This is the text of a second presentation given at our Online Townhall on March 28, 2020: “The Coronavirus Pandemic: Their System Can’t Protect Us.” (link to first presentation at the townhall) (link to the discussion portion of the townhall)
We have just heard how this criminal system has failed to respond to this pandemic crisis.
Unfortunately, we have seen this scenario play out before. We saw it in the government’s disgraceful response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, to Superstorm Sandy in New York in 2012 and in the lack of response to help the people of Puerto Rico when the island was struck by an earthquake, or when fires raged in California in 2019.
Each time there was a lack of coordination by all levels of government, with state and local governments waiting for federal aid that arrived too late, if at all. And instead of taking care of the people injured, displaced and dislocated by the disasters, the majority of the aid benefitted the corporations and banks.
When there was a response that made a difference it was usually organized by ordinary people, who rescued those in danger, found housing and shelters for those who were homeless, and got people needed medical services and food.
But with the coronavirus pandemic we face even bigger challenges. It’s a long-term, global crisis with no definite end in sight. And we can’t even come together physically to support each other.
What Can Be Done?
First we can all act responsibly – that is keep ourselves, our workplaces and our communities safe and healthy. First it means being aware of how the virus spreads – person to person. Just because we are feel healthy doesn’t mean that we are virus-free and can’t infect others. We all have to practice social distancing as a basic guide to our personal behavior – wherever we are in our communities and at work. Older and more vulnerable people need to stay home.
That’s a start but we also need to understand what we face. This is difficult because there was a refusal to organize mass free testing and centralize the results to provide accurate numbers of who is infected and how the virus spreads.
The Priorities of Society Need to be Reorganized
Essential services are those which guarantee the well-being of the population – not the well-being of real estate investors, banks and corporations.
In the current situation healthcare is the top priority. When there is an urgent need, the resources of society must be directed to meet it. Whether this is producing testing kits, personal protective equipment, medical equipment, or providing enough medical facilities.
Adequate housing, food, and sanitation must be provided for all. The production and distribution of all essential goods should be coordinated locally, regionally, and nationally (and even internationally) to meet the needs of the whole population regardless of citizenship status, or who is unhoused or imprisoned.
Those working in essential services should have a major role in organizing and coordinating how care is given and how work is organized. And all those engaged in providing these services should receive testing and not work while infectious.
The Scientific Community and Healthcare Providers Must be in Charge
They need to assess the evolving situation and coordinate the national health care response. To do this they need current and accurate data. Who gets tested should be determined by epidemiologists and doctors. Results should be both centrally reported and given quickly to those tested, followed by providing appropriate care.
To coordinate this requires an accurate inventory of all hospital and medical facilities and an inventory of all medical supplies and equipment (including what is held by the military and by non-healthcare agencies), plus an inventory of all medical personnel, including those working in non-healthcare settings. Numbers of nurses could be added if retired nurses came back and trained newly licensed nurses and then mentored them on the job.
Manufacturing facilities can be quickly transitioned to produce and then allocate resources where they are needed.
We Must protect the Health and Lives of Everyone
There must be free and comprehensive screening and health care provided to everyone.
Measures must be implemented to ensure the safety of workers in essential services. No one should be allowed to work who hasn’t been tested and found to be healthy. Workplace health and safety should be supervised by healthcare professionals. Workers must be provided with all the necessary safety equipment. Workers must have the ultimate responsibility for their job sites and have the right to stop work if safeguards are not met.
Childcare and elder care must be provided for those who must continue to work.
All non-essential plants and other workplaces, should be closed. Everyone should be guaranteed full wages, whether they are working or not.
All schools and universities should be closed making sure students who need it have childcare, food and housing.
Other Necessary Measures
An emergency public housing plan and shelters for all unhoused people must be developed. On the local level there needs to be an assessment of housing needs and the availability of empty hotels, motels and other buildings. These should be requisitioned to house the houseless. Outreach workers should create protocols for screening and treatment for those who are ill.
An assessment should be made of all existing food providers like food banks. Then neighborhoods could provide food for people in need. Transportation and food delivery should be free!
People should not go deeper into debt as a result of this pandemic. There needs to be a moratorium on rent collections and mortgage payments and a guarantee of no evictions or foreclosures for at least six months. All utility payments should be suspended and shut-offs canceled. No cell phone payments should be collected. All loan payments, credit card payments, and interest on all loans should be stopped for at least six months. And when the six months or whatever necessary period for quarantine is over, no one should be asked to pay back bills incurred while they weren’t working.
What Can People Do Now?
There are ways for everyone to get mobilized and engaged. This is an opportunity to activate all of our society. We need to make sure no one is alone and in need. We can’t leave the people who are laid off or working remotely to languish at home feeling helpless.
We have to give each other support. We can organize happy or unhappy hours, meet with a drink of some kind in hand on zoom or Skype with family, friends, workers from our jobs, and our neighbors.
We need to organize to stay safe and refuse to work in unsafe conditions. At first you may face resistance from other workers who either do not understand the seriousness of the crisis, or who feel worried about losing their jobs. But we need to explain and argue with people that it is not a mater of whether you feel sick or not because without knowing it we can all be carriers and transmit this virus to those who are more vulnerable – at home and in our communities.
As the civil rights movement song goes – we are the ones we have been waiting for – we are the front lines. In the U.S. and elsewhere, we have seen workers stand up for themselves. Healthcare workers, bus drivers, auto workers, longshore workers and workers at Amazon have organized strikes, walkouts and protests, when the bosses tried to force them to work in unsafe conditions.
As I said before, neighborhoods need to be organized and many have – using social media platforms to stay in touch and to provide groceries, medicine and transportation to those in need. Groups have been organized around the country to take over vacant buildings to provide immediate housing for those who are without shelter, and protect people from evictions. Musicians, fitness coaches, art teachers, cooks and many others have organized online programs to keep people amused and diverted.
This is what the author Rebecca Solnit called “a paradise built in hell” – it’s the mutual aid component of resistance. She was referring to the efforts that ordinary people made during past disasters.
Groups like ours are organizing discussions like this one where we share information and analyze the situation as it changes. We can and must discuss what is going on, who is responsible for the crisis. And we also have to continue discussing what we can do to protect our lives, and defend our interests and our future. So we need to stay connected. And as we do this, we can imagine what we could do if we were even better organized and coordinated.
We Need to Understand Our Potential Power
Coming out of this, and we will come out of this, even though it doesn’t feel that way, the world will have changed. Many will have died and gotten seriously ill – too many. Tens of millions will have been out of work. Much of society maybe at a standstill but behind the scenes, those in power are making their recovery plans. They have already gotten trillions of dollars to protect their investments. But they won’t stop there.
Will they try to run the workplaces with fewer workers, violating work rules? Will environmental protections be reduced? Will the transit cutbacks become permanent? Will some schools remain closed or be transformed into charter schools? Will colleges and universities use the crisis to switch over to all online instruction?
Past crises have shown what could lie ahead. We can’t afford to just return to business as usual and make further sacrifices because of the massive mess created by those who run this society. We can’t afford to passively re-focus on the November elections and place our hope in the same old politicians.
This crisis has shown us who is essential to the functioning of this society. It isn’t those pulling down six-figure salaries. It is what we have always known. Everything that is produced, distributed, all the services, transportation, communication and education depends on the work we do.
To prepare for what lies ahead, we have to be active today. We can make connections with new people, and strengthen the connections we already have, building up and increasing our organized forces.
There is a disease that needs to be eradicated from the globe if we are to protect our lives, insure our future and the health of the planet. It is not the coronavirus – it is the capitalist system of the 1% based on profit and greed. And is it those who do all the work of this society, the 99% who have the potential power to get rid of this disease.