Today is International Workers Memorial Day, a time to think about workers that have been killed by capitalism. When people die at work it is very rare that anyone is held responsible. Often workers die because they haven’t been provided with the right protective equipment or training.
This is very clear when it comes to the deaths of essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The UK government has totally failed to protect the NHS and social care workers. A week ago reports showed that more than 100 healthcare workers had died of the virus so far. We must remember also the bus drivers, lorry drivers, shop assistants and other workers who have been killed by the virus.
The scale of this could have been avoided and the government failed in their oft-mentioned and so-called primary objective of protecting the public. The prime minister gave a speech outside No 10 yesterday to say nothing other than he was back. He should have apologised, resigned and handed himself over for trial.
As our understanding of the virus increases, links emerge to meat production and consumption. As humans increasingly alter the habitats of other species they increasingly risk contracting viruses that can leap from animals to humans. There needs to be a local and a global reaction to this pandemic. Locally we must hold the politicians who have made this a disaster accountable for their actions and lack of action. Globally it is capitalism that remains the driving force for all our ills.
Capitalism, however, is on its knees. In the UK we are seeing Tory politicians fretting about the economy because of the lockdown. They are demanding that parts of it open and open up soon. They are terrified of the consequences of not doing so. Meanwhile, we see essential work continue and mutual aid plug the gaps. We know that there will be a new normal; could mutual aid be a feature of that?
We cannot go back to the old normal. Capitalism, with its push for profit and growth at all costs leads to a battle for resources which in turns pushes war and climate change. The virus pandemic is a chance to stop and think. A chance for the Earth to breathe. We can forge new relationships with each other, with other animals and with our planet. Any new economy should prepare the world for future pandemics and accept that such action is an investment that will save future lives.
This new economy should be based on essential work and mutual aid. Getting food to people, getting them healthcare, providing shelter. Capitalism has had its day if we decide to let it die. The free market is not a viable system if we all wish to survive. Instead of a system that takes our labour and gives the shareholders a fortune for doing nothing we need a system that values essential work and makes it pay for everyone.
When we are told the lockdown is over they will also get around to telling us how they intend to make us pay for it. Too many people have died from this man-made disaster to allow them to tell us how it’s going to be. Those days need to pass. We must honour the dead workers and vow to end the system that placed them in danger.
Photo: Guy Smallman