Plenty of people are commenting that when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted we should not be seeking to go back to normal because normal was broken.
“Normal” certainly was broken, if it is defined by a headlong rush to climate catastrophe, growing inequality, casualised work, the scourge of family and domestic violence and so much more.
We can be certain that we will not be returning to life as it was before. But whether it is better will depend on whether working people and the unions unleash a movement to transform Australia’s economy, not patch it up.
The shut downs have triggered and exacerbated a recession that was on the way already.
It’s often said that in crisis, there is opportunity. But unless unions go on the offensive, the bosses will take advantage of the crisis and make workers pay the price.
Crises are an inherent part of capitalism. It uses them to resolve its own problems such as culling less productive enterprises, smashing up pockets of organised labour and releasing a wave of public spending, not as a form of socialism, but in order to save capitalism.
Capitalism overcame the Great Depression through destruction and then reconstruction after World War II — a kind of painful but necessary clean out. From the point of view of the capitalists, crisis is not evidence that the system does not work, but proof that it does.
The post-COVID-19 crisis cycle of growth that the capitalists have planned may look a bit different to what we knew before, but it will be just as socially and environmentally destructive, and no less exploitative.
The evidence is already in. For instance, the federal government and employers are using the coronavirus pandemic to justify wage freezes, give bosses the ability to propose variations of enterprise agreements with only one day’s notice, and the wholesale demolition of the tertiary education sector.
Meanwhile, the federal government’s plan to cut the JobSeeker payment back to the old Newstart level in six month’s time is truly terrifying: it will thrust hundreds of thousands into desperate poverty.
Australia remains a wealthy country that can easily afford a living wage for all. But capitalism needs a section of the working class to be desperate and unemployed to drive down wages, not less so in times of recession, but more.
While JobKeeper has proven to be a valuable lifeline for those workers who have qualified, we should not fall for the fantasy that there’s some kind of union, employer and government agreement that will look after all of us.
The Scott Morrison government agenda is the same as it always: smash unions and drive down wages and conditions.
The vast majority of the federal government’s COVID-19 support has gone to propping up private businesses, while casual workers, tertiary education workers, local government workers and others have missed out.
There’s no such thing as “Team Australia” and we are not “all in this together”.
We need to focus on building up “Team Working Class Solidarity” to defend every job, every condition and every workplace right that we’ve won through decades of struggle.
But this needs to be coupled with a vision for a different kind of economy; one where workers have more power, everyone has a livable income, investment is directed to socially useful and environmentally sustainable purposes and we expand public ownership.
Why prop up Qantas and Virgin as they are? If hundreds of millions of dollars of our money is going to be poured into these two airlines, isn’t it time to create one publicly-owned airline that serves the Australian people and not shareholders?
The crises we face — COVID-19, recession and climate catastrophe — didn’t just happen: they are not natural disasters. They are either directly caused by (climate change and recession) or amplified by and made possible by capitalism.
Now more than ever we must fight for a better system. Our lives are more important than their profits.
[Sam Wainwright is a co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance in West Australia.]