Cuba’s medical and scientific community has launched an open petition demanding that US President Joe Biden retract his remarks about Cuba and their handling of the Covid pandemic, and that he also ends the economic blockade against the island which is directly effecting the development and availability of a range of medical materials and scientific equipment.
Biden has openly claimed that Cuba is incapable of vaccinating its population, that it needs American vaccines to stem the spread of Covid 19 and that it is a failed state.
The remarks are a deliberate attempt to undermine Cuba’s world standing, pander to the Cuban exile lobby in Florida and further ramp up the aggression against the Cuban people which he and his administration have been demonstrating since his election.
Bidens claims are, of course, completely unfounded.
Not only does Cuba have a comprehensive, publicly funded health and care system freely available to all its citizens but many have claimed it to be one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Cuba’s scientific and research community also has an internationally renowned reputation for its vaccine development, its immunisation achievements, its commitment to international health aid and for the development of its own anti-Covid vaccines.
Since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic more than 2,000 Cuban doctors and other health care staff have travelled to countries across the world to help combat the diseaseba
You can show your support for Cuba, and its medics scientists, researchers and health care staff by signing the petition to President Joe Biden
With a significant number of people remaining unvaccinated, or refusing to be vaccinated, the risk of increased community infection, hospital admissions and even further fatalities persists.
In the last two weeks there have been over 17,000 positive cases recorded. 60% of Covid patients currently in hospital have not been vaccinated. Twenty-eight people have died in the last seven days and infection rates are now twice as high as they were during June.
Refusal, or reluctance, to get vaccinated against the worst global pandemic in over a century raises serious questions about how we discharge our social responsibility to each other, the value we place on institutions like the NHS and what role, if any, citizenship plays in our society.
Many of those refusing, or reluctant, to take the Covid vaccination rely on spurious claims based largely on social media generated myths and deliberate misinformation to justify their ‘freedom of choice’ arguments. Others fall back on conspiratorial, religious and paranoid beliefs.
What does this say about citizenship and collective responsibility in our society?
Amongst other things, it says that there is an unashamed culture of “I’ll do as I please and to hell with the consequences.” It says that many people don’t believe they have a responsibility to others, let alone to themselves, and that they are sufficiently emboldened to proclaim that publicly.
It says that the core values of the dominant culture in our society – individualism, selfish disregard and an absence of personal accountability – are now jeopardising the vulnerable, the future health of the population, the resources of the NHS and the possibility of a further wave of infections.
What is welcoming is the fact that the majority of people are and have acted with a real sense of social responsibility in spite of the lead given by many so called political and social elites. Recent months have been littered with examples of well-known people and organisations blatantly flouting their responsibilities and compounding the indignity of their actions with self-justifying and insulting ‘apologies’.
The very concept of responsible citizenship has been under assault for many years – indeed the many social gains of post-World War II era, including the NHS, have been subject to systemic undermining since their inception. Margaret Thatcher’s infamous ‘… there is no such thing as society- only individuals’ speech encapsulates the campaign to erode the principles of citizenship.
Thatcher’s declaration in 1987 was a demonstration of the determination of the class she represented to wage war against the unions, dismantle social benefits and gains and to privatise health, education and public utilities in favour of individualism. It was also an open assault on the socialist principles of benefit for the many not the few.
Failure to take responsibility through firm and decisive action at the outbreak of the Covid crisis, rapidly led to managing the pandemic through a reliance on personal responsibility, social distancing and mask wearing.
The combination of government failures, the arrogance of elites and the ignorant and self-centred attitude of those who have bought into the capitalist myth of ‘personal freedom of choice’ has serious consequences throughout society.
It puts health and well-being at risk, it provides cover for corporate exploitation and challenges the concept of social responsibility and citizenship.
Educating children, and adults, in the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship is an important and ongoing task. However, only a radical transformation to a socialist society can ultimately establish citizenship, social responsibility and a collective society as our core values.
On one hand it is almost impossible to believe that the EU would deliberately and callously block the distribution of Coronavirus vaccines – or indeed any other medicines.
However, it would take a very short memory to forget the EU’s aggressive, indifferent and uncompromising treatment of countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain and the Republic of Ireland during the financial crisis just over a decade ago.
The EU imposed crippling financial demands on those countries, insisting on the privatisation of public utilities, and displaying total contempt for national sovereignty, democratic rights and the welfare of working people.
Even its most ardent local supporters were taken aback by its latest aggressions over vaccine supplies but their talk of ‘a blunder’ and of ‘ a poor decision’ can’t mask the vicious anti-democratic nature of the European Union and its project.
The ever-growing threat of vaccine nationalism poses a real threat to people in poorer countries.
Millions of people in those countries may have to wait until at least 2022 for the vaccine. The increase in competition between rich capitalist countries is monopolising the global supply and driving up prices for the vaccine.
This development, including the EU’s controls on vaccine exports, where the rich capitalist countries are endeavouring to procure more vaccines that they could possibly need and denying these to the rest of the world is an obscenity although entirely in line with a system which is based on exploitation.
This is a global pandemic. Vaccines should be shared among the world’s most vulnerable people first, regardless of where they live. Clearly, we are not all in this together.
The Workers Party has submitted its views on proposals for changes to next year’s GCSE and GCE examinations.
Following the disastrous handling of this year’s exam grades the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) announced a public consultation on proposed changes to next summer’s GCSE and GCE exams.
The Party’s submission began by acknowledging the disruption and distress experienced by pupils, teachers, support staff, parents, and all those involved in the administration of the education system by Covid 19.
It also stressed the importance of listening to and acting on the advice of teachers, pointing out that the failure to do so earlier this year was a major factor in the grades fiasco affecting this year’s results.
Working class disadvantage
The submission also highlighted the disadvantage confronting many children from working class households. Many homes lack any internet connectivity, others lack IT equipment, or an available device may be shared among several children.
Acknowledging that there are difficulties in planning now for next year when conditions may be significantly different, the Party’s submission identified a number of key principles which it said should underpin any proposed changes:
all pupils should have the opportunity to perform to their optimum
the equality impact on pupils from areas of high social deprivation and /or low-income families must be factored in and addressed
practical support in the form of broadband access and laptop / tablets must be available equally to all pupils engaged in on-line learning
acknowledgement of the extent of lost teaching time to date and the unfair burden that may place on pupils
that all changes are clear, equitable and effectively communicated
In supporting proposals to reduce the number of units and assessments the Party’s submission stressed that this should be done across the entire range of subjects. All language subjects should therefore be open to reductions in the amount of material being taught and in the number of exams set, the submission argued.
Too many questions marks remain, and not enough guidance is in place, to be able to say with confidence that a full return to school this week, is either safe or sensible.
The return to school in Scotland, earlier this month, has already seen 18 cases of Covid 19 among pupils and teachers.
Teachers, school support staff and their unions as well as many parents have expressed serious concerns about an absence of consultation , insufficient resources and inadequate guidance from the Minister and the Department of Education.
Of course it is important that our children return to school and that our education system continues to function, but it must be done safely, appropriately and with the maximum input from those in the front line.
If that means that, for a period, some children have to be taught on line or via distance learning , then that is what is required. In that scenario access to the internet and suitable tablets or laptops must be funded and guaranteed for all children and families who need it.
We have seen what happened with exam results when the Minister and others failed to place their trust in teachers. We are in danger of repeating those mistakes, but this time with potentially much more serious consequences.
A phased return to the classroom, backed up by all the necessary resources, and guided by the knowledge and expertise of teaching staff, classroom assistants, support staff and others would allow for informed risk management , corrective action as necessary and re-assurance for pupils, schools and parents.
The Workers Party has called for an immediate and sustained intervention by the Northern Ireland Executive to save jobs and secure associated skills, in the local aerospace industry.
The Party warned recently that the Covid-19 pandemic would be used by large companies to the detriment of workers. Bombardier Aerospace is the largest manufacturing company in Northern Ireland and one of the largest private sector employers with an estimated 300 local firms acting as direct suppliers to the business.
However, it is only days since the Canadian government signed a $105-million contract with Bombardier and now it has been announced that it has plans to axe up to 600 jobs here. These latest layoffs follow the announcement of possible redundancies of up to 500 staff at Thompsons Aero Seating which is owned by one of the world’s largest aerospace companies.
There must be an immediate intervention in the form of a taskforce to secure jobs, provide a future for the industry and to retain skills and apprenticeship opportunities, the Party said
Here is an opportunity to secure the future of the industry, maintain local skills and save the many jobs and firms which rely on Bombardier and Thompsons.
Although the Executive has a poor record on the creation of sustainable employment, failure to intervene immediately to protect workers’ jobs will undoubtedly lead to the collapse of aerospace production in Northern Ireland, with manufacturing moving elsewhere, and generations of experience, skills and know-how being lost forever.
Key industries of this nature should be taken into public ownership to preserve an industrial base.
In the meantime, however, an immediate injection of financial support for the aerospace industry would not only provide stability and job security, but could be a springboard for innovative research and development into new and greener technologies – with the opportunity to place the local aerospace sector as world leaders.
Covid 19 figures hadn’t even peaked when the phrase ‘the new normal’ started to enter daily usage. Was anyone really sure what it meant other than, somehow, our lives were to be very different in the future?
Social distancing and stringent public health measures are likely to be around for some time, but what has remained unchanged is the social and economic system under which we live, and which shapes and dominates all of our lives like no other factor.
When the capitalist system starts talking about ‘the new normal’, three things are clear: it won’t be new for them, suddenly we are notall in this together and working-class people and public services will be bearing the brunt of paying for it.
It was that way when capitalism crashed in 2008. The banks and other financial institutions were bailed out with public money, all while people’s homes were repossessed, jobs lost, wages frozen, social security budgets slashed and health, education and other public services robbed of funding.
Will it be any different this time? Of course not.
Capitalism’s relentless pursuit of profit eclipses all other considerations. The talk of ‘heroes’ and ‘community spirit’ will soon be replaced with warnings that we must ‘tighten our belts’, ‘re-balance the economy’ and ‘make sacrifices for the common good’
These messages won’t be coming out of nowhere. They may start somewhere else but, we’ll be hearing them from Sinn Fein and the DUP along with all the other major parties. Media columnists will be rehearsing them. Journalists will be repeating them. We, will be bombarded with them until they are accepted as the unchallenged ‘new normal’
It’s true that capitalism never wastes a crisis – and the Covid pandemic will be no different. The detailed plans of global conglomerates, multinational firms, business organisations and governments are already written and waiting to be implemented.
We can expect a further major shift towards the privatisation of utilities and public services through the introduction of water charges, toll roads and a levy on bin collections. There will be proposals for additional costs for the care of the elderly, upfront payments for GP and A&E appointments. University tuition fees will rise, and prescription charges will be reintroduced.
Income tax will be raised, and social security payments lowered. Jobs will be lost and the cost of living will increase as capitalism seeks to recoup the profits it lost during the pandemic.
The list of people, newspapers, radio stations, commentators, TV programmes and ‘experts’ repeatedly telling us how unavoidably necessary this all is, will stretch further than a queue for toilet rolls in the early days of the pandemic.
The state, which stepped in to underwrite wages, house the homeless and support business and employers, will soon be overseeing a sustained attack on the living standards, prospects and quality of life of the very people it hailed as ‘front line heroes’.
To argue that economic cutbacks are needed to get over the cost of Coronavirus is simply not true. Government borrowing is four times lower now than it was at end of World War ll when massive publicly funded infrastructure and reconstruction projects were undertaken, and just a few years later the publicly funded National Health Service was introduced.
Money can always be found for wars. Moderate estimates for the cost of attacking Afghanistan, Syria and Libya come in at around £240 billion. Replacing the Trident nuclear submarine fleet will cost over £40 billion and of course the costs of our own segregated education system and managing sectarianism runs into additional billions of pounds each year.
Add in the billions of pounds of avoided tax that never makes to government coffers and the costs of re-booting the economy look a lot more manageable.
The role of the state
The role of the state in the funding, central planning and co-ordination of our response to Coronavirus demonstrates the social, political and economic advantages of a centralised and planned approach.
While capitalism will insist on being supported and bailed out by the state when it thinks it will lose money it is a lot less keen on state management at other times. The coming months will show that clearly.
The reality, however, is that capitalism is a self-serving, profit driven, ruthless and ultimately anti-community system that is both unwilling and incapable of delivering, whether in a crisis or not.
Only a socialist system is capable of, and committed to, harnessing and directing the resources of all for the benefits of all.
We are living thorough the world’s worst pandemic in more than a century. Thousands of people have died and thousands more have been hospitalised. Withoutthe courage, expertise and and professionalism of our front line and support workers, society would not have been able to respond as it has.
Safe, Scientific and Agreed
As governments, and others, start to talk about easing lock-down, a return to work and the ‘new normal’ it is important that any steps that are being considered are safe, scientific and agreed.
Covid 19 should cause us to re-think our attitude to health and safety at work as well as public well being. Whether an easing of restrictions is being planned for public transport, schools, factories, offices, warehouses or public spaces, the same tests and rules must apply.
A full risk assessment must be undertaken for every area of life being considered for a lock-down relaxation.
For workplaces, that assessment must involve the staff, trade unions, management and owners. The specific risks must identified, decisions must be based on evidence and best practice and everyone involved must be consulted. It must be Safe, Scientificand Agreed
Each workplace plan needs to be signed off by either the trade union health and safety representative or by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to make sure that they meet all requirements including two metre distancing, PPE and hand hygiene.
All workplace risk assessments must be communicated to workers before they return to work. For schools, any new arrangements need to be made available to support staff, teachers, pupils, parents and relatives. For public transport, staff , commuters and passengers all need to be clear in advance about how health and safety and two metre distancing are going to be safeguarded. For offices, warehouses, factories and for retail outlets the priority must be a ‘safe, scientific and agreed’ path to easing lock-down .
Simply and sensible as that sounds it cannot be taken as a given or as a foregone conclusion.
Too often during this crisis the health and safety of front line and support workers has been taken for granted and casually jeopardised. The lack of PPE and other safety equipment has been an on going issue. Too often solutions to these life threatening risks have been replaced by jingoism, sound bites and the pursuit of profit
Easing the lock-down restrictions has to be governed by a different approach and a different set of rules. We owe it to each other, we owe it to the front line workers and those who support them and we owe it to the all those who have lost relatives and friends and to those who have given their lives saving others.
If securing a safe, scientific and agreed easing of lock-down takes time to achieve then that is a price well worth paying.
“We are all at risk from Covid 19, but homeless people, particularly those who are rough sleeping, can be amongst the most vulnerable”, Workers Party spokesperson Conor Duffy says.
Calling for a specific Covid 19 response package to meet their unique needs, Conor said, “homeless people are three times more likely to experience a chronic health condition, including asthma and COPD”.
“The support they depend on needs to be secured and strengthened as the demands on all resources increase at this time. It is vital that homeless people are recognised as a vulnerable group and that the Northern Ireland Executive steps in now to protect and enhance the vital services they need”, he said.
“I have been in touch with the Department for Communities and the Department of Health to bring these issues to their attention”, Conor added, “and, as a minimum first step, I am calling on the Executive to announce a programme of measures including:
securing hotel style accommodation to meet the increased need for self-contained accommodation so that people can self-isolate.
ensuring that anyone who is at risk of, or is already homeless, can access self-contained accommodation.
providing additional financial support through the Universal Credit system to ensure that people are not pushed into homelessness.
protecting renters from evictions
rapid access to testing for the virus and healthcare assistance for people sleeping rough and living in hostels and shelter accommodation
recognising frontline workers in homelessness organisations as an emergency service
allocating an emergency budget to fund homelessness services”.
Workers Party representative, Paddy Crossan, has called on the Communities Minister to announce an immediate and comprehensive package of financial support for the voluntary and charitable sectors here.
“Voluntary and charitable organisations play a vital and often life sustaining role in our society. Their work is affected by the Coronavirus pandemic in the same way as small businesses: they face many similar problems”. he said.
“I have written to Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, and the Emergencies Leadership Group which she is heading up, calling on her to announce a package of measures to support the voluntary and charity sector through this crisis. We not only need their valuable work now; we also need to ensure that they will still be here when this emergency has passed”, Paddy said.
“Many, many people in the community are dependent on the support of voluntary and charitable organisations: the young the elderly, victims of domestic violence, refugees and asylum seekers, people with disabilities and those living with mental health problems. For many they are a safety net and a lifeline.
“In their battle for survival every day counts. The Minister must act immediately,” Paddy added.
I have asked her to address the following measures specifically as a first step to ensuring the survival of this vital support network.
Extend support for small business to the voluntary / charitable sectors
Ensure that all charities and voluntary organisations are eligible up to 80% of salaries for retained workers
Set up a ‘stabilisation fund’ to help charities stay afloat during the pandemic
Establish a loan guarantee scheme for charities needing overdraft facilities to cover cashflow problems
Approaches the National Lottery to secure additional emergency funding
An Emergency funding package for food banks to allow them to continue providing vital support