Science and Technology

Diary of a Tubeworker: Absolutely essential?

While I waited for my train into work I heard three separate automated announcements. One from a member of staff, one from an NHS paramedic and one from the child of an NHS worker. They had one message in common “Do not travel unless you are a critical worker making an absolutely essential journey”. That first part is right, but that second part? Well, why are TfL playing me a message about not travelling unless absolutely essential when they want me to come in right now at 23:00 on a Friday? This week I was unlucky. I didn’t get my act together, emails went unanswered and my phone calls didn...

Can we get R<1?

Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, and France have all announced measures to ease their pandemic lockdowns. Several other countries in Europe look as if they are at or past a pandemic peak. The UK may be around a peak. As of yet, no-one - not the scientists, not the governments, and not us either - has even a halfway clear picture of how these easings (over-hopefully called "exit strategies") can best be designed to avoid new peaks. Only slow, piecemeal, feeling-our-way approaches are possible. The UK looks not yet ready even for that. The wild "exit now" talk of...

Lessons from past pandemics

The nearest historical precedent to the Covid-19 pandemic is the “Spanish flu” which swept the world between March 1918 and March 1920, in three successive and distinct waves. On the best estimates, made decades later because no one counted well at the time, that strain of flu infected about one-third of the world’s whole population and killed between 50 and 100 million, possibly more than World War 1 and World War 2 combined. The deaths peaked sharply in the second wave, between mid-September and mid-December 1918. Most strains of flu disproportionately kill the elderly and the very young....

Profit drive has stalled vaccines

In capitalist society we are encouraged to believe that our health and wealth depend on individual endeavour. The market can meet all of society’s needs. Society is set up so that the only organisations capable of producing vaccines for Covid19 are privately-owned and run pharmaceutical companies. In fact, with more public investment and research there might have been at least partially effective treatments already available when Covid-19 was identified. As I wrote in Solidarity 534, the threat of zoonotic diseases has long been identified by the World Health Organisation. Covid-19 is in fact...

Coronavirus and climate change

The novel coronavirus originating in Wuhan (2019-nCoV) is a zoonotic disease. It is an infection that has passed from animals to humans. Humans have not developed immunity to such infections. That in turn means they are often more deadly, and spread rapidly. According to the World Health Organisation, new zoonotic infections are becoming more frequent because of climate change and other human behaviour. Zoonotic diseases are more likely to occur when populations of animals and humans that do not normally interact come into contact with each other. Climate change makes this more likely in a...

Wuhan: a new coronavirus

WHAT HAPPENED IN WUHAN? People visiting a seafood and wild animal market a few weeks ago almost certainly picked up a species of virus from live wild animals on sale. This virus, a member of the Coronavirus family, causes fever, a cough and sometimes pneumonia. It seems to be relatively easy to transmit between people and identified cases have risen sharply to well over 10,000 in a few weeks, most in the city of Wuhan with a few (so far) in other towns and countries. Each infected individual is estimated to be infecting about three others. This rate needs to be reduced to near zero to...

Automation and the working class: Workers' Liberty 3/70

Click here to download pdf . The pdf is correct; but because of an error in our office (sorry!), page 15 is missing from the initial hard-copy print run, and page 16 is printed twice. We've printed page 15 as an "errata sheet", and it can be downloaded here: Click here to download errata sheet .

Automation and the working class

According to one account in 2013, 47% of jobs in the USA risk being automated away within “a decade or two”.[1] That prospect has been interpreted as utopia or as dystopia. The near future will be one of networked individuals freed from drudgery by automation, and able easily to get what they want to consume and to undermine all hierarchies. Or: only a techno-elite will retain employment and wages. The rest of us will be reduced to a new pauper class vegetating on “universal basic income” handouts. Further research has queried the projections. Many tasks can be automated, but jobs involve more...

The future and robots

Fuelled by rapid developments in technological innovation hyped in recent years, although mostly developed over the last two decades, many cerebral types suggest we may be at the start of some significant changes in capitalist production. They even gave it a grandiose name: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. Socialists, Marxists, progressives have a history of taking technology and advocating its use for more than just the most efficient exploitation. Perhaps however, the pace of innovation is making this harder. The techy elite, a traditionally well-meaning liberal bunch, and the...

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