Covid-19 has ripped through the heart of our economy and everyday life, leaving millions relying on state aid, strict lockdown measures and stores struggling to meet rising supermarket demands as panic buying originally set in.
We have witnessed an immediate slump in consumer spending across all major economies which is certain to provoke the deepest recession in living memory. With little sign of a vaccine until 2021, production and consumption look set to be heavily restricted for some time.
Capitalism has stagnated, this could eventually lead to years of more austere economic recovery which we have witnessed since 2010 under consecutive Conservative governments.
All of this is playing against the backdrop of a climate catastrophe that all major political leaders around the world are doing their best to ignore. Much like their ignorance towards health experts and social scientists who have long warned of future pandemics such as this one we currently face.
Since 2010 ever since David Cameron took power budgets for the NHS have been dramatically cut in real terms and is now nearing the point of collapse. Since 2015 alone the Public Health budget has been gutted to the tune of £1 billion.
The politics of austerity has created a vacuum of underfunding in key public services which is now being exposed by the Covid-19 crisis. A dangerous lack of PPE has left key front line workers desperately exposed as they struggle to deal with the crisis. Whilst those who speak out have been gagged and others threatened with investigations into disclosure of information.
The impact on people of colour within the healthcare industry in particular is startling, as those front line health care workers who have died are named on a daily basis shine light on this issue.
Whilst the ruling Tory government have reluctantly conceded to demands from unions and major capital investment has been made into the pockets of out of work employees and organisations bank balances, more must be done to protect vulnerable, zero hour and low paid workers.
GMB estimates as many as 1 million UK workers are on zero-hours contracts, which offer no sick pay, job security or staff benefits. Whilst millions of self-employed workers are living on savings week to week as they await a government bailout which is not due until June.
Unemployment figures are set to double since the turn of the year as the lowest echelons of society struggle most to cope with the impacts of this crisis.
Whilst the lowest struggle, the highest reap. Naomi Klein’s analysis of ‘Disaster Capitalism’ can be seen taking shape across the world. In the UK the government have provided PPE contracts to a Conservative Party donor who has cashed in on UK Government-Made PPE shortages amidst Covid-19. Whilst in Alberta, Canada governors have moved to aggressively deregulate the Alberta Oilsands knowing full well that protest and resistance is almost impossible during social distancing and lockdown.
Capitalism is proving again that profit is more important than people, especially at times of crisis and disaster. They will seek at nothing to turn this crisis into a deeper one which lines the pockets of the 1% even further, further impoverishing the lower classes who will already be worst affected.
Socialists in this country and across the world need to mobilise alongside all workers to ensure that the narrative of austerity is never allowed to resume once this crisis is over.
If we are to follow the orthodox neoliberal economic playbook, just as after 2008, political parties across the world will call for more austerity – healthcare cuts to the people who have saved us from this crisis, wage cuts for the workers who have been affected most and tax rises on all of us to cover the cost of government spending.
However, the truth that workers create the wealth and not the billionaires is being laid bare. Attempts by Richard Branson to secure a government bailout of his airline company and Elon Musk demanding the lockdown be lifted as proof that they are nothing without the labour which we provide as a workforce.
Without our labour these billionaires can create nothing, we the people give our labour which keeps our economy flowing, without us the economy grinds to a halt.
Rescuing this system through reform is no longer a viable option. Capitalism is creating more frequent economic crises whilst allowing biological and environmental hazards to emerge and scale.
A recent paper from Brunel University notes how the global agriculture industry helped foster this pandemic as factory livestock farming sets up ideal environments for pathogens to spread whilst three-quarters of “new or emerging” diseases that infect humans have originated in wild or domesticated animals.
It is this same agriculture industry that is deepening the crisis affecting our climate. Worldwide, meat production increased nearly 5 times in the second half of the 20th century, and it continues to soar. One hectare planted with rice or potatoes feeds twenty people in a year; the same hectare given over to sheep or cattle can feed only one or two.
This is unsustainable and change must happen before it is too late. We must no longer rely on the fossil fuel industry to prop up our economies.
We need to break from traditional modes of production towards a more inclusive and sustainable economy. We must look to divide our labour towards a greater focus of public services, works programs and a Green New Deal which will revolutionise our environment and the way our economy works in the interests of the working class.
It is the working class who will always suffer most at the time of crisis, not airline bosses and the ruling class. Now is our chance to change course.
We must demand that the richest in our society bear the economic brunt for this crisis. Austerity on the working classes who will have pulled this country through the pandemic with their work on the front lines must be protected, whilst billionaires hoarding their wealth in offshore bank accounts should be made to pay their share or become nationalised. We still have one of the lowest levels of corporation tax in Europe and this needs to be amended to meet future demands.
We must demand an end to profit over people and invest in our public services. Offering a higher, fairer wage be paid to those essential front line workers who have struggled into work every day on their near poverty wages putting their lives at risk so that the rest of us remain safe. We need to nationalise key industries such as rail, water and gas so that decisions on vital public services are made in the greater interests of the public, not those of a wealthy capitalist few.
We must demand an end to homelessness. We have seen now that homelessness was a political choice as over 90% of rough sleepers known to local authorities at the beginning of this crisis have now been made offers of safe accommodation according to The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, finding place for them in emergency hotels built for purpose. Although many are still struggling to find accommodation, the fact this has been proposed proves it was always possible.
We must demand an end to the anti-Trade Union laws in the UK. These laws which discourage union membership and collective bargaining need to be banished to the past. The fact that Amazon in the USA have more awareness of branches with a potential to unionize over the number of suspected Covid-19 cases in their warehouses is proof in point enough of what large corporations have a priority of. Protecting their interests over the collective safety interests of their workforce.
Finally, we MUST demand a Green New Deal which will help us to transition to a low carbon economy built for the future. We must not stand around and allow us to go back to the old ways of production built off the backs of the fossil fuel industry. If this crisis has taught us anything, it is that we should no longer take the advice of health and scientific experts for granted. The climate emergency is real and it is coming for us all, much like Covid but with far greater repercussions.
Whilst the current Labour leadership is languishing in its attempt to hold this government to account and set out a clear economic alternative for the future, that does not stop us as workers organising within our unions to be prepared to demand a better life once normal life resumes.
This crisis has created a new opportunity for a different future. One not bound by the motto of profit over people.
It is up to us to organise in solidarity as workers from all political persuasions to realise the potential that we all have as a collective over the ruling forces. To take charge of our lives and the future of our children and grandchildren to ensure that we do not go back to the status quo which is only bound to destroy our planet for future generations to come. The narrative is there to be set over the coming months and we as socialists must make our case loud and clear.