The future of the left since 1884

Testing times

It is vital the working class organise and unionise as coronavirus spreads, argues Charlotte Mair.



The working class are the bread and butter, the cornerstones and the fuel in the engine of our society. Without them, society would cease to function as we know it today. Nurses to treat us when we are sick, binmen to help dispose of our waste, retail staff to ensure the shelves are stocked, postmen to ensure our correspondence is delivered and sent, factory employees who ensure the production line is continuous and the warehouse employees who organise the products so that they can be delivered. It is these people who work behind the scenes who ensure that normal functioning can continue.

Now that society’s normal functioning has somewhat ceased, let us spare more than a thought for the individuals who are still working behind the scenes to ensure normality as much as is possible in this unprecedented pandemic.

Worldwide there are calls for strikes in response to the outbreak. In Italy, Europe’s hardest hit by COVID-19, Amazon warehouse operatives have called for a strike. They state that Amazon is risking the health and lives of the lowest paid members of the Amazon workforce and union members state that Amazon is not implementing appropriate measures for their staff. There are many workers who feel that they are being treated as second class citizens and that their health is not a priority. French Amazon employees have also been striking. Additionally, autoworkers in Italy, Spain and Canada have begun to strike in response to their employers. Bin men in South London have decided to strike due to lack of hygienic equipment. Doctors and health care workers in Nigeria are striking amid the virus due to lack of pay and sanitation workers in Delhi are considering striking if hygiene products are not provided. The factors uniting these strikes is union participation and the organisation of the working class.

Individuals working in the gig economy, such as Deliveroo and Uber, are not only at high risk for contracting and spreading the virus but have few labour protections or benefits afforded to them by their employers nor by the government. The UK drivers’ union issued a statement on Wednesday accusing Uber of making it nearly impossible for drivers to claim sick leave. To do so they will need documentation from licensed medical providers or public health authorities to verify a COVID-19 diagnosis or an order requiring self-isolation.

Caught with their pants down, the capitalist class, in a bid to halt the plunging markets, have pumped trillions of pounds of cash injections into the stock market combined with calls for further quantitative easing. Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England recently called to print more money in order to prop up the economy as a response to COVID-19.

These massive investments taken to sustain the market economy come at a time when unprecedented job losses are being experienced globally and fly in the face of callous inaction over the safeguarding of the lives of millions of working people. Again, we understand in this society it is capital over people.

Now, with international strikes and job losses, the working class is beginning to suffer both the consequences of COVID-19 as well as identify its own response to the pandemic. This pandemic once again hammers home the point that it is only when workers can seize the means of production, and capital becomes secondary to people, will their health and wellbeing be properly accounted for. Your health and safety in these challenging times is paramount. However, as the majority class the working class must organise, unionise and realise that the power could be theirs for the taking.

Photo credit: Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

Charlotte Mair

Charlotte Mair is a member of the Labour party and an MSc graduate from King's College London who works in publishing.


Fabian membership

Join the Fabian Society today and help shape the future of the left

You’ll receive the quarterly Fabian Review and at least four reports or pamphlets each year sent to your door

Be a part of the debate at Fabian conferences and events and join one of our network of local Fabian societies

Join the Fabian Society
Fabian Society

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.