Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 20, May 30, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

What Outlook to Take on the Impact on the Economy of the Coronavirus

The government behaves as if they have the right to decide everything and refuse to listen to workers speaking out. Experience is demonstrating that decision-making is done to favour the rich. Despite all medical and scientific warnings that the pandemic is far from over and the proposals to begin "business as usual" as soon as possible are bound to cost lives, the government is insisting that their actions are for the purpose of "protecting lives" but at the same time "minimising economic damage". Why this balancing act? Economic damage to whom? Should a responsible government not be putting protecting lives in contradiction with minimising economic damage? That whole logic is that saving lives is going to cause economic damage. Then what can be said to be the aim of the economy?

Boris Johnson is easing the lockdown, but with no scientific backing other than the advice of "business" that the economy needs to work. This is at a time when Britain has one of the worst records of Covid-19 deaths proportionally in Europe. When the lockdown was imposed on March 23, there were 74 daily deaths; now on May 28 there have been 377 daily deaths. The figures speak for themselves.

But primary schools in England are supposed to begin to reopen from this Monday, June 1, in the teeth of the opposition from teachers and their unions and many parents and concerned people. Not a few councils have announced that they will not allow schools to reopen on Monday. The government in Wales has ruled out schools reopening on June 1, while Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that children will return to school on August 11. The test and trace system was also supposed to come into effect on Monday, June 1, but all the indications are that it will be inoperable.

What this means for the economy is that everything that was in crisis before is even further in crisis, while public funds have been directed at the global oligarchs, not even at the small and medium-sized businesses. And the working people are still bearing the brunt of the crisis. Working people have a right to demand that conditions at work are safe, as well as to demand that public transport is safe for the transport workers and is arranged so that working people who use this transport are not subjected to unsafe and crowded conditions.

Then there are the "fiscal policies for recovery". The government is selling record amounts of bonds (government debt) during the coronavirus pandemic. According to House of Commons briefing papers, the government debt may exceed £2 trillion by the end of the year, 85% of which has been sold, mainly to the financial institutions. In 2019/20, gross debt interest payments were £47 billion, £11 billion of which is paid, the briefing papers say, to the Bank of England, which has been engaging in Quantitative Easing (that is, itself buying debt from the financial institutions). The briefing papers report that 28% of the debt by value is held "overseas". It may be asked what this distinction means in the conditions where there is a global financial oligarchy. All this money to pay the rich through bailouts, loans and other means comes from the new value workers produce. At the very least, the workers should have a say in how this value is distributed.

Defence of and renovation of the public services themselves is on the agenda, and an urgent necessity. That has been brought sharply into focus by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. More generally, there is the urgent necessity for the renovation of how society operates so that workers are involved in decision-making at every level. The privatisation, fragmentation and "just-in-time" mode of operation of the NHS supply chain has been a major factor in the lack of facilities, including PPE, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. This mode of operation is not capable of responding to the scale of the illness, favouring as it does the competing private interests only, and has been opposed by the people and health staff best able to make the decisions. Those speaking out against this state of affairs have not been listened to, and even attempted to be silenced. Once the pandemic is brought under control, can the situation go back to how it was before? Everyone who is fighting for change has the firm answer that it must not be allowed. It is not consistent with the needs of the society and the right to health care.

Increased investments in social programmes and public services and enterprises that serve the people and economy are badly needed. The pandemic has made this perfectly clear. People are demanding that investment go to the health service, and education, immediately to meet the present requirements, but crucially for the future too. The ruling elite is only too willing to pay the rich, spend billions on war production and do everything to help the multinationals, which they say is helping the economy. But the people know that it is health, education and other public services which need to be invested in so that the economy is healthy and viable. This must be the way forward.

In fact, no one wants to go back to the way things were, the financial oligarchy because it wants to hold government debt at an ever greater level, the rich captains of industry because they see increased possibilities of receiving funds from the state treasury; and on the other hand, the working people, including small and medium-sized businesses, who want an economy that serves the people and in which they contribute to setting the direction, which is to provide what benefits society. Above all, the people aspire to renovate the relations of humans to humans, and strive for the power to do so. The measures that the government is taking over the economy in the conditions of the pandemic preserve the power of the financial oligarchy and its control over the state and its control over its own financial wealth.

Reopening without bringing into being a new beginning that takes into account the causes of the shutdown is bound to fail and inevitably lead to yet another crisis. The outlook of the ruling elite is that it should just be business as usual with the rich becoming richer, the poor poorer and the economy suffering its regular crises. The people's outlook on the other hand must be that the direction of the economy be provided with a new aim, that of serving the well-being of society and its members. Enough of the anarchy of production and the entrenchment of the block to people's empowerment! Let us look towards the decision-making of working people at every level, so that they can deal with problems as they arise, and chart the way forward to a modern economy which befits society in the 21st century. This is the opportunity to grasp this nettle!


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