The left and the epidemic

Submitted by martin on 29 March, 2020 - 7:06 Author: Martin Thomas
it takes everyone

Most Labour and trade union leaders have fallen silent, or rallied behind the government, in the Covid-19 epidemic.

There are exceptions. But mostly it falls to the activist left to insist that the labour movement make itself an "essential service" now, fighting for workers' control and to look out for the worst-off.

The semi-lockdown (no meetings, many workers at home) obviously makes it hard to coordinate. But the more the activist left can unite to insist that union and Labour structures continue to operate, especially above workplace level, the better.

Solidarity has argued for three main ideas in the epidemic: requisitioning (emergency public ownership) of key sectors; workers' control; safeguards for the worst-off (zero-hours and agency workers, migrants, refugees, the homeless, etc.; and the people in the world's poorer countries).

All those ideas also figure in the response of other left-wing groups. They are overlaid and blurred (in our view) by flaccid "anti-Tory" or anti-neoliberal generalities, headlines like "Don't trust Tories" or "The coronavirus crisis is a capitalist crisis". And they are often not spelled out in specifics. But they are there, or at least they are not contradicted.

Socialist Alternative (a recent splinter from the Socialist Party) is the other group, besides us, to highlight workers' control, or, as they put it, "democratic control by frontline workers".

The NPA in France, the PST in Algeria, and the Fourth International (an international network of left groups including the PST and core members of the NPA) have raised the demand for requisitioning, and Socialist Alternative calls for nationalisation of pharmaceuticals.

The Fourth International's statement also highlights, more than other left responses besides our own, looking out for the worst-off.

The Socialist Party has stressed that "union independence has been maintained", and carried reports on where unions have continued to function vigorously during the epidemic.

Lutte Ouvrière in France highlights the shutting-down during the epidemic of non-essential work, with full pay for those sent home. The NPA echoes that theme.

Some groups (the SP and Socialist Alternative, for example) have headlined "mass testing". We haven't headlined that. Of course we want mass testing. But we think the political focus should be on the political measures required to push that forward: requisitioning, workers' control.

We know that thanks to cuts the NHS minimised stockpiles and reserves designed to deal with non-immediate risks. The very neoliberal governments in South Korea and Germany and Australia (none of which countries has free-at-the-point-of-need health care) have done better on testing, in South Korea because kickback from its experience with MERS and SARS had pushed the government into contingency planning.

We focus on the real political points here: giving resources to provide against risks which do not generate "market signals" here and now; and democratic scrutiny of government policy.

On those the left agrees. On those we should work together.

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