Cookie-cutters and lockdowns

Submitted by AWL on 4 May, 2021 - 7:51

It seems an easy and “left-wing” “cookie-cutter” frame for understanding the pandemic: “capitalists... resist lockdowns”, “workers’ direct action has forced more effective lockdowns” (Stuart Jordan, letters, Solidarity 590). Stuart rejects the full-on equation: “most left-wing” = “harshest, longest lockdowns” = “best pandemic control”. But even his more careful version of the “cookie-cutter” is not true.

Capitalist governments everywhere have imposed lockdowns. Trump, Bolsonaro, Lukashenko, Magufuli are outliers even within the right. Competent lockdowns “work” (with heavy costs). There is no evidence that very harsh lockdowns work better than subtler ones, or that lockdowns continued for indefinite months, as in Argentina, “work” well.

Workers’ action in various countries has won isolation pay, better precautions in workplaces and degrees of workers’ control, improved conditions in care homes. All important. Nowhere have workers forced lockdowns. In Italy in spring 2020, workers’ actions forced the short-term closure of some factories; in Queensland, Australia, at that time, the threat of a teachers’ strike forced the closure of schools. Those actions were about extending lockdowns already decreed by governments (and based on the assumption that a few weeks’ shutdown would quell the virus).

School teachers are exceptional because their action has been about shifting their work mostly online, with the workplace sometimes part-open, rather than shutting down the work entirely; and because they are sure they will still be paid if that shift is made, and their workplace won’t be closed for good. Shutting or part-shutting schools does not trigger broader lockdowns. The big cities of the USA have mostly had schools closed for a year, or most of the year, and yet bars, cafés, churches, etc. open most of the time.

No wonder most workers prefer some combination of home-working and workplace precautions, which gives them better chances of keeping their jobs and retaining some worker solidarity, to being dispersed to their homes to stay indoors for indefinite months, relying on the police to implement precautions and on government furlough to subsist.

Jim Denham’s basic point about lockdowns on the “Zero Covid” model — everyone at home except emergency workers (only for their work journeys and hours), and except the cops, who thus become the only active agency of infection control — holds, I think.

Chris Reynolds, north London

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