Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, even the most conservative of columnists are highlighting societies ills, but talk doesn’t guarantee change. According to Eamonn McCann, we have a fight on our hands.
The poorer you are, the more likely you are to contract Covid-19. Take New York.
The five New York postal districts with the highest levels of positive tests for coronavirus – all in Queens – are the five with the lowest average annual income, $26,708.
The five districts with the lowest levels of positive tests – all in Manhattan – are the five with the highest annual income, $118, 061.
Money can buy you relative immunity.
The discrepancy in New York is particularly stark, but the pattern is repeated everywhere. The notion that “we are all in this together” doesn’t stand scrutiny. Nor is there any basis for believing that we are bound to emerge from the crisis into a better world.
Figures compiled from the morgues and the sidewalks of cities across the globe show that people of colour are far more likely to perish in the pandemic than white people. White people tend to have better-paid jobs, more space to live in, cleaner air to breathe, more accessible medical services. Their pre-existing conditions give them an edge when it comes to survival.
Thus, the disparities in society are reproduced in the death-count.
For the best chance of coming safely through the pandemic, be a rich white person.
The mantra of politicians, academics, newspaper columnists etc. has been that the crisis has thrown harsh, bright light on the inequalities around us – and that this will necessarily be reflected in a re-shaping of society. None of the pundits explains how this will come about. The assumption seems to be that it will happen because everybody now accepts that it’s right that it should.
It’s especially emphasised that nurses, hospital porters, delivery drivers, care workers, supermarket shelf-stackers and others in previously unremarkable, low-paid jobs are in fact key workers upon whom we all depend and will be cherished and properly treated and paid in future.
There is no certainty that this will be the outcome. Far from it. The moral case for radical change may be unassailable as never before. But where has moral rectitude ever gotten us?
The lessons of history haven’t been rendered void by the virus but have been rammed home.
Does anyone seriously believe that once social distancing is no longer needed, governments in Washington, London, Dublin, will tell us they have now seen the world in a different light and will double the minimum wage?
Will the bosses of Amazon or Tesco give guarantees of decent pay, pension rights, job security?
Will employers resolve to recognise trades unions?
Will the gig economy be done away with?
None of these things will happen if there isn’t a fight to make them happen. The best time to start planning for the fight is now.
Trades unions and political parties which style themselves “progressive” should be spelling out what they’ll settle for and what they won’t once the emergency is over and urging their members and the wider working class to prepare for action if action proves necessary, which it will.
We should be using Facebook, Zoom, Twitter and other available social media to organise for the imminent future.
We should be in no doubt that the bankers, the top echelon of the civil service, the security chiefs, the bosses of society generally, in close coordination with their pals in the political world, are getting ready even now to fight to preserve privilege and perpetuate poverty.
They will emerge from the present unsettling circumstances girded for battle on behalf of their own class. It has ever been thus.
We must be ready to fight back.