Aug 10, 2020
The following article was the editorial in SPARK workplace newsletters of August 3.
We are being battered by two crises: one, a public health crisis; the other a collapsing economy. Both stem from the same fundamental cause: the completely anarchic and self-serving way the capitalist system functions.
COVID-19 is spreading rapidly today—even more so than in March and April. Back then, Seattle, New York City, Detroit and New Orleans seemed to be the only real “hot spots.” Today, the “hot spots” are in most states.
It didn’t need to be this way, not in March and April—and certainly not today. Knowing that this virus existed, that it would spread widely when it hit, the government could have prepared for what was to come. Hospitals could have been stocked, nursing and other departments fully staffed, testing supplies and protective equipment produced. Testing could have been started to find those infected before the virus surged out of control.
Instead, most states did all the things that guaranteed the virus would spread, and spread rapidly. They opened up businesses, without requiring adequate protection for people working. State governments gave the priority to business, ignoring the risk to the population’s health.
This virus, it’s true, is contagious. But with adequate testing, it’s possible to know who is infected. And that could have allowed the sick to be quarantined under adequate conditions to ensure their recovery AND prevent them from spreading the disease. This is not complicated. It’s a basic public health procedure.
But the problem is, this requires money—money that the federal government should have directed into providing stockpiles of equipment; money that states should have directed into well-run, fully staffed public health departments.
But little public money was spent on public health—just as not enough public money was spent on roads, bridges, tunnels, water systems, sewage systems, dams, even schools. Public money went, instead, to tax breaks, subsidies, outright gifts for all the big companies in the country, and most of the medium-sized ones.
Public money went to private profit.
And so, in this capitalist system based on the pursuit of profit, we have the worst of both worlds: a public health crisis, which in turn has crushed the economy, causing large parts of daily life to shut down, throwing millions out of work, cutting into most people’s income.
Today, the economy is in a state of collapse. In three-and-a-half months time, the economy fell as much as it did during the first three-and-a-half years of the Great Depression.
The shutdown for the virus may have slammed on the brakes. But even before March and April, the whole economy was skidding around on bald tires, preparing to crash: there was a very high level of real joblessness. Most young people were cut out of regular employment.
In the midst of today’s public health crisis, it’s obvious what should happen. If “essential workers” are needed, their work should be organized with their safety given first and constant priority. Work needs to be spaced out, time spent at work reduced—without pay being reduced—and people’s health checked regularly. Sanitation should be given priority. Wages need to be raised, and sick time automatically provided, so no one feels the pressure to come to work when sick.
All of this would mean that many more people would be hired. In other words, it would be, at the same time, part of the answer to the virus crisis and a partial answer to the jobless crisis.
The same is true looking at the bigger picture. Child care, which answers the developmental needs of children and takes into account their safety and health, can only mean many more people put to work. Protecting elders in ways that respect who they are and the lives they have lived also means more people put to work.
These are obvious answers. But it’s only the working class who thinks of such things.