home. All this is being made worse by the UK Government actions and inactions.
So what should the union say and do?
Firstly we have to condemn the ending of restrictions and set out the case to our members that the route to herd immunity must be by vaccination, not mass infection. It follows therefore that we must be opposed to a return to the workplace in the current circumstances and we should renew the call that those already forced back to the workplace be allowed to home work.
In reality this means backing action in DVLA and DWP.
In the former the union is re-balloting members in DVLA as required by law (the anti-trade union law forces unions to seek another strike mandate after six months – of course the Tories after the last election have a mandate for five years).
In DWP there was an indicative ballot, the results of which were not announced and since then things have on the surface gone quiet. For us that calm is deceptive. Each week offices are being closed owing to Covid as DWP is not immune to the third wave. More worryingly the department is pushing on with plans to get more claimants into Job Centres, have interviews at unscreened desks and to get staff back into processing and other centres. In other words, DWP is deliberately making the Covid crisis worse, converting every job centre into a super spreading site.
We have to oppose this not only by word but also by deed. Even if the mood on the ground is not uniformly for strike action now, though through clear leadership, consistent and firm messaging that can be changed – members’ state of mind is not fixed – we should seek to organise a fight where we can.
The indicative ballot presumably was or can be broken down by branch or even office. Therefore we know where a possible fight back can be organised from. Those branches should be immediately approached for possible balloting.
Our preference though is that all Job Centres/Processing centres, better still the whole Group take action. The Group should make this their public position and work towards this aim in the next weeks accordingly.What the Group should not do, to use an old phrase, is keep its powder dry, waiting for the events to reach some crisis point, hoping that member’s attitudes will change accordingly and then act.
Firstly that ignores that the union’s campaign is a factor that could bring that crisis to ahead and to change attitudes; whilst the havoc caused by Covid is the objective factor, what PCS says and does is the subjective factor that can change everything.
Pragmatically, given the long run in times demanded by anti-trade laws to ballot etc, we cannot wait for the crisis. By the time that comes and we ballot then, it maybe be over by the time the union can legally take action. Therefore we should anticipate events rather than wait for them!