|Volume 50 Number 11, March 28, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
The current unprecedented pandemic is revealing the essence of healthcare, that it is a matter of human relations: the relations between people themselves, and between people and nature. The organised form healthcare takes, including its funding and form of public ownership, has to reflect and serve this essence. Care for health has to be deeply engrained in the psyche, the social consciousness.
One thing that characterises the response of government and big business to the pandemic, whether before or after the policy U-turn, is that everything is reduced to an individual matter. This is particularly clear in the situation regarding the distribution of food and other essentials, which has effectively been concentrated in the supermarkets. Just-in-time supply chains have broken down under increased demand; this, combined with the first-come, first-served and fend-for-yourself nature of distribution, which has generated hysteria, has led to widespread shortages and queueing. This situation, combined with the breakdown in delivery systems and schemes such as click-and-collect, forcing people to congregate within supermarkets and use checkouts, is completely at odds with the measures required at this time.
What is being brought into sharp relief is how everything is connected together into an integrated whole. In every respect, each person exists in relation with each other person, the various collectives of people and the whole of the natural and social environment. Even the self-isolated person is not an isolated individual. There is no separate "here" and "there" in conditions where wellness and illness are so interchangeable.
The demand is that all take up their social responsibility. Meanwhile, the egocentric I of big business is shirking all social responsibility. Just one example is the mass sacking of hundreds of workers by Wren Kitchens in the midst of this crisis under the pretext that they were "underperforming".
This self-centred outlook has the inability to see what human relations are. There is nothing we can do about Armageddon, and there is nothing we can do about infection - nothing exemplified that more than the government's criminally complacent initial stance towards this pandemic. This outlook is blind to the ability of people to organise themselves to change the situation.
The needs of capital come first. Businesses are being seen to take various measures, such as switching to home working where possible, but everything is done in order to ensure but the business remains profitable. It is down to the employee to shoulder the burden; everybody has to get behind their employer to pull out all the stops and go all out to make their employer continue to be successful in these conditions.
The health and safety of the people cannot be guaranteed when relations such as these prevail.
The health of each and every individual is a collective matter. The entire community and indeed society as a whole mobilises itself to protect the health of every individual. When an individual becomes sick, it is not an individual matter: it is that the human relations have to be activated so that everybody is aware of that person's condition and is part of the solution. People, including of course the affected individual, act to ensure that the person gets the treatment they need. The mechanisms and institutions have to exist in society in order to treat that person; the economy is geared towards ensuring that those institutions have what they need to perform that function; the basic standard of living of every person is guaranteed, so that no individual falls short and people are not left to fend for themselves.
Workers' rights are coming under attack from all quarters at this point. To stand up for those rights is also part of the social responsibility that is crucial to take up at this time. Instead of subjugating and marginalising workers further in this time of crisis, the mechanisms need to exist to mobilise workers for the aim of defeating the virus. Despite the much-lauded switching of production to produce medical equipment, the fruits of which are not to be seen, the reality is that workers are blocked from both keeping the initiative and being mobilised in this way. But workers are not reconciled to this situation, and are releasing their own initiative to see that their rights and the rights of all are defended.
Neo-liberal society is being exposed. People do not want to hear how bad the situation is. They want to become involved to change the situation. The whole society, gripped in this crisis, is in essence fighting for the New.