My experience: life as a frontline supermarket worker

During this unprecedented period, frontline workers are facing incredibly difficult challenges and are coming face-to-face with the very virus that has so far claimed nearly 115,000 lives worldwide. Right now, millions are dependent on delivery people, community volunteers and supermarket workers to deliver our food and keep us safe. We have heard countless stories of supermarket workers not given adequate sanitary protection, but as consumers, we also have a role to play. We must respect social distancing guidelines and behaviour appropriately when entering supermarkets in order to ensure the safety of all workers and members of the public.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have spoken to one supermarket worker*, who has lived in Woking his whole life, about his experience of working during this period. He has asked to remain anonymous in this interview. 

Do you feel that supermarket customers are respecting social distancing rules?

I would say that most customers have been following government guidelines, but many continue to ignore the advice. It’s frustrating to see so many simply flout these essential safety rules, designed to keep themselves and workers like myself safe. However, the message is slowly getting through and behaviours are changing. For example, the other day I began to see customers respecting social distancing rules when they were waiting in the queue. This enabled me to re-stock the shelves and keep a safe distance from others.

How have you dealt with customer panic buying and how have customers reacted to any supermarket product restrictions?

At first, we were completely overwhelmed. The panic buying started so quickly, and even though deliveries were coming in and out every day, shelves were stripped bare. Due to the demand, we had to enforce product restrictions, which caused a lot of tension. Customers would question why they couldn’t buy more than two of the same items, and even argue with us. However, we stood firm and eventually, customers understood the importance of the restrictions and began to buy with care. 

Are you feeling stressed/anxious during this period, and has your job increased this sense of anxiety/stress?

I tend to cope very well under pressure, but I will probably feel a great sense of anxiety when this emergency has finished. What keeps me going is that, at the moment, so many people are depending on our ability to work and supply food, especially NHS workers, the old and vulnerable. It’s been wonderful to see some customers show great compassion and kindness during this time. 

What would you like customers to remember when they come into a supermarket and engage with workers?

I ask one simple thing – for customers to be respectful and follow the social distancing guidelines. 

Is there anything the local or national government could do that would improve your working life right now/ something about policy at the moment?

The government must continue its messaging in a clear and concise way. For example, it must make clear that only one member of the household can shop in supermarkets. At the moment, we are seeing entire families shopping together in a leisurely manner. It is also unclear whether face masks can make a difference, so this needs more clarification. 

I would like to add that I am very proud to work with my colleagues. Not only are we working an average of 54 hours per week, we are buying food and distributing to our local communities, friends and family. This is the best example of community spirit that lives within our society. 

*Our speaker asked for his identity to be kept anonymous as well as the supermarket he works for

During this time, it’s important to share the experiences of people in our community, whether that be social care workers, supermarket employees, teachers, doctors, nurses or food bank volunteers – we all have a story to tell. Please get in touch with us if you would like to share your story or connect with local party members in your area.

The most important thing we can do right now is to stay indoors, try to work from home if possible (unless you are a key worker), and only leave the house for exercise and to buy food and medicines. Supermarkets have remained open to benefit the local community, so please only buy what is necessary and remember to respect all members of the public and staff.

Stay Home, Save Lives.

Opinion: Why we still need LGBTQ+ History Month

Kay 
Woking Labour’s LGBTQ+ Officer

February is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans+ (LGBT+) history month where the lives and contributions that LGBT+ people have made to society are acknowledged and celebrated. Today, some people ask why we still need History month and Pride celebrations when the LGBT+ population has all the rights it needs.

Although there have been a great many advances in legislation and rights, there is still a lot of stigma and homophobia present in society that continue to have a derogatory, negative effect on LGBT+ people which often affects their self-esteem and sense of wellbeing. The least LGBT people can expect to experience can be verbal name calling, belittling. The worst can be actual physical violence and sometimes death. This has the effect of making LGBT+ people feel vulnerable and excluded simply for who they fall in love with. We cannot choose who we fall in love with. Most LGBT+ people feel they have to modify their behaviour in public so as not to attract negative attention. For example: not holding hands with their partner in public which heterosexual couples can take for granted and not even consider having to do.

From the 16th to 19th century, same sex attractions were criminalised with severe penalties in place. Gay rights were almost unheard of although attempts were made to make changes to the law. The gay rights movement gathered momentum and pace after the Stonewall riots in the United States. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969.

The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in New York which was regularly raided by the police, but on this day the gay community had, had enough of the continual brutality and nearly 400 people joined a riot that lasted 45 minutes and continued over a number of nights. This event was commemorated annually after this which was the beginning of Gay Pride celebrations.

In the 1970s and ’80s many political organisations were formed particularly in the United States and Europe, which began campaigning for legal and social reforms. Fast forward to today and we have the Equality Act of 2010 that provides protection in law for people with protected characteristics. LGBT+ people now have protection at work, in wider society and can have their relationships recognised and legitimised through Civil Partnerships and Civil Marriage. 

These rights and freedoms have been hard fought and won by LGBT+ people being very brave at times when the penalties were extreme, without the protection of law. People Like Oscar Wilde and Alan Turin who made great contributions to society in spite of being excluded, discriminated against and reviled by it. More recently, Ian Mckellen, Angela Eagle, Catherine Smith to name a very few of a great many LGBT+ people fully participating and contributing to society.

Rights and Freedoms that are still very fragile and could very easily be taken away. There are still over 70 countries in the world where it is not safe for LGBT+ people to travel to. Society in parts has reached a level of tolerance and living in the shadow of this is not easy and the reason why LGBT+ history month is still very important.

The Rainbow Flag has been adopted as a symbol of pride by the LGBT+ community since 1978 representing peace and diversity.

 

 

LGBT+ labour members, if you would like to get in touch, contact me on lgbtq@wokinglabour.org.

Why I won’t be standing down for the Liberal Democrats in Woking

Woking Labour came second in Woking in the last General Election.

YouGov, which the Liberal Democrats refer to frequently in their leaflets, has found that only half of those who intend to vote Liberal Democrat say the party ‘definitely’ has their vote.

I’m not standing down, because for 5 years, the Liberal Democrats voted with the Conservatives, making their cuts possible, supporting decisions that have decimated local government, starved our public services and devastated people’s lives. So many British people have been left with low pay and insecure jobs, not earning enough money to pay rising living costs, getting further into debt. We know that under austerity we have seen the destruction of the rights, dignity, independence and mental health of too many of Britain’s 14 million disabled citizens.

A brighter future under Liberal Democrats? It’s important to remind ourselves what they promised:

⦁ to “scrap unfair university tuition fees” and then trebled them to £9,000.
⦁ a fair tax system, but in government they opposed increasing taxes paid by earners over £150,000 and joined the Tories in handing tens of billions in tax giveaways to the super-rich and big businesses, while everyone else paid more
⦁ not to increase VAT, warned against a “Tory VAT bombshell”, but then voted through a VAT rise on everyday working families.
And important to remind ourselves of their record in government is one of saying one thing and doing another. They helped the Tories
⦁ take our NHS backwards by making it harder to see your GP, wasting £3 billion on a top-down reorganisation, and opening the NHS up to privatisation.
⦁ put our school standards at risk, by allowing more unqualified teachers in the classroom and increasing class sizes.
Jo Swinson is a reminder that you can’t trust the Lib Dems: she was a minister in David Cameron’s government and backed the Tories’ damaging austerity agenda all the way.
⦁ For five years she voted with the Tories as they cut pay for public sector workers, starved councils of funding and let housebuilding hit its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s.

Jo Swinson voted for the Bedroom Tax, which taxed grieving parents on the empty bedrooms of their children who had just died, opposed increasing the national minimum wage and providing more financial support through benefits for those unable to work due to disability and illness.
And what did this approach to government result in? Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies have left Britain with productivity well below other major developed countries, a country over reliant on consumer debt and its financial markets.  It has led to an increase in the amount of people in this country who cannot sustain themselves without government and charitable help. A majority of British people are not earning enough money, are in debt and are struggling with rising living costs.

The Liberal Democrats introduced universal credit.  This week, Woking Foodbank told me that they have had a 50% increase in foodbank use this year and one of the main causes of that is the wait for universal credit payments. One reason people are unable to feed themselves and their children is because of the inhumane 5-week wait for Liberal Democrat introduced Universal credit.

The Debt service that is also provided at the Lighthouse in Woking has had to close referrals until February, as so many people need debt advice that it cannot cope.

A 50% increase in foodbank use in a town in the prosperous South-East gives you an indication of how bad things might be for the rest of the country.

The death rate was steadily declining but reversed when austerity came in. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat austerity policies have been described as economic murder. Many thousands of disabled people are no longer with us.

To this day, the Liberal Democrats have failed to take responsibility for the cruel and shameful consequences of their political choices, choices that contributed to the Brexit vote. Jo Swinson, while belatedly admitting the cuts were wrong, is still much more interested in raging a rampantly anti-Labour campaign. If her main cause is to advance the number of Liberal Democrat seats in Parliament – this strategy is understandable. If her main cause is to stop Brexit, it doesn’t make sense.

The Liberal Democrats know that a Labour-led government implementing the policy of a 2nd referendum is the only plausible route to stop Brexit. However, they continue to demonise Labour as a Brexit party and therefore divide Remainers to the benefit of Conservative Brexiteers.  They know that focusing their vitriol on Jeremy Corbyn strengthens the position of Johnson.
As Sue Hackman, Guildford Labour, has said “the Labour Party has promised a referendum to Remain or accept an improved deal and this is the very last chance for those wishing to stay in the EU. For those who want that outcome, only the Labour Party can deliver it.

Voters need to be big enough to vote for the government they believe in so that politicians know what that is and focus on big issues, not the short-term vote-swingers. Over 50 years of electioneering, I’ve never known the Liberals/Lib Dems not to call for tactical voting to make up their numbers. Don’t encourage them. Tactical voting sends the wrong messages to politicians and the wrong politicians to Westminster.”
The problem with the Liberal Democrat strategy is that the future of the country is far more important than whether they win Woking or Cheltenham.

Those who vote Liberal Democrat and wake up on the 13th December to see a new Conservative majority pledging to implement a Trump hard Brexit by the end of January will feel tricked.

The Conservatives best hopes rely on the Liberal Democrats. If a Conservative hard Brexit is unleashed in the coming weeks, Jo Swinson, and her cynical Lib Dem strategists and leafleteers will be among its chief handmaidens.

When you vote Liberal Democrat, you vote Conservative-Lite and have what the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives done for Woking:

50% = the increase in people using the foodbank in our town this year24% children living in poverty in Woking

17% = how much local government funding has fallen since 2010-11 (23% nationally)£44,051,742 = cuts to Surrey Police funding since 2010

£13,393,190 = cuts to Surrey Fire and Rescue Service since 2015 Surrey Fire and Rescue have lost 240 staff since 2010.

94% increase in Surrey police recorded violence this year£23.1million = the shortfall in our schools in Surrey

7 out of every 100 people in Woking who can’t afford their energy bills

£2980 = what an average commuter will now pay for a season ticket (£786 more than in 2010)

Working for Woking? Really?

The Liberal Democrats are not going to sufficiently re-invest and create the infrastructure that our society needs to turn itself around and meet the challenges of climate change. They are not going to create the conditions for people to be more productive, to be able to consume the goods and services our economy produces.  What are their plans for getting the economy moving again? All three parties are talking large numbers, because they acknowledge that investment is needed but only Labour is planning and costing real change for this country, because that’s what it needs.

Vote Labour on 12th December.

Dr Gerry Mitchell

 

The economy in safe hands with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Really?

  1. Let’s talk about debt.

In May 2010, the. Government owed £1.03 trillion. In March 2019, the Government owed £1.8 trillion. That’s 85% of GDP. If we look at the last century, 85% is a relatively low ratio, especially compared to post-war periods.  If we compare it to the last two decades – it’s relatively higher.

Public sector net debt as a proportion of GDP was down under Labour for most of its term. But it then jumped from 36% of GDP in 2007/8 to 65% in 2009/10.

  That reflects the impact of the global financial crash and accompanying global recession in 2008.  The reduction in economic activity in that period meant less in tax receipts and higher welfare spending – blowing a hole in national finances. The bigger deficits added considerably to the overall debt.

 

  1. Size isn’t everything

Looking at the size of the debt alone, as we did in the first post, doesn’t get us very far. Comparing debt to GDP gets us further as it has two big advantages.  First, it gives a sense of how debt compares between different sized countries. Second, it gives a sense of how the debt has changes over time as the UK’s economic output has increased.

The debt-to-GDP ratio indicates whether the country is likely to run into economic difficulties. The bigger a country’s GDP, the easier it is for the country to support high government debt.

But looking at the relative size of government debt won’t give you a full picture of its significance.

As an example, the United States has a relatively high debt-to-GDP ratio, compared to other countries (see it in red in graph below). But no-one thinks that the United States government is about to default on its loans—they’re considered one of the safest investments in the world.

As long as people believe that a government will pay the interest on its debts, that it won’t suddenly default on them, and that they’ll be able to sell their ownership of the debt easily when they need to, investors will carry on lending that government money.

While the size of UK debt has continued to increase in the past few years, other factors have meant that it’s actually become cheaper for the UK government to borrow money. So size isn’t everything.

3. A lost decade in Britain

The UK’s infant mortality rate is rising, our life expectancy is falling and
generational progress in the UK seems to be grinding to a halt. Historically, every generation has enjoyed higher living standards than the one before. But for millennials in their 20s and 30s, their incomes are barely any higher than “Gen X-ers” were at the same age.

The country is getting richer but for the past 40 years, half of the UK population has barely shared in the country’s growth.  The pie is growing but most people are now getting smaller slices. Look at what’s happened to the gap between executive pay and the rest of employees. Look at the squeeze on wages (longest stagnation since 1800s): We’ve reached a point where the market price of around half of the working population is now too low for them to survive without government assistance (https://99-percent.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/99-Core-Fact-Pack.pdf).

4. The average person is poorer today than in 2010.  

We can judge economic success by measuring three things: GDP per capita, productivity and wages.

Looking at the UK’s GDP per capita, we are poorer now than we were before the financial crisis.

We can’t blame Conservatives or Labour for the crisis. The bail out was so big, it effectively saved capitalism.

However, in the last 10 years of Conservative and Liberal Democrat governments, we have had no improvement in productivity.  Our productivity is the same as it was 14 years ago.  This has never happened before.  For the much of the 20th century, rising productivity meant rising wages, and a virtuous cycle in which. Everyone was better off.  The economy being more productive meant workers benefitted more from a larger expanding pie.  Over the past 10 years this has not been happening. Why does it matter? Well, without rising productivity, we will not see pay rises. And if inflation is higher than wage increases, then in real terms, we are getting poorer. UK wage stagnation has no precedent. Inarguably, the average person is poorer today than in 2010.

What is more, under this government, work doesn’t pay.  60% of people in working households are poor.  If you are poor, you are more likely to be working. The growth of zero-hour jobs, poor quality jobs, under this government, helps explain our poor productivity. The self-employed have been hit worse.  They are 15% of our labour force. 86% of the self-employed are in poverty.

4.1 million children are living in poverty, estimated to be 5.2 million by 2022.

Levels of unsecured debt are rising rapidly. We are resorting to borrowing just to get by – an average of £15,000 (not including mortgage debts)

These figures aren’t what you’d associate with economic success but with complete and utter economic failure.

  1. So, how are we going to get Britain moving again?

To cut our government debt, and make our economy stronger, we need a government that is either running a surplus or the economy needs to grow.

Currently our economy is growing through consumption via personal debt – an overreliance on household debt and short-term finance. Levels of unsecured personal debt are rising rapidly. We are resorting to borrowing just to get by.  And we have a labour market dominated by precarious jobs, low pay; low productivity and skills shortages.

We need to kick-start our economy again and get Britain moving. This will be achieved through making people more productive (and that involves paying them more, so that they can support themselves and their families and so that they have money to spend in the economy. We do that by investing in industry of the future, not just financial services.

Labour is proposing day-to-day-spending is increased by £83bn by 2023-24.  10% more than the Conservatives are planning to spend. We are committed not to increase the deficit, not to borrow for day to day spending, so this will be funded by a 4% increase in taxes, mainly paid for by corporation tax. The UK tax revenue, as a proportion of GDP, is currently well behind other European countries. Yes, we are increasing taxes for 5 in every 100 of income earners in the UK (that’s people earning £80,000 and above), but in doing so, we are introducing a fair system.  We will close loopholes and address tax evasion.  We are also increasing corporation tax and ensuring that companies do not pass these costs on by introducing structural changes to corporate governance. Employees and consumers will be represented on company boards to ensure that rather than short-term decisions making, (driven by shareholder gain), we move to a stakeholder economy with stabler, long-term decision making and greater employee participation, which will lead to rising productivity. With consumers on their boards, if companies do try to pass the costs on into higher prices, they will be named and shamed and the market will sort them out.

The capital investment we propose is £55 bn, 3% of GDP.  All parties have consensus that investment is now necessary. If we are serious about future-proofing ourselves for the climate emergency then of course this will take structural change, kick-started by a significant level of investment.

Bringing our utilities and transport back into public ownership has met with a lot of scare-mongering by the right wing press. However, it already happens successfully in other countries.  Open a letter in Norway, take a train in Germany or Switzerland, boil a kettle in Paris or Hamburg … you will have a superior service in a country with a strong element of public ownership.   If you’re getting domestic energy supplied by EDF, it’s the same group that powers the Parisian kettles, it’s just that the French government own it, now ours!

Existing shareholders of, for example, the water companies, will be compensated through an exchange of bonds for their shares. This is fiscally neutral according to international accounting standards, and is how most nationalisations have happened in the past. There will be no cost to the taxpayer.  The public sector would then own profit-generating assets so, instead of being used to pay out excessive private dividends, profits would be used to make more modest interest payments to the bondholders, leaving more money available to be reinvested to bring down bills and improve services.  The public will own a profitable company – the profits will more than cover costs over time and, crucially, won’t get siphoned off into shareholders’ pocket.  Why should the billionaire Richard Branson benefit from running a train company at our expense? It’s not right. What we’re doing is not only necessary, it’s what people want.

  1. Moving to investment-led growth

The amounts are large, but not out of line with other EU countries, and the figures are large because they are making up for a backdrop of neglect of this country’s infrastructure, services and people. The volume of expenditure is big because the challenges we face are big. Climate change, a decade of austerity. The running down our public services.

Labour’s plans are designed and costed to move from consumer-led to investment-led growth. We will borrow only to invest and now we have the cheapest interest rates in history so there is a political consensus that it’s a good time to borrow.

Fears about flight of capital are also something that comes up. There is no discussion of capital controls. The pound will start going up when people see the scale of investment proposed. We’ve talked with pension fund and other global investors and they are desperate for investment opportunities.  Private sector money will flow into the UK when we signal to the world’s markets that we have a 10-year programme of investment, which gives them stability of decision making.

But borrowing needs to be used wisely. In investments that save public money in the future, such as bringing utilities and transport back into our ownership, while tackling key problems such as the climate emergency.

At the moment, we are a consumer-led society, in debt and not able to sustain ourselves. We need to move to an investment-led society if we are going to get Britain moving again. Vote Labour on 12 December.

 If you want an MP that promotes investment in our local communities and public services, that addresses the fact that working people cannot earn enough to support themselves and their families, and acts urgently on climate change by creating a world-leading green and more productive economy then vote Labour on 12 December.

Dr Gerry Mitchell

Introducing Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Woking

Dr Gerry Mitchell in her own words . . .

I live in Woking with my partner and two children and I am running to become Woking Constituency’s next Member of Parliament because I care passionately about our community and our country, and I know that a better government is possible.     

 

Having worked and volunteered in local schools, and at Woking’s advice centre for the Surrey Disabled People’s Partnership before it was shut down, I have seen the toll austerity and cuts have taken on Woking’s residents.   

 

The country is getting richer, but that wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few. Local families can’t afford to feed themselves, using food banks to survive. We all worry about cuts to the NHS and our emergency public services. We see the underfunding in our children’s schools and know people that no longer leave their homes because of cuts imposed on disability support.     

 

These are some of the devastating impacts of government policies on the people of Woking since 2010. The economy is not delivering rising standards for the majority of people.

 

My background is in social research and I have worked at the London School of Economics, for local government and in both Houses of Parliament. As a social policy researcher, I know there is a better alternative –  building a new economy that works for the many.    

 

Labour will introduce a green industrial New Deal to transform our economy, bring an end to austerity, introduce a genuine living wage, build more council homes and ensure more security for those in the rented sector. We will properly fund our public services and bring utilities and transport into public ownership, so that people are no longer ripped off by their energy bills and transport costs. These policies will work. And they will have a hugely positive impact on the lives of Woking’s residents.

 

While there is scaremongering in the media, the tax system will not change for a majority of people in this country. The proposed changes to income tax will only affect the top 5% of the country’s earners – anyone who earns less than £80,000 will not be affected.    

 

I understand that people in Woking are worried about Brexit. If you want to avoid a hard Brexit, the only party to vote for is the Labour Party. We will get a deal done that protects jobs, workers’ rights and the Environment then put it back to you for the final say.

 

A vote for me is a vote for change and a vote for a real voice for Woking.  

 

Woking Labour loses a leading light

Elizabeth-EvansIt is with great sadness that we share news that Elizabeth Evans passed away at home.

Liz has been a tour de force in our community for many years, with many notable accomplishments; of which we name but a few here. She acted as a convener for the Working Women’s Charter Campaign during the women’s movement in the 1970s; served as Councillor for Maybury & Sheerwater between 1999 and 2007; was a member of Horsell Residents Association and volunteered in local schools. Liz was, of course, also a longstanding Officer in our Executive Committee.

Ilyas Wins!Her energy, passion and ceaseless dedication were a constant source of amazement and the depth of her knowledge and experience, the envy of us all. We were glad that this service was acknowledged by the Labour Party last year, when Liz received a Labour Party Lifetime Achievement Award from Jeremy Corbyn, presented at our Joint Woking CLP/Surrey Labour Party Christmas party – one event of many, which Liz had almost single-handedly organised. 

Liz was a committed and active member of the Woking Labour Party to the end.

Her loss will be felt deeply by us all, and we will miss her very much.