|Volume 51 Number 1, January 16, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
England Placed into Third National Lockdown:
England was placed into a state of national lockdown for the third time on Wednesday, January 6, meaning that people must remain inside the home except for certain defined circumstances. The lockdown is not in place for a specified length of time, but is effectively indefinite, subject to periodic review. It should be noted that the current lockdown is in fact partial, and does not yet reach the same level of restriction as the first national lockdown last spring. In particular, meeting other people is allowed (such as one-to-one meetings outdoors for exercise), production such as car manufacture is continuing to operate, and nurseries and pre-schools are currently open to all children.
Once again, the lockdown reveals 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.
What continues to characterise the official response to the pandemic, after nearly an entire year, is that everything is posed, on the one hand, as an individual matter, and on the other, as a problem of striking a balance between the people's health and wellbeing and what is called "the economy". Talk of "balance" is to obscure the fact that that first and foremost everything has been organised so that people are able to work, with the aim of minimising the impact on work, work for an economy that has profit-making as its prime motive.
As a result, people are yet again faced with having to make individual choices, choices that are in fact anything but. Take, for example, the closure of all schools except the nurseries. Are nursery staff able to decide on their conditions of work and are they able to take a decision on whether to work given the conditions? Is a family able to decide on whether to send their children? The reality is that nobody concerned is able to take any such decisions. It is not a matter of choice whether to work or whether to send the child to nursery. Employers, in general, demand that if you are able to do so, you must work. If one "chooses", for example, to keep their pre-school children at home, fine, will say the employer, as long as your work does not suffer. Of course, this is virtually impossible for most.
Where working people have children at home - for now, primary school age and older (and younger, in the common circumstance of closure due to confirmed cases or the need to self-isolate) - they are proving time and again their ability to make the impossible possible, but at huge expense to their personal wellbeing. This is again often dependent on the particular relations an individual has with their individual employer, such as the flexibility afforded. Whether children can be educated at home is a further individual matter largely dependent on family ability and financial means.
The point is that the population as a whole is not involved in taking decisions. People have no say in these matters that affect their lives, and nothing is affecting life more at the present time than decisions on what restrictions are necessary, what support mechanisms are in place, what is available for people, and so on. Rather, the method is one of executive order, rule by exception.
Going into this crisis last March, it was presented, with its address to the nation by the Queen and other rhetoric at the time, as a state of war. Instead of a matter of human relations, the approach of the pro-war government is one of "martial law", or in other words, rule by police powers. Arbitrary decisions are taken, and the government assumes the stance of being the authority to take the difficult decisions - the so-called balancing act - and out of the blue announcements are made. People are unable to be prepared, and the whole period has been marked by profound disempowerment.
All faith is being placed in the vaccines, posed as the key weapon in the war. They may well play a key role, although many aspects are not currently actually known, and indeed the virus itself has already mutated into new variants. But what are ultimately decisive are the human relations, which include the organising of how a vaccine for example or other scientific advances are brought into play. The Test and Trace fiasco has provided a shambolic example of how the existing relations and arrangements have proved simply unable to be effective.
Under the relation of arbitrary authority, citizens are supposed to entrust their fate to that authority. What is actually required is for people themselves at every level locally and nationally to be the decision-making authority, deciding the approach so that everybody is conscious. Only on that basis can people be truly organised to deal with the crisis. Throughout the whole of last year, the government singularly failed to mobilize the human factor in any way. It is only the working people themselves who are to be commended, who have had to find ways of dealing with difficult situations, and who have organised themselves locally to help each other out, as a matter of humanity.
So far, every lockdown, while temporarily slowing the spread, has merely prepared the conditions for further deaths and further lockdowns. The government refuses to see past its dogma of "business as usual". It clings to this, even though it itself represents the end of business as usual. Its claims that everything might start relaxing mid-February have already slipped to March and ring as hollow as its now ridiculous-sounding claim last March that everything would be back to normal by that summer.
This places the working class and people at the heart of providing solutions. As Workers' Weekly said on entering the first national lockdown :
"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. ...
"The demand is that all take up their social responsibility. ...
"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. ...
"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."
1. "Healthcare: A Matter of Human Relations", Workers' Weekly, March 28, 2020