Socialist Action held a successful online event to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic on March 28. Conducted as a live video conference over Zoom, members and supporters from around the country contributed to a lively and important discussion about this historic crisis. It was held at short notice instead of our planned in-person day school, which was unfortunately cancelled due to the virus threat.
The event took place in the context of a worsening global health, economic and social catastrophe caused by capitalism’s inability to respond to the pandemic. A central theme of the discussions was that this system doesn’t work, and it puts profits ahead of people’s lives. This is demonstrated by how many companies continue to run like it’s business as usual. Many participants shared how they were being forced to undertake non-essential work, had been stood down without pay, or had to work without adequate personal protective equipment.
The first of the two sessions focused on the economic and political backdrop to the current situation, and how it will affect consciousness. Capitalism is facing its worst downturn since the Great Depression, with one million job losses in Australia in a matter of days. Governments have been forced to abandon neoliberal “free market” ideology and step in to save their own system, via taxpayer handouts to failing businesses and an expansion of the social safety net.
These features – huge attacks on jobs and living standards, combined with a discrediting of capitalist policies – will open the gates for a deep radicalisation, and struggle in Australia and across the world.
After a short break, session two focused on perspectives for a fight back and how socialists should respond to this challenging new situation. Drawing from material published by our international organisation, International Socialist Alternative, we discussed how workers in a number of countries have taken wildcat strike action to force shutdowns of non-essential businesses.
While we are temporarily limited by the isolating conditions imposed by the pandemic, the potential power of workers to change society remains undiminished. We need to use this period to organise and prepare as much as possible for the inevitable struggles that will break out in the coming months and years. Issues like housing, democratic rights, welfare and workplace safety are all likely flash points and featured prominently in the discussion.
Threaded throughout the event was the ever more urgent need for socialism: a system in which working people collectively own and control the key levers of the economy, allowing the democratic allocation of resources to where they are needed most. Instead of the price gouging and recklessness typical of greedy corporations, we could plan a coordinated response to all aspects of COVID-19 – including shutdowns without any loss of pay.
Revolutionary Ideas was a success, but our discussions about the Coronavirus are far from over. More online public meetings are being planned and our website will feature regular news and analysis about the unfolding crisis.
If you agree with what we say, consider getting involved in Socialist Action!
By Jeremy Trott