It has been strange times to live through these last few months. A time when, for at least a month, we were virtual prisoners in our homes. A time when we were prevented from visiting our nearest and dearest. A time when all work except that which is classified as essential was halted. Building sites shut their gates, tools were laid down and our way of life was put on hold for the foreseeable future.
To alleviate the concerns of workers who had been temporarily laid off and who depend on a weekly wage to keep their heads above water, both the British Government and the 26 County Government announced monetary help to employers through Furlough schemes which would subsidise workers and relieve the strain on employers who had been affected by the Pandemic.
We must mention, that these workers were the lucky ones. Thousands of low paid workers were struck off payrolls by a number of businesses. Those on zero hour contracts, devoid of any workers rights were told to go home and apply for Universal Credit. All over the world this was the case as Capitalism attempted to steer through the unprecedented times with as little damage as was possible.
We seen multi Billionaire Richard Branson tell his staff to take 8 weeks UNPAID leave, while he sailed the Mediterranean in his private yacht, leaving the very people who contribute to him being able to live such a lavish lifestyle worrying about how they would be able to buy milk and bread when the funds they had saved, ran out.
Branson is the prime example, if we needed one, of those with more money than sense, and with less morals than a snake, and how they drop everything and everyone, but themselves, when a crisis strikes. This man could have easily paid his entire workforce a full wage for the next year out of his own pocket and still have billions in the bank.
The route Branson chose to take is not surprising to those of us who have studied and continue to study the workings of the world through a Class perspective. Many times throughout the last 100 years, the working class get shafted, while the bosses and fat cats continue to smoke their cigars and drink their £200 bottles of champagne.
Closer to home, we watched on as Sean Graham Bookmaker workers were left devastated as they were laid off without pay early into the Pandemic. This came after a week long buzz of punters betting on the Cheltenham Festival, which annually boosts bookmakers coffers significantly.
Republican Socialists and Trade Unionists are no strangers to such anti worker actions by SP Graham Ltd. The multi million pound company which outright refused to pay their hard working staff the measly minimum wage just a few years ago. It has also came to light recently that some of their betting shops have been put up for sale, meaning the permanent lay off of workers from earning a living when the Pandemic has passed.
Those workers who have been fortunate enough to avail of the furlough scheme should know that particular gravy train won’t roll on for any longer than it already has. Just last week the London Government announced plans to ‘adjust’ how it has been operating, asking more of employers in terms of keeping it running. The question must be asked, how are employers who run small to medium sized businesses and who have a sizeable enough workforce expected to pay any percentage of workers wages when they havent been making money?
Why cant those big businesses, who make millions per year and pay very little tax while they are at it, not shoulder some of the weight in this crisis? The answer is a fairly simple one, and that is because it doesnt suit the Tory agenda to even think of such a thing. Those recieving furlough will likely see their PAYE rise when they are handed their cheques when work resumes. The same will be the case for workers in the 26 counties. Every time Capitalism has endured a crisis, the worker is hit hardest, while the banks and other big businesses are bailed out at the drop of a hat.
When the Covid-19 storm has passed, we must remember who was there for us in these frightening times. It wasnt the British or 26 County administrations, it certainly wasnt the shameless multi millionaires and billionaires who contributed only to increase the size of the line at the local Jobs and Benefits Office, it was those brave Healthcare Workers, who day and daily put their lives on the line, put the welfare of their own families on the line to carry out their jobs and keep us and our loved ones safe if and when we required that help.
From the Doctors and Nurses, to the porters and general cleaners, the supermarket staff, the young woman at the till serving us our essentials while thinking of her young child at home, worrying about what could or might be, nevertheless still there and doing her job. The Carehome Worker tending to our elderly loved ones basic needs while not knowing if they were directly coming into contact with the virus by doing so, but once again, still carrying out their duty to the best of their ability.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, it was the worker who shone like a beacon over the last few months, and it is the worker who deserves our unlimited gratitude and praise.
We need to remember that when we navigate successfully to the other side of this worldwide crisis. And when the staff of the NHS or the HSE call for a small payrise and are refused by those in power, we must come out in our droves, replicating the weekly applause for frontline healthcare workers, by putting our feet on the street and using our voices to ensure that those who hold the purse strings sit up in their chairs at Downing Street or Leinster House and think twice. Now is the time to realise that the working class hold that power and that reality needs to be harnassed and converted into agitation and organising going forward into the future. That will be the only meaningful and true expression of thanks we can give to these people.
It should also be telling, that throughout the last 3 months, our frontline workers have been woefully equipped, north and south, in terms of PPE. The task fell to Political and Community organisations in an alarming number of cases to provide such basic but very important materials to those working in Carehomes and in our Hospitals. A disgraceful indictment on those who are in power at Westminster, Stormont and in Dublin.
We can only hope that this period has been a time of reflection for everyone stuck at home and who have been following events. We are hopeful of even the most politically apathetic individual, residing in a Nationalist or Unionist working class area in the north of Ireland, or someone in a working class area in the 26 counties, has started to open his or her eyes and their minds, and who are now starting to discover what is wrong with a societal system which is hinged on Capitalism and exploitation, and one which favours the likes of Richard Branson and his ilk over those who make the world go round – the working class.
“The great only appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!”