Class conflict over the present lock-down.
The recent media reports of conflict between those who wish to end lock-down asap and those who wish to delay it, has been framed within the dominant dualistic and liberal viewpoint. It has been presented as one between those who care about the welfare of everyone (represented as the good side) and those who only care about their own individual circumstances (represented as the bad side).
Consequently, those who have refused to wear masks, social distance themselves and stay in isolation have even been designated by some on the political left, as right-wing, selfish, reactionary and even anti-social. In contrast, those who have adhered to governmental elites recommendations have been depicted in a more positive light. Yet this dualist framework misses out the class nature of capitalist societies and the ongoing struggle between the classes.
For a start, it has been mostly overlooked that those in government positions and making the recommendations are all doing so from a comfortable position of financial security. Whilst they speak of us ‘all being in this together‘, they retain full salary or pension payments and live in social and physical circumstances of considerable ease. While they are listening, many working people who have no financial security, at best only a percentage of their wage or salary, living in housing with limited comfort and are thinking ‘no we are not’.
It also seems to have been forgotten that less than six months ago, working class disillusionment with the political class and governing establishments was considered widespread and understandable. The experience of a decade or more of austerity, low pay, destroyed hopes and frustrated aspirations, had led to an almost universal working class distrust of their elite ‘leaders’. It cannot be surprising that this distrust has been further compounded by the establishments failure to adequately prepare for and deal, with the Covid-19 pandemic.
What should be surprising is that, despite a massive amount of disgust and distrust for the establishment, so many working people have independently reasoned that self-isolation, social distancing etc., was needed to save lives in the absence of viable alternatives. Most working people did not comply with such suggestions simply because dodgy politicians passed emergency powers and recommended them. They did so because it made sense.
This ability to reason is also why millions of workers – despite the hardship of lock-down – have not followed the establishments recommendations to return to work, school and leisure pursuits.
This pattern of reasoning shows greater wisdom and intelligence than automatically doing the opposite of what the incompetent establishment suggest. Thinking things through is generally a better process than a simple knee-jerk opposition. But that same wisdom and intelligent reasoning is needed to also understand that some working people are in such dire straits that – in the absence of an acceptable alternative – they have joined the return-to-work-now camp of their class enemy.
Class conflict over future outcomes.
However, the experience of returning to work will probably soon separate the working-class early returners from their equally keen ‘get-back-to-work’ employers, for their class interests are fundamentally opposed. Owners will have profits and efficiency in mind; workers will have safety and decent pay on theirs. The two viewpoints are far from compatible. Patience, understanding and supportive discussions between stayers and returners will expedite a coming together of working people’s class interests in a common, post-pandemic struggle.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the crisis-riddled nature of the capitalist mode of production, but it has revealed much more. It has underlined the contrast between the low paid front-line workers upon which we all rely for our basic survival and the high pay of governmental, economic, military and financial elites who have hindered our basic survival needs. All other sectors of society have been forced to recognise the importance of those essential workers who worked through the lock-down.
But the rich only did so by a cost-free process of clapping their hands.
Since essential workers risked their lives for the rest of us they will need massive support to ensure they are not left vulnerable to the privatisation, low-pay, and poor working conditions which the neo-liberal elites presently governing countries will try to introduce after this virus has been neutralised and the pandemic ended. The high levels of unemployment, poverty, low-pay and precarious existences for ordinary working people before, during (and after) lock-down will need to be and should be resisted. The fundamental issue becomes;
The need for a more humane, egalitarian and ecologically sustainable mode of production is still the fundamental issue at stake in the 21st century.
The many other issues, important as they are, are not resolvable unless the mode of production creating and maintaining them is addressed. Issues such as climate change, ecological destruction, air, land and water pollution, inequality, poverty, immigration, asylum seekers, pandemics and wars for resources, as deadly and important as they all are, cannot be resolved without changing the way humanity produces and consumes it’s products and services.
Global competition for private greed needs to be replaced by global social cooperation and ecological management for public need. That change in motivation for, and management of, the production of goods and services would allow the other issues to be addressed both individually and collectively. Standing in the way of such a change are exactly the same hereditary managerial and governing class of elites who have been repeatedly exposed as incompetent and self-serving.
As the capitalist class removed the feudal aristocratic elites from positions of power and control of land, in previous centuries, the new new hybrid capitalist/pro-capitalist managerial elites need to be removed from positions of power and control of capital by the working classes, in this century. Since ‘capital’ is nothing more than the monetised value of past – production created by working people it is time working people controlled what is produced, where it is produced and how it is produced.
Roy Ratcliffe (May 2020)