Fight for Pandemic Justice!

I can’t remember when I’ve been more angry or more scared.

I’m scared, quite honestly, not so much for myself, even tho’ I’ve self-isolated as an “older person with underlying health conditions” as the much used phrase now rolls off the tongue. As an asthmatic I don’t relish the sensation of gasping for breath, but I’m actually scared by the potential for millions more people being plunged into extremes of destitution.

With government requiring self-isolation of entire families if not neighbourhoods because of COVID-19, employers are “laying-off” or sacking people whilst enforcers are expected to criminalise people who should be in quarantine but aren’t. When it comes to it, if your family is infected and you need to feed them, you’ll either go out to work despite the risks, or go out to steal in order to survive. Who would stay at home and choose to starve or be evicted by self-protecting landlords?

Billionaires like Richard Branson are demanding billions in cash-handouts from tax-payers to keep his climate-collapsing airline and cruise ship companies afloat, whilst workers can claim a maximum of £94:50 a week in statutory sick pay. As a friend noted today, that would leave another £70 a week still to be found to simply pay the rent, leaving no cash to feed his partner and two children. Branson has told his thousands of staff they are now on at least two-months leave without pay. How are they going to survive?

I’m angry because it doesn’t have to be this way.

In France, under the neoliberal “populist” Macron, taxes, rates and utility bills are suspended and to be covered for the duration by the State, legally preventing employers from deducting wages whilst workers are in isolation. Similarly in Spain the privatised hospitals are being renationalised overnight. Denmark has finalised a tripartite agreement for permanent employees that either are subject to work reduction or possible dismissal due to the Corona Virus: for the next 3 months, companies will pay 25% of the affected workers wages, the government 75%. Workers lose 5 holiday days.

Meanwhile, the UK is, once again, being used as a test-tube for a neoliberal “protect big business and the super-Rich” test-tube to see how we fare without state intervention or guarantees: appallingly would be my guess at the cost to the millions of ordinary workers more than any business owner. It’s not that European Capitalism is any better than the UK – the European Union is actually doing nothing in response to the Coronavirus except shooting at migrants trying to escape even worse conditions in the war-torn Middle East and climate-shriven sub-Saharan geographic girdle of this crisis-riven Earth. It is the case that France and Spain have seen huge mass protests of millions in recent months and fear more if they don’t offer at least some crumbs to protect the working class.

Speaking last night with my sister who married into American citizenship decades ago, all the Trump promises are nothing more than chimera and outright lies as the billionaire dictatorship seeks to profit from the crisis just as the unscrupulous have under any wartime conditions. Google, Amazon and the pharmaceuticals are being handed all-but countless tax-dollars and producing nothing tangible in return, just as the USA’s industries did when plundering Iraq after the illegal invasion of 2003. The Pandemic is the latest opportunity to print and hoard more wealth whilst the world burns. The strongest capitalist corporations will survive, the weaker going to the wall. Let it the anarchy of the Market prevail once more.

Banks are being handed billions to sure-up their supposed liquidity, none of which will trickle down to us anymore than it did after the 2008 Crash. Meanwhile, the downtrodden US citizens are losing what little private pensions they have because of stock-market crash bigger than 1987 or anytime since, and queuing-up to buy guns in preparation for the coming social strife that is sure to ensue from mass immiserisation.

The economic threat to the majority almost eclipses the health crisis even tho’ current estimates are that COVID-19 has a 2.3% case-fatality rate and a 19% rate of severe disease. This means that achieving herd immunity to COVID-19 in the UK could result in the deaths of more a million people with a further eight million severe infections requiring critical care. The supposed pride-of-the-world National Health Service here is already short of supplies and seeing mass infection of its’ staff, cleaners, nurses and doctors alike. Xenophobic government propaganda repeats the lie of us having the best services in the world whilst our doctors anonymously post the truth of condition in hospitals that no newspaper will carry, for fear of punishment. And fear is a common expression, everywhere.

Some in the Environment Movement are welcoming the Pandemic as having a very immediate impact on pollution and emission levels as flights and travel stop, and are even suggesting that the “Boomers”, i.e. the Elderly born after the Second World War, are getting our comeuppance for having destroyed the Planet. Of course this precursor to full-on societal collapse is an sobering example of things to come, but nothing to be appreciated or relished if you care at all for other people.

Theirs is, ultimately, an extreme right-wing view from a very privileged position, not only fallacious in its total lack of historical or scientific accuracy but also feeding the anti-human, Malthusian and class-privileged propaganda of Johnson’s far-right government. The Environment Movement is not the domain of only left wing views or people. Their idea of “no more business as usual” concludes with “let them die for their sins” as a solution to the climate crisis. Apparently, the Planet is reaping it’s revenge on us and should be supported to do its worst. Such reactionary twaddle.

But the crisis could offer opportunities never to return to the status quo of Capitalist exploitation and competition. The question is how to revolt in the time of societal shut-down. If the Climate Movement is split between Left and Right whilst the working class is struggling for individual survival, isolated from each other and victim to online scare-stories and Establishment media lies, what chance have we to build effective opposition?

Firstly, Mutual Aid groups are springing-up everywhere, spontaneously enough, offering a chance for reasoned and factual online discourse whilst ensuring the safety and care of the most vulnerable in society. These groups can develop a critical analysis and focussed challenge to the government’s intransigence.

Secondly, some groups of health, care and emergency services in Italy have taken strike action to force, in the most powerful way possible, government to expand resources and deliver more help. It should be added that, because Italy’s national economy was already a basket case, it has sent out pleas for international aid currently heeded and responded to by no less than China and Cuba – no doubt propaganda exercises but certainly exposing the intransigence of the Western neoliberal Capitalist nation states.

Undoubtedly, strike action in the form of a General Strike has its own difficulties and consequences. But put the two together, mutual aid and collective defiance of employers’ self-protection and continued class warfare, and we have a recipe for real and lasting social change. I remember being active through the Great Miners Strike in the UK, 1984-5, when huge donations from the majority of the working class kept the strikers powerful and defiant for the best part of a year. Support groups and communal kitchens exemplified the power of the Collective.

Taking strike action rather than accepting “unpaid leave” has the advantage of completely closing down the bosses’ business, and given the inadequacy of welfare payments the establishment of neighbourhood support networks could easily outweigh the paltry £94:50 a week sick payment, especially if we enact a universal rent and mortgage strike as well. We could make the wealthy howl with pain, just for a change.

Does this all sound unnecessarily vicious and destructive? What? Unlike the vicious and, by its numbers, genocidal current policies of the Capitalist class-based governments so protective of the rich? What the crisis is exposing, possibly to a greater extent than any other time in recent history, is the total impossibility of Capitalism as a system to meet the needs of the majority let alone us all. It is, above all, this stratified class system of haves and have-nots that has created not only the Pandemic but the threat of global climate catastrophe. It’s time, not to lie-down (if it can be avoided) but to rise-up!

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