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Our Security Lies in the Fight to Defend the Rights of All:
Speaking Out on the Need to Take Up Social Responsibility for the Coronavirus Pandemic
Petition to the Government:
A public inquiry into scientific advice government followed in the coronavirus pandemic
Letter to the Editor:
Government Flies in the Face of Social Responsibility towards the Coronavirus Pandemic
Letter to the editor:
People taking the initiative on the Isle of Wight
With profound sadness we inform you of the death of long-time friend and supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) Carole Chant (also widely known as Carole Finer), in the early hours of Friday, March 20. She had been in hospital for four days with pneumonia and suspected COVID-19 infection, which was finally confirmed on March 19. Her passing is indeed a shock to all who knew her, not least in that the coronavirus can strike so close to home. Our heartfelt thoughts and condolences go out to her partner Michael, son Tom, daughter Tania, her grandchildren Marlowe and Minnie, her two sisters, and all her extended family, friends and colleagues. She herself was hugely loved by all her family.
Carole was 83, but had no intention of stopping any of her many activities and travels. She was a founding member of the Scratch Orchestra; an artist; a much loved art teacher for 30 years; a very fine banjo player (although she hated to admit it) playing Bluegrass, English and Irish folk music, and lots of free improvised music; A radio presenter with a weekly programme on Resonance FM, where she entertained and was entertained by all her favourite people from the worlds of experimental, improvised and folk music, and where she played her field recordings of trips she took to India, Mexico and Egypt, armed with a zoom and all she had learnt on various sound-recording courses with Chris Watson, one of the most noted sound recordists, and Jez riley French.
Carole studied fine art at the Chelsea College of Art. On leaving, she joined industry as a typographer and graphic designer. Among her designs from this time were the logo of the National Trust. Her alphabet book for children Pictures and Sounds, published by Philograph Publications, is now a collector's item.
She subsequently joined the staff of the then London College of Printing (now the London College of Communication, part of the University of the Arts) where she taught typography. She was an inspired teacher and a designer of many publications, and her fellow lecturers learned a tremendous amount from her. From January 1978, she taught on the Foundation Course in Art and Design together with Philippa Beale, now a member of the artistic group The Arborealists. In 1983, she became head of the Foundation Course and ran it until 1990, when the then London Institute closed it down. While working on the course, she and the fine arts lecturers together employed many interesting teachers, including the social commentator Jeff Nutall, the printmaker Monica Petzal, curator Kapil Jariwala, and Robin Klassnik of Matt's Gallery. They offered places to political prisoners, members of the ANC, who came from South Africa, ex-offenders from the UK and actively outreached to applicants from deprived backgrounds. Many of these students became household names.
In September 1990, Carole was apprehensive about moving to Camberwell School of Art to teach graphic design, but it turned out to be one of the most life-enhancing periods of her life. Here she was welcomed for her expertise and talent and soon joined "life classes", in which she participated until she retired and then continued life painting from her home, as well as producing notable collages and mixed media works.
A constant throughout her life was her passion for the banjo, the rudiments of which she taught to her cousin Jem Finer of The Pogues. In 1968, along with a number of kindred spirits, she joined the Experimental Music Classes given by Cornelius Cardew, whose mother Mariel had been one of her teachers in her student days, at the adult education Morley College in London. She relished the opportunity to play among professional and non-professional musicians in this milieu. When the Scratch Orchestra, arising out of this class, was formed in 1969, she became one of its most ardent stalwarts, and, along with many of the Scratch Orchestra, took up revolutionary politics as an inevitable development of the progressive and democratic nature of its ethos. She remained a friend and supporter of RCPB(ML), as well as being the prime mover in many of the Scratch Orchestra's anniversaries and subsequent incarnations. These culminated in "The Scratch Orchestra at 50" celebrations last year and the historic concert at Morley College 50 years to the day after its first concert, November 1, 1969. She best represented the theme of the celebrations: The Quality Given Rise to by the Scratch Endures!
In her retirement, Carole started a new career as a presenter for Resonance FM. Her weekly show Sound Out ran from 2007. Her last show took place on March 10, before Resonance closed its doors to live broadcasts because of the coronavirus crisis. On Monday, March 23, in tribute, Resonance played a seven-hour selection of her broadcasts. These Sound Out shows represent an outstanding treasure-house of broadcasting. Many of the shows had guests from the worlds of experimental, folk, bluegrass and American Old Time music, as well as significant figures from the contemporary classical music world, such as Gavin Bryars, Michael Chant, Michael Parsons, Hugh Shrapnel, Howard Skempton, Dave Smith and John White. A number of them trailed concerts organised by the Cornelius Cardew Concerts Trust. But many of the shows just featured Carole and her field recordings or some of her favourite music. Her preparation was always meticulous; she invariably carried out research and spoke from a script.
Her field recordings from her many trips to different parts of the world were themselves a treasure chest. She had field recordings from countries including Egypt, Iceland, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Turkey and, most often, from the many journeys she undertook to various parts of India, including Kerala, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, and other states. Her last visit to India was in January 2019 when, despite a barely two-year old aortic heart valve replacement, she participated in a trip called the "West Bengal Musical Adventure" under the auspices of Sound Travels. While there, she kept the fact that she had dislocated her shoulder on day two from her family until the day she returned home, all the while maintaining her mirth for life. The other source of recordings was the American Old Time Music and Dance camps, where she was one of the best known and most loved participants. One participant who subsequently appeared on her show was the mandolin player John Paul Jones, perhaps better known as the bassist of Led Zeppelin. But home sessions were also frequent. You can see more in the video Take it away: Carole Finer - vimeo.com/808512
Nothing stood in the way of her active and vigorous outlook and mirth for life. Her acts of kindness were legendary, as many tributes have pointed out. A family from London, Ontario, in Canada recalls how on one occasion she flew from the United States, where she was touring country music venues, to meet an old friend from her student days who was dying of cancer. She gave him extra time. The family, not sure if she knew that, wanted it said even now. She left no page unturned.
Carole was a remarkable person with a remarkable life. She had a special place in her heart for her grandchildren. As well as her nearest and dearest, she deeply loved and enjoyed people and they, in turn, dearly loved her back. She will be sorely missed.
"She took her last breaths with myself and my dad at her side. We told her how much we loved her. We had masks on, gowns on, gloves on. COVID-19 took her from us. I beg you to please keep your distance from the elderly. This is not a virus for them. Wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, behave like you have the virus." - Daughter Tania
"If you're in the UK, with its weak and reckless leadership, please strongly consider self-isolation in order to control the spread of this coronavirus. London seems to be a hotspot and with the current government recommendations is only going to get worse. We've now seen first-hand how dangerous this virus is for older people, however active they might be." - Son Tom
This week, as the number people contracting coronavirus continues to increase to over 8,000 cases in the UK and the deaths of those who had contracted the virus tops 400, people from health campaigns, trade unions as well as opposition MPs and others have been speaking out on the need to take up social responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, March 16, Sky News interviewed the Co-Chair of Keep Our NHS Public and veteran campaigner of the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, Dr Tony O'Sullivan. Asked as to what is his assessment of where we are in terms of the NHS, their capability of dealing with this crisis if we manage to slow the growth and flatten the peak of this pandemic, he said: "I have nothing but total admiration for the public National Health Service. We are starting from a difficult position because the service has not been well supported by government policy over the last ten years. So, we are starting from the point where we have a quarter of the intensive care beds of Italy. We have 100,000 staff vacancies in the NHS and we have lost over 17,000 beds over the last ten years.
"So," he continued, "now it is all hands to the mill and we have to use every way slowing it down using the advice of the World Health Organisation and the experience of other countries. Using that with respect and humility in this country to best effect."
In that regard, he was then asked whether that implied he was not convinced by the strategy being presented to the government by scientific advisers and Public Health England. In reply, Dr O'Sullivan said: "I would absolutely not try to second-guess the top public health specialists in this country, but we need to take real appraisal of the situation that is going on now where, for example, GPs on the front line are self-isolating because they don't know whether they have got the virus or not. They are not able to get a test. Also, GPs, ambulance staff and hospital staff have not got the right equipment. We have had several weeks from the outbreak of this pandemic in Wuhan in China. Several weeks to get ourselves ready and the government policy at the moment seems to be allowing the spread and not locking down urgently. And although I can't second-guess the specialists, we have to urgently slow down the spread and use that time to get coronavirus testing all over the country, so that there is rapid identification of tests, both for patients, and also for front-line NHS staff, because if they have got a cold and they know it is not coronavirus, they can go straight back to work."
On Monday, March 16, the National Education Union (NEU) declared that, if the government would not shut down the schools by Monday, March 23, they would order a mass walk-out of all their members. By Wednesday last week, the government had had to capitulate over this demand and declared that all schools would close by Friday.
The TUC has also continued to call on the government to meet the key demand of the workers that the government provide wage subsidy schemes to support people, pointing out: "We know that government has the mechanisms in place to get money direct to workers. It's time to act now." They also called, among other important measures, for the government to fix the sick pay system to provide sick pay for all, saying: "Our sick pay system is broken. At a maximum of £94.25 per week, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is not enough to live on. The average worker earns £512 per week, so for the estimated 7 million people who rely on SSP, any time off work will be a large income shock."
Among the trade union leaders responding to Chancellor Rishi Sunak's package of support for businesses announced last Tuesday, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "It is abundantly clear that we need a package of measures equal to the public health and economic emergencies now upon us. Urgent and considerable action is needed by government to avert personal and industrial catastrophe." He said that "we remain extremely concerned that workers' and individuals' own capacity to act on the public health advice will remain seriously compromised because the direct economic support has not yet been provided by government. This must change and urgently." He also said that providing wage support, covering rents and opposing evictions must be a priority.
It was in the context of these just demands from the workers' movement that the Chancellor announced that the government would now pay 80% of wages of employees not working as a result of coronavirus outbreak, after holding negotiations with unions and business groups. He said the "Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme" would be made available for staff who are currently not working as a result of the economic turmoil caused by the outbreak, but remain on their employers' payroll. To help the thousands who have already lost their jobs since the outbreak began, Universal Credit and working tax credit payments will also increase by £1,000 a year for the next 12 months. However, the thousands of casual and self-employed workers in the gig economy are so far not covered by this scheme.
On March 18, during Prime Minister's questions, Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn questioned the government's commitments, saying: "Generations to come will look back on this moment and they will judge us - they will judge us on the actions we take now. Our response must be bold and it must be decisive. The market cannot deliver what is needed; only collective public action, led by Government, can protect our people and our society. That collective action must not allow the burden to fall most on those who lack the resources to cope, as happened after the financial crash. People across the country do understand the need for temporary restrictions on our way of life to protect us all, and we will work with the Government, but the Prime Minister must understand that that will require balancing action to protect the most insecure and vulnerable, in the interests of public health as well as of social justice. The health of us all depends on the health of the most vulnerable, so I ask the Prime Minister: will he step up now - not tomorrow - and give support to those vulnerable people who live on the margins of our society, who are vulnerable themselves and make us all vulnerable, and give them the support and the assurance that they are desperately searching for today?"
Also on March 18, a petition, "6 Demands from NHS staff to help tackle Coronavirus", launched with Change.org with the support of Health Campaigns Together and the Socialist Health Association, which has reached over 50,000 signatures. The demands cover: testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) to be made available for all NHS and social care staff now; immediate support for those relying on carers if carers go sick; proper wages and paid sick leave for all carers; bringing private health resources into public service; making all information available for public scrutiny; and an immediate end to eligibility checks and charging including those related to residency status and national origin, allowing all patients to use the NHS without fear.
As tragic news of medical staff contracting the disease and requiring intensive care are named among the dead comes to light, the most urgent demand concerns the equipment, resources and the recognition of the conditions of health workers, including the need for more tests and for the essential protective equipment they need to protect them against the virus as they carry out their work in dealing with this pandemic.
The spread of coronavirus does not mean that the working peoples of the nations or regions of Britain or of any country cannot establish their own programmes to make sure the situation is brought under control. This further emphasises that the workers cannot merely demand that governments uphold their rights but must take action to make sure both their rights and the rights of all are defended. This is not a matter of whether or not authorities show good faith, but of going all out to activate working people to take practical stands to make sure the crisis is resolved in their favour.
1. "6 Demands from NHS staff to help tackle Coronavirus",
It has been reported that three 30-year-old junior doctors in London are on ventilators from Covid-19, and that there are also two ENT consultants on ventilators in the UK and that sadly another one has died. The following petition highlights that on January 24 Chinese doctors identified that one third of all patients with the disease need intensive care. Medical staff themselves need personal protective equipment. Despite supposed reassurances from the government, adequate PPE is just not getting to healthcare staff. The very real concern is that many precious doctors, nurses, paramedics, radiographers, physios, cleaners , porters, etc., are going to be lost. Here is the petition:
On the 24th of January this year Chinese doctors and scientists reported in The Lancet a new disease caused by a novel coronavirus. One third of all these patients had to be admitted to an intensive care unit, and half of these died. The Chinese scientists stated "The number of deaths is rising quickly". They strongly recommended the provision of personal protective equipment for health care workers and testing of the virus immediately a diagnosis was suspected. They concluded the mortality rate was high and urged careful surveillance of this new virus in view of its pandemic potential.
Richard Horton the editor of The Lancet writes in The Guardian "The medical and scientific advisers to the UK government ignored their warnings. For unknown reasons they waited and watched". He further states that these scientists believed the new virus could be treated like an influenza epidemic. Sir Patrick Vallance the government's chief scientific adviser suggested the target was to infect 60% of the population to produce "herd immunity".
After weeks of inaction the government announced a sudden U turn on Monday 16th March as new modelling by scientists at Imperial College London had convinced them to change plans. Richard Horton states that "what changed is that the government advisers finally understood what had really taken place in China". He further states "The UK's best scientists have known since the first report from China that Covid-19 was a lethal illness. Yet they did too little, too late".
There have been grave errors in the UK's handling of Covid-19, and this will result in a public health disaster with unimaginable consequences. We need to learn why opportunities were missed, and who is responsible.
In Britain, as in many other countries, the whole issue of the Development of COVID-19 exposes the arrangements that exist in our society, where the outlook has been the viewing of the problem of this pandemic as one of protecting the financial markets and capital, and presenting the solutions as belonging to individuals. The question has been posed as one of individual choice and not the responsibility of the government and authorities to deal with the crisis in the interests of all in society.
From the outset, scientists and medical experts were advising that Britain follow the example of China and its lockdown of provinces such as Wuhan and of making available all the medical equipment, safety equipment for staff and even new ITU units and new hospitals to contain the epidemic. The World Health Organisation (WHO), in declaring a world pandemic, then advised "strict comprehensive measures to contain the Coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) and to protect the population, including quarantine, testing, contact tracing, social distancing, and direct population/community mobilisation." In other words, what was needed, and is still needed, is a pro-social response and action which places the human being at the centre of all considerations.
For example, people have been asked to "self-isolate" where they think they have shown symptoms of the disease. These calls range from suggesting that those with mild symptoms self-isolate for between 7 to 14 days, to the more extreme advice that the over 70s should self-isolate for at least 12 weeks. Such "advice" is so arbitrary and becomes incoherent set against the enormity of the problems created by the exponential developments of this virus and the disaster it leaves in its wake. Instead of heeding the advice of the WHO to quarantine affected areas and to carry out immediate widespread testing of the whole population, the British government has flown in the face of what is necessary to protect the whole society, and still encourages people to act as individuals and to make up their own minds as to what course to follow.
This advice ignores the reality for so many who simply cannot follow it, including those who are homeless, or those who are self-employed and would need to choose between going to work and earning money for their families or staying at home to heed the government advice and thereby placing themselves in very real danger of not being able to afford food or their rent.
Not surprisingly, this has led to wide-spread panic and worry, including the "panic buying" of items at grocery stores and pharmacies. However, even this is blamed on the people, when in actual fact it is the neo-liberal supply chain that cannot cope.
Meanwhile, the government suddenly called this week for the maximum support to be given to essential care workers, such as medical and health care workers. In contrast to years of cutbacks to and privatisation of the NHS, suddenly resources have been found and the government has called on everyone to support them by, for instance, ensuring that there be schooling for the children of essential workers, and that whatever was needed should be done in order to support them. In so doing, it exposes that these arrangements were possible all along. So why are these arrangements not there as a norm?
The whole way in which the government has behaved exposes its retrogression and that it acts in an extremely reckless way when such a crisis occurs.
In the face of this, the people and workers' organisations have been fighting backand attempting to resolve the crisis in their favour.
An Education Worker, March 22, 2020
I would like to share my experience as to how people have taken their social responsibility seriously in organising to combat coronavirus on the Isle of Wight. Early on, certain known democratic personalities discussed the need for some kind of care organisation across the island. A Facebook page was set up where people could contribute, and an administrator maintains the page. Organisation is developing. The page has now taken on a life of its own, with many people discussing problems and offering solutions as they arise.
Today, volunteers are organising in an even more coordinated fashion to deliver care to high-risk people who are self-isolating. The elderly and some people with medical conditions require help. We now have well over 200 volunteers at the last count. It has hugely increased since a fortnight ago. They deliver food and other things to those in need to their doors, doing their basic shopping and more. The Ventnor Town Council Community Organiser has now stepped in to assist the process, printing information, popularising organisation to help the co-ordination of events.
On the page, various issues are discussed as they pose themselves and solutions are, more often than not, put forward. A new page has also been created, specifically for posts rather than comments, where people can make their political interventions on the latest national and international developments and raise complex scientific issues and viewpoints.
The kind of discussion on the support page has raised problems such as local people following isolation and distancing guidelines, and what to do about those who are not following sensible guidelines. The main way of dealing with the problem is seen through education and persuasion rather than heavy-handed draconian discipline. The main emphasis is unity. People are rejecting "opinionators" and divisive argument. In one case, a pub was encouraging custom; when scrutinised, the pub decided to close its doors and the customers have agreed to move away. The other option was police enforcement, which did not become necessary.
Another issue discussed was how to deal with shortages on shelves in supermarkets. The issue was raised on how to overcome such problems of supply, shelf-stocking and getting products to the neediest. Various conclusions are drawn, considering the decisions of supermarket chains in opening times and distribution as well as shelf stacking. The point being was to find out the underlying problems and oppose blaming people for the problem.
There have been numerous contributions and interventions by various democratic personalities on the island.
"Can I use this group to offer help to people who need it in my area and if so, how?" was one question asked many times. The answer came back: "Register as a volunteer on this site or answer individual posts as they appear".
There have been many detailed questions and answers. For example, an issue arose about old people in queues using shopping trolleys and baskets. It made people conscious and aware of a problem. A discussion ensued to find a solution to how old people can use shopping baskets in supermarkets and not carry the quantity or use trolleys for mobility.
Another question was: "We're self-isolating, we haven't been in contact with people in 6 days apart from people dropping things at the door and moving away. My mum is currently self-isolated too (day 3) and I'm wondering after the first couple of weeks can we go and see her where we have all been isolated. She lives alone and can tell it's already upsetting her. Obviously, I don't want to endanger anyone or be in danger, which is why I'm asking what you all think. She doesn't live far away. We were going to walk there and use her garden so our son could run around as we have nothing where we live, but she's staying indoors away from us. I just don't know what the guidelines are for after the first 2 weeks of isolation. Thanks for any help/advice".
Answer: "Hi.... Myself and my family run a pub and because we are closed, we are cooking meals with ingredients, kindly donated by local businesses, and delivering to doorsteps of people like your mum free of charge. Would you like us to help your mum too? We have zero contact and leave the meal on the doorstep using protective gloves..."
In another contribution, a teacher offered: "I've made a group for us parents or carers to share what ideas we have for keeping the kids occupied while off school. Lesson plans, activities, cooking, anything that you are doing or plan to do, please share so that we can support each other.... Island families. Please come join".
One member of our community asked: "Will anyone be able to pick up ... milk for me this week, please? Isolating for 12 weeks and no one else drives in the family".
A volunteer answered: "I can get it for you. I live in Newport and will be going to [the supermarket] tomorrow".
This is only a tiny fraction of things discussed, which illustrate how many are providing democratic solutions to a wide range of problems.
On one website a person stated, "Please write to your MP and ask them to do more to make sure people do what they need to do to reduce the impact of the pandemic, and reduce the number of people who get it and the number of people who die - but ask them not to use this crisis as an excuse to take away our human rights. We don't want martial law".
This is the kind of spirit that exists amongst the people of the Isle of Wight who have a deep desire to empower themselves and encourage the democratic personality to take prime place.
Once again, the powers that be are edging towards police powers to "solve" problems. They will not succeed if they go down this path. The means do not justify the ends. The people are taking the initiative to defeat this pandemic and are showing the way forward.
Retired Worker, March 23, 2020
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