The following statement was issued by the Workers Party of Britain on 27 April 2021.
Editor’s note: Our party was a motive force in launching the Workers Party of Britain in December 2019, and our members were at the heart of many of its most vibrant campaigns. However, developments since that time have led our comrades to consider that the WPB has failed in its stated aim of becoming a truly broad movement within which communists could work openly, transforming itself into a left-social-democratic vehicle for bourgeois parliamentarism and anticommunism. We have therefore withdraw our members’ efforts from the Workers party project. Our stance towards the Labour party in particular and social democracy in general remains unchanged.
The Workers Party of Britain is opposed to the mandatory use of identity card documents, or digital applications, linked to personal medical information, in this instance Covid status, either by proof of vaccination or recent test result.
While the use of testing or vaccination status for overseas travel will be a matter for mutual agreement between states, the proposed use of a ‘Covid passport’ to travel freely within Britain, or enter civic life as the lockdown is lifted (attend gyms, leisure centres, schools, pubs, clubs, sporting events, or work) would be both ineffective as a measure to combat the pandemic, and highly personally intrusive.
Covid passports will particularly impact the young and working-age population, many of whom are at low risk from Covid and may quite legitimately decide that they do not wish to be vaccinated, given the rapid timeline of vaccine development, and their personal risk-benefit calculation.
The proposed enforcement of domestic covid ‘passports’ (identity cards) would therefore compound the injustices already meted out to the economically most marginalised sections of society, who are most likely to refuse vaccination, by criminalising the victims of an increasingly unjust and unequal society and depriving the poorest of such work and leisure as they are still able to access and enjoy.
There is widespread anger amongst the British working class at the handling of the 2020-21 Covid pandemic by the British government, which has been guided throughout, in the words of prime minister Boris Johnson, by “Capitalism and greed!”
The catastrophic handling of the pandemic by Johnson’s government includes:
1. Failure to use health protection and non-pharmaceutical measures to protect the public, resulting in at least two clear waves of mass Covid infection and around 150,000 avoidable deaths, preferring instead to adopt a laissez-faire policy summarised by Dominic Cummings as: “Herd immunity, protect the economy, and if a few pensioners die – so be it.”
2. This ideological orientation and contempt for the lives of workers was further compounded by the preceeding 40 years of government policy, which had led to chronic undercapacity in acute medical and intensive care beds (and all the necessary staffing and equipment that go with them), the destruction of NHS planning and public health functions, an internal NHS market, the privatisation and outsourcing of NHS services, and the failure to respond to the findings of 2016’s Operation Cygnus (led by Jeremy Hunt), which demonstrated that Britain’s health system was totally unprepared for the likely eventuality of a respiratory pandemic.
3. The government failed entirely to mobilise the health, scientific and economic resources of the country to save lives. Our resource-starved NHS was overwhelmed, forcing the country into serial lockdowns, in which the most economically marginalised workers suffered most.
4. Following the banking collapses of Black Monday (9 March 2020), and Black Thursday (12 March), which triggered the beginning of a global economic depression, the British government channelled hundreds of billions of pounds of state funds to private business interests, with the greatest share received by the wealthiest, while the poorest sections of the working class were unable to obtain the necessary financial and medical support even to isolate when they were diagnosed with Covid.
The latest budget indicates that it is the working class who will be asked to repay the ‘Covid’ bailout, predicted to total as much as £800bn over the course of two-three years.
5. Throughout an entire year of disruption, we have witnessed a circus of government corruption and cronyism, with emergency ‘Covid’ legislation used to prevent any scrutiny or tendering of the eye-watering government contracts. Having failed to secure adequate supplies of PPE or ventilators, £6bn was squandered on inadequate PPE, with hundreds of millions being awarded to firms with no experience other than governmental connections.
Meanwhile, £45bn was spent on a totally ineffectual test, track and trace system, overseen by Tory grandee Dido Harding, and entirely bypassing the NHS. Hundreds of billions have been spent bailing out big business interests. Matt Hancock has used his ministerial position to benefit personal associates, including passing tens of millions to his pub landlord.
Serco, Deloitte, KPMG, Lighthouse Laboratories and a host of other private firms have scored record windfalls from the public purse, all at the cost of the NHS, and of the lives of the pandemic’s victims.
6. The Lex Greensill banking scandal has shown the extent of the corruption of our entire political system at governmental level. Former PM David Cameron was given share options valued at £30m by Greensill, in exchange for access to the present government, including Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock, Sir Simon Stevens (chief executive of NHS England), Dido Harding (overseer of test, track and trace) and top civil servant Bill Crothers.
This access was used to try to gain preferential contracts for financial services, potentially netting Greensill billions of pounds in returns at taxpayers’ expense. Cameron directly petitioned Sunak for hundreds of millions in ‘Covid relief’ to bail out his failing firm. Greensill’s stock exchange gambling losses, aided and abetted by this Conservative administration and the last, will likely have a significant impact on Britain’s remaining industries, including Liberty Steel.
7. Meanwhile, unemployment is rising, and the ‘economically inactive’ portion of the British workforce may rise as high as 33 percent. Homelessness is blighting the lives of five million British workers. School children, shut out of school for much of the year, have regressed in their educational level.
Record numbers of our children live in food insecurity, with over a million children malnourished, yet our government cannot raise itself from the mire of its own sleaze to notice, or offer even the sop of free school meals to ensure their nutrition, enable their normal biological development and allow them to concentrate on their education.
The one light at the end of this sombre tunnel of mismanagement and greed is that Britain’s vaccination programme, administered by the NHS, has been a relative success. More than half the population has been immunised with at least one dose, and the most elderly and vulnerable have in the main received their second dose of vaccine.
It is this elderly and vulnerable portion of the population who have been most affected by the pandemic, and among whom the majority of deaths have occurred. Their vaccination is the principal reason that Covid infection rates, mortality rates, and hospitalisation rates are falling away (even as India, Brazil, Europe and South Africa are experiencing a peak of infections and deaths in a devastating third wave of disease) and we are able to return to ‘normal life’ – to the extent that the economic crisis makes that possible.
1. It therefore makes little scientific or medical sense to ask people to carry documents proving their immunisation status, just at a moment when the immunisation programme has protected the vulnerable and is actually achieving treatment-mediated herd immunity within the population.
2. The most economically marginalised sections of society have had the highest rates of Covid, and also the highest rates of vaccine scepticism. Persuasion, not coercion, is needed for them to take up vaccination, where medically indicated, and where it in the patient’s best interest.
3. The youngest in society (the under-30s) may very reasonably choose not to be vaccinated at all, given their personal risk-benefit equation of Covid versus treatment. It would be antithetical to good medical practice to force a treatment that is not likely to be greatly beneficial upon an unwilling patient, or to remove civil liberties for refusing a treatment that it can reasonably argued is not necessary.
4. Covid passports, then, are in reality identity cards. As a proposed measure of population control, like so many other policies (the further privatisation of the NHS, the deregulation of planning procedures, the bailing out big business, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the clamping down on citizens’ rights of demonstration, the reduction of rights to due legal process, trial by jury, habius corpus, etc) cannot be attributed to ‘reasonable and safe management of the pandemic’.
Rather, they are tools aimed at increased population surveillance and control at a time when public discontent, political dissent and economic hardship are rising fast amongst the British working population.
For all these reasons, the Workers Party of Britain is opposed to attempts to enact and enforce mandatory Covid passports in Britain.