IWGB: Defending the Workers, Defending the Lockdown

On June 4, The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) applied to intervene in a High Court legal challenge of the government. What could possibly inspire one of the most radical unions in the UK to defend the Tory government? The legal challenge in question is brought against the government’s lockdown by multi-millionaire, twitter investor and conspiracy theorist Simon Dolan.

The IWGB, whose members include a great deal of low-paid workers in precarious employment, disproportionately made up of BAME workers, believe the prospect of this challenge succeeding and lifting the lockdown prematurely would hit their members hardest. As they state themselves ‘the Office of National Statistics figures published on 7 May reveal black people are four times more likely to die from the virus than white people.’

The legal challenge has attracted a great deal of public support. Over 5000 supporters have already surpassed the £130 thousand goal and raised over £170 thousand with 15 days still to go. On the Crowdjustice site for the challenge there are letters, evidence and grounds filed against Matt Hancock, The Secretary of State for Health & Social Care, and Gavin Williamson, The Secretary of State for Education, in which Mr Dolan’s legal team outlined the reasons for the challenge – to review the legality of the government’s lockdown measures.

We have recently taken the morbid title of the most deaths of any European country

They believe lockdown measures in the UK were disproportionate to the risk that coronavirus actually posed. These being the same measures that, according to a recent study by Imperial College London, saved over 3.1 million lives in Europe alone. Furthermore, due to the UK being one of the last countries to implement enforced lockdown on the continent and the UK’s measures being far less strict than most other countries, we have recently taken the morbid title of the most deaths of any European country.

The documents also claim that whilst we must be cautious to protect the vulnerable, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, coronavirus does not affect the vast majority of working people. In the first place, while mortality is lower amongst those of working age, 4952 people below the age of 64 have died, nevertheless. It is difficult to think what the total could have been had business carried on as usual.

Even by the legal team’s own logic, had those below the age of 64 been miraculously immune to dying from the disease, those forced back to work would nonetheless increase the disease’s prevalence in the country as a whole. This would vastly increase the number of carriers and the chances of vulnerable people catching and dying from the disease. No matter which way the statistics are cut, lockdown was indisputably vital to stopping the spread of Covid 19. The measures were far from disproportionate as in retrospect we needed an earlier and stricter lockdown than we had.

Mr Dolan’s wide-ranging investments include a great deal in the travel sector

Despite these extensive and completely fallacious attempts to discredit the reasoning behind the lockdown there is another, more covert, aspect to the court case. In a more recent letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, the legal team describe their client’s ‘surprise and concern’ at new travel restrictions requiring incoming air passengers to be kept in isolation before being allowed to enter the UK. Incidentally Mr Dolan’s wide-ranging investments include a great deal in the travel sector including Jota Aviation and Mogul which has clients such as British Airways, Silversea Cruises, and Viceroy Hotel Group.

The reality of this legal case is that a businessman is putting his personal economic interests above that of the public’s health. Which, under the UK’s justice system geared towards protecting those with the connections and resources to put together such a sophisticated case as this, is somehow permitted despite the harm it would cause if succesful. This attitude towards the public is not exclusive to this case but widespread and spreading wider.

One need only look back as far as May 7 when newspaper headlines expressed jubilation at the prospect of the government easing the lockdown the same day the death toll reached 30 thousand. It must be pure coincidence that newspaper circulations are plummeting across the board thanks to lockdown restrictions, to such an extent that The Telegraph, The Sun and The Times refused to make their circulation figures public to disguise their dire financial circumstances. The agents of capital are scrambling to reopen the economy with no regard to human life.

British businessman and entrepreneur worth £200 million, Simon Dolan (middle)

Those vehemently opposed to lockdown usually justify their arguments by appealing to civil rights – liberty in particular. However, in this context, the liberty they speak of is simply the freedom of the rich to abuse the poor. As disclosed on June 6, and for taxation purposes, it appears Mr Dolan is currently residing in Monaco not, as may have been assumed, locked down with the rest of us here in the UK. He therefore wishes to take the government to court to force people, including his own employees, back to work before it is safe to do so in order to “save” the economy, his own businesses included, while he keeps the distance of the continent of Europe between himself and the carnage this will cause.

As this crisis has highlighted and as IWGB will argue the interests of capital are endangering the lives of ordinary working people, especially those from the BAME community. Throughout this crisis unions have led the fight for worker’s welfare and for the implementation of appropriate welfare measures to protect workers. Those include the furlough scheme and more recently forcing the government to extend the eviction ban by two months from the end of June to the end of August. Unions are once again stepping up to the plate oppose this challenge.

Photo credits from top to bottom ©WikimediaCommons

By George Sullivan

History and History of Art student Uni of Nottingham // Nottingham Labour Students Co Chair //

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