As an Assistant Secretary of the Leicester and Districts Trades Union Council, and as a member of the Leicester Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist and Action Committee (ARAFAC), I am pleased that I was able to contribute towards helping draft this excellent public statement on fighting racism in the midst of this pandemic that has been released by the Trades Council and ARAFAC.
Launched last year by the Leicester and Districts Trades Union Council, the Leicester Anti-Racist Anti-Fascist and Action Committee (ARAFAC) is a coalition of organisations and individuals united behind a common goal. We are based solidly on the working class, in all its diversity, and the trade unions and we seek united action against forces that would divide our communities and attack our organisations (see Leicester Mercury article “Rise of the extreme right,” March 26, 2020).
How we and those around us collectively respond to the deadly coronavirus pandemic is a critical test for society, but most of all for our political leaders. Yet so far, our government has categorically failed to put the needs of ordinary people before the needs of big business.
Key workers are still failing to receive adequate support from the government, whether they be health workers, bin workers, or those involved in the production of food. Most acutely, we note the desperate need to provide PPE to those who require it. Of course, we recognise that this is not a new issue, and the government’s unwillingness to fund our health services or enforce the type of standards that would make companies pay their workers sick pay all predates the pandemic. When profits come before human need it is ordinary people who pay the price… with their lives.
One of the most despicable results of the government’s response to the pandemic has been their refusal to take action to discourage racism. We are aware of a physical racist attack in Leicester in which coronavirus was given as the reason for the attack. Initially the Conservative government remained silent in the face of growing violence directed at minority groups but particularly against the Chinese community. But now the government is seeking to scapegoat the Chinese government for the rapid spread of the coronavirus in Britain, something that will only make racism worse.
In Britain the real cause for the spread of the coronavirus have been the dangerous policies of our own government. First, they deliberately wanted to infect everyone with the virus, apparently to promote “herd immunity” — a strategy which could have killed more than a quarter of a million people. They continue to fail to ensure that adequate protections are in place to reduce the spread of the virus amongst key workers, and to top it off they still refuse to take the necessary action to close non-essential businesses. This has meant that some workers have had to take matters into their own hands – through walkouts – which thankfully has led to the closure of some non-essential businesses, a good local example being the fashion retail outlet NEXT.
Ordinary workers of any ethnicity should not be blamed for the spread of the pandemic. That is why we are proud to be part of a global anti-racist counter movement which under the hashtag #IamNotAVirus stands in solidarity with all those affected by racism.
We stand firmly opposed to all efforts by the government to try to divide workers and scapegoat oppressed groups in society by blaming them for the problems caused by their capitalist system. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak governments across the world, like ours in Britain, had already gained a track record for whipping up hatred against immigrants, refugees and Muslims in an ongoing effort to deflect attention from their degrading of public services.
We were perpetually told the lie that other working-class people from different countries were to blame for poverty and job insecurity, and the lack of affordable housing. But the real problem is the capitalist system — a system driven by profits that are created on the basis of exploiting all workers. That is why ARAFAC continue to fight for a socialist alternative to this bankrupt system that can consign all forms of racism and division to history, and can lay the basis for a society run in the interests of working class, where human need is put before the drive for profit.