Job or jab? It really is as simple as that

Posted on August 22, 2021


(First published on the Fin24 website and in City Press)

No Covid-19 vaccination equals no job. Nor any welcome in any public gathering. That — allowing for a tiny minority of individual exceptions for legitimate medical reasons — would not only be legal, it would be the morally correct way forward.

And trade unions in particular, should stop pussyfooting around, saying they support the right of workers to refuse vaccination while, at the same time, encouraging them to take the jab. However, unions in the education sector have been among the best in terms of using education and diplomacy in encouraging members to “do the right thing”.

But now, in the face of ongoing intransigence, even among teachers who, it is generally assumed, should be less prone to conspiracy theories, and assorted mumbo-jumbo, it is time to toughen up. It should be spelled out bluntly what this column has already pointed out: that the unvaccinated pose not only a danger to themselves, but to others.

So, by all means, choose not to vaccinate: it is your right. But only if you also accept isolation from the rest of the vaccinated community to whom you pose a clear and present danger, not only a spreader of disease, but as an incubator for potentially more lethal mutations..

Then, of course, there is the legal aspect. In terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, “owners and employers” are legally bound to protect the health and welfare of their employees. Health and safety officers of trade unions on the shopfloor should play a similar role in every workplace.

I have already heard of two cases where employers have taken direct action to ensure a vaccinated workforce. In one, with fewer than 10% of the workforce vaccinated, the employer simply announced that only the vaccinated would be welcome to return to work since they alone posed no threat to everyone else. In the other, the owner of a small factory, paid a small cash bonus once workers were “jabbed”. All workers in both establishments are now vaccinated.

While the employers in these cases have been responsible for the action, they were, in fact, applying what is a cardinal principle of trade unionism: An injury to one is an injury to all. This rule is not based on blind belief, but on practical experience and day-to-day reality. And it has never been more pertinent than now, with the ongoing danger of an airborne and potentially lethal viral pandemic.

It is also time to realise that we have been here before; that this coronavirus is not the first — and almost certainly not the last — we will face. Nor may it be the most lethal variant or even novel disease to emerge.

So far, only smallpox, one of the most devastating diseases known, has been eradicated. And this was the result of a massive global vaccination campaign that targeted a virus that had existed for thousands of years and killed millions of people.

Before vaccination became commonplace, eight out of every ten young children infected by the disease died, as did 30% of adults. Many who survived also bore sometime hideous scars from the lesions left by smallpox. With no vaccine available in the early 18th Century, it is estimated that 400,000 people died every year of smallpox in Europe alone.

With the rise in global trade and colonial expansion, smallpox travelled around the world, often destroying whole communities. And even when, nearly 225 years ago, vaccination first became available, there was opposition, based on the fears and fake news of the day.
Even as late as 1945, there was a classic and tragic case in South Africa, in which five members of the Guthrie family died. The family — mother, father, two daughters and a son — died after contracting smallpox in their Kensington, Johannesburg home. The older daughter, Hilda, worked in a city furniture store where one of the other workers contracted smallpox. Alone of all the staff, Hilda Guthrie refused vaccination and became a spreader.
According to a member of the extended family, all who had been in contact with the Guthries — family, friends and neighbours — were immediately vaccinated and the disease was stopped. In microcosm, this is what happened when, in 1967, the World Health Organisation launched its intensive global campaign to eradicate smallpox.

By 1980, the WHO was able to claim success: smallpox became the first — and so far, only — such disease to be eradicated. Similar hopes for the equally dangerous measles have been set back, even in countries such as the United States, largely because of small, but apparently growing, groups of resisters, their opposition
often fuelled by social media and based on religious dogma,

These are the facts and there should no longer be any prevarication. The labour movement should be to the forefront, even if it does mean alienating a minority of members who remain blind to reality.

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