The entire Covid saga is an absolute condemnation of capitalism.
Coronavirus stems from capitalism’s destruction of the environment in its drive for profit. For our rulers, profits are more important than tens of thousands of deaths, as our Prime Minister has explained.
On “Freedom Day,” 19 July, our rulers allowed the total opening of the country. All businesses back to pre-pandemic, no face masks, no social distancing, etc. – back to work and full speed ahead with exploitation. In the face of rising cases and an insufficiently vaccinated population, this has been criticised as utterly reckless. In the first week of the opening it was reported that 1 in every 75 people now have the virus and the British Medical Association called for the opening to be reversed. A statement signed by over 1,000 researchers working in public health, responding to the health secretary’s announcement that there will likely be 100,000 new cases a day, claims that “exponential growth will probably continue until millions more people are infected, leaving hundreds of thousands of people with long-term illness and disability”. The three lockdowns imposed by the government were largely in response to a fear of hospitals becoming overrun but now that most vulnerable populations have been vaccinated, and the risk of bad press from patients being treated in hospital car parks is over, they are happy to condemn a generation of children to the poorly understood long-term effects of Covid in order to get the profit system working again.
From the start the government has put profits before lives. In February 2020, Johnson explained this in a speech at the Old Naval College: “When (…) Coronavirus will trigger a panic […] that goes beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage […] humanity needs some government that is willing to make the case for freedom of exchange”. A month later, Johnson appeared on “This Morning” to make the case for herd immunity, suggesting that “perhaps you could take it on the chin” and “allow the disease […] to move through the population”.
While he did eventually lockdown the country, it came entirely too late; and it is worth looking at which populations the disease was allowed to move through. Workers in care, health, retail and schools as well as in construction and manufacturing, which were kept open despite often being clearly non-essential, bore the brunt of the pandemic, with a much higher death rate than other occupations. These conditions have also been the principal cause of the virus spreading. Many of these “essential” workers, unable to work from home, had to choose between their income and their health. The UK has the lowest statutory sick pay in Europe, at £94.25 a week, amounting to 20% of the average wage, already an insufficient amount to live on for many. Given how widespread precarious employment is becoming, with more workers than ever working multiple jobs on zero-hours contracts, it should come as no surprise that many workers chose to ignore symptoms and refuse testing in order not to jeopardise their small income. Moreover, while there is already a higher mortality rate in general in more economically deprived areas, the rate of Covid deaths there was disproportionately worse. The North West of England, which had seen record high rates of poverty leading up to the pandemic, saw a drop in life expectancy 25% worse than the rest of the nation.
Both here and abroad, the main vector through which the virus has spread, mutated and killed, has been workplaces where the cold logic of capital has taken its toll on the health of the populace, forcing us to go without seeing our friends and loved ones for months to offset the outbreaks caused by employment. In schools too, the government outright admitted that they needed to be kept open so that parents would still be able to work.
The catastrophic handling of the virus in the UK, where as of July 2021 over 129,000 people have died unnecessarily, is an extension of the government’s standard approach to healthcare. The NHS has been stretched to its limit each winter even under ordinary circumstances, and reforms to the DWP have led to unprecedented rates of starvation and suicide among those the welfare state claims to be there to help. While ideology certainly accounts for some degree of the cruelty of our austerity regime, it is part of a wider trend since the 1970s, where, in the face of mass unemployment and dwindling profits, an assault on the living conditions of the global working class was required.
By branding care home staff and retail workers as “heroes” and celebrating their deaths for the sake of profit as “sacrifices”, the reality of their existence has been hidden.
The entire Covid saga is an absolute condemnation of capitalism. First it spawns the virus by destruction of the environment, then refuses to protect us from it because this would reduce the profits it gets from exploiting us at work.
Only by recognising our place in the world as workers, subordinate to the wage relation, can we find a way out of the continued mass death and degeneration of our quality of life being inflicted on us. By uniting together as a class, across workplaces, industries and national borders, we can destroy this decaying society and build a new one, in which production is determined by human need rather than a parasitic class happy to see us die if it preserves their accumulation of wealth.
The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 56) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.