So far, ordinary people have been forced to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously we have the announcement of tens of thousands of job losses, but even those companies asking their staff to work from home are offloading many of their costs onto workers.
This includes rent, energy costs, internet and communication expenses. Shops like JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman have recorded big increases in sales as people rush out to buy things like their own computers and chairs.
For many people who live in share houses, working from home also causes major disruptions to their personal spaces at the behest of private, for-profit firms.
Despite workers going above and beyond in this time of crisis, there are reports of bosses having the gall to threaten people with job losses if their productivity doesn’t increase during this anxiety-inducing time!
The bosses think they own us and act as if they have a god-given right to bleed us dry. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed that, in fact, it’s just laid it even more bare.
Workers should be demanding that the profits and hoarded wealth of the bosses is used for the purpose of guaranteeing a living income to all workers, regardless of their status or nationality. For example thousands of people on working visas, as well as New Zealanders living in Australia, are not eligible for welfare support.
The profits made by employers were a result of workers not being paid the full amount of the wealth they created. Why should the bosses keep it now?
In these uncertain times, we need the guarantee of a safe and secure place to live. This means rent and mortgage payments need to be waived as well as utility bills. We need a massive expansion of public housing to house the homeless. If homes can’t be built right now we should requisition the empty houses being horded by speculators.
The health crisis we face is dire. We need a massive injection of funds into public health to rapidly provide thousands more Intensive Care Unit beds and respirators. We need an expansion of resources to make sure all health workers have humane and safe working conditions. This should include food service workers, cleaners and others who work in hospitals.
Workers that must continue to work in essential roles should be given hazard pay. And those forced to work from home should receive subsidies from their employers to pay for all extra expenses, as well as compensation for disruption caused to their household.
Ultimately, the anarchy of private companies competing for profits is a barrier to planning and implementing our response to this crisis. We need a collective plan for the economy, and for how we should pivot production and distribution to address the multiple crises in employment, housing, health and supply chains.
We need to ensure that everyone is afforded the basics of food, housing and healthcare. This is crucial right now but should be extended beyond the Coronavirus pandemic.
The problem is that we can’t control what we don’t own. This is why we need to end the profit-driven madness of capitalism and bring the key parts of the economy into public ownership. We should start with the medical research and drug companies, the banks, the energy companies and the big supermarkets.
We need to run the economy in a planned and democratic way with elected representatives from the workforce and the community in control. This is the socialist alternative to capitalist madness.
The old Marxist slogan that our choice is ‘socialism or barbarism’ has never been more true.
By Ben Convey