Five lessons of the COVID-19 crisis

March 26, 2020
Everything they told us about how the free market will solve everything was a lie.

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed (once again) how the profits-first capitalist system fails to look after the needs of ordinary people. Here are five lessons of the crisis.

1. Everything they told us about how the free market will solve everything was a lie

As soon as the system began to strain, governments (even conservative ones) started intervening in the economy via nationalisations, directing companies what to produce, bailouts and cash handouts. Even supermarkets began implementing controls on purchases (though, of course, not prices).

The market has never been able to deal with crises, and it never will be, whether it be the COVID-19 crisis, the next pandemic or the climate crisis. Mass public investment is what has always been required, though historically it has been used to stabilise the market and benefit those who profit from its existence.

2. Billionaire entrepreneurs will not save us

Having built up a cult of worship around themselves as saviours, today they are hiding out in their pre-prepared bunkers and exclusive islands, from where they beg governments for bailouts.

Instead, it is researchers at public universities, state-run pharmaceutical companies and the public health system that are on the frontline fighting the battle to overcome COVID-19.

Free public healthcare has to be seen as more than just being able to see a doctor for free: it must include mass investment in research and production of medicines and vaccines so that they too are free.

3. The most undervalued workers are the ones we most rely on

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed that it is those workers whose jobs are most undervalued by this system whom we most rely on. Workers in healthcare, retail, childcare, education, cleaning, among others, are the ones keeping things going, even under lockdown.

Generally, the worst paid sectors, where conditions have been undermined for years via casualisation and the erosion of entitlements such as penalty rates, these workforces also tend to be largely comprised of women and migrants. We must make sure this changes.

4. This is what the climate crisis looks like

It is not just hotter weather and more extreme weather events, it’s the rise of more frequent and dangerous pandemics driven by factors including environmentally unsustainable industrial agriculture, the ability of viruses to mutate in new climatic conditions and deforestation which increases contact between animals and humans.

Any policies or stimulus packages to get out of the COVID-19 crisis must also be tied to dealing with the climate crisis, unless we want to repeat it.

5. Politics and political power matters

The rise of mutual aid efforts, and community and workplace organising in response to the COVID-19 crisis has been heartwarming and should be built upon. But, alone, these efforts will not be enough to solve this crisis, or the other crises we face. Political power will be crucial to determining how we get out of this mess.

Unfortunately, the left is a long way from power. Building new, and strengthening existing, community organisations and workplace structures must therefore go hand-in-hand with building a political project for taking power if we are to shift course. In the meantime we must fight to ensure any state response is guided by these workplace and community structures. 

[Fred Fuentes is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive.]

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