Coverage of the spread of and the reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic is wall to wall and 24/7. Trying to isolate any signal from the cacophony of noise is an incredibly hard task, made all the more difficult by this being the first global pandemic of the digital era. We’re on a massive learning curve in how with our meagre resources, we cover the pandemic and the reaction to it. What we don’t want to do is add in any way to the sense of fear and panic. What we do want to do is focus on and encourage the spontaneous solidarity that has emerged in the face of this. It’s this solidarity that has the potential for the new world we and a growing number of people want to see after this pandemic has run its course.
What the COVID-19 pandemic has done is vividly show up the flaws of a society that has been in submission to neo-liberalism for the last forty years, favouring the private against the public. This is evident in a knackered NHS that’s already buckling under the strain before the number of cases of COVID-19 really starts to climb. It’s evident in the lack of a safety net for the many thousands of precariously employed workers who are being laid off, made redundant and in some cases being sacked for phoning in sick, as the economy crumbles in the face of a shutdown of normal life. It’s evident in the callous attitude of landlords demanding rent gets paid before precariously employed workers get laid off. It’s evident in Carphone Warehouse deciding to announce the closure of all of their stand alone stores, throwing hundreds of workers out of work just as the economy goes into meltdown. These are just some examples from an all too long list…
As we’ve written previously, there have been some very inspiring manifestations of grassroots solidarity. This is testament to the fact that humans are a social species, despite what the adherents of neo-liberalism who’ve been trying to shove their doctrine down our throats for the last forty years would have us believe. As well as the solidarity, there’s also a growing level of anger that’s not going to go away. Anger at a system that cannot effectively deal with the consequences of a pandemic. Anger at why the government is having to ‘negotiate’ with private hospitals to pay for extra beds and capacity when they should be getting requisitioned for the greater good. Anger at the callousness of employers, public and private, exposing their workers to the risk of infection for COVID-19 in a bid to keep the show on the road. Anger at bastard landlords who refuse to make any concessions to precarious workers being laid off in their thousands with little or no chance of finding other work.
It’s too early to tell for sure but we can sense signs that a growing number of people are coming to the conclusion that once the COVID-19 pandemic has run its course, there cannot be a return to ‘business as normal’. Without stating the obvious, once the pandemic is over, things won’t be returning to the way they were simply because parts of the system and economy will have pretty much collapsed. Also, in a bid to keep the economy going and the lid on an increasingly tense and volatile situation during the pandemic, the government will have assumed more direct and authoritarian powers over many aspects of our lives which in a so called ‘recovery’ phase, they’ll be very reluctant to relinquish.
So yes, after all of this is over, there will be a desire for change and for a more equitable, sane and sustainable world. The problem is that there will be many barriers to that, not least a state that will be markedly more authoritarian in its outlook. An authoritarian state will do what it can to suppress dissent and any movement wanting a better world for all. They’ll use all the tools at their disposal, some subtle, some blatant, to maintain their grip. They’ll definitely try to subvert and disrupt the online grassroots solidarity networks that have been built to help us deal with the consequences of the pandemic. What the state cannot disrupt are the analogue, face to face, real life solidarity networks we can build in our streets and neighbourhoods.
This is an admittedly speculative piece. It’s more about raising questions and provoking discussion than providing prescriptive answers and solutions. What we want to do as this situation develops and evolves is empower people to start taking matters into their own hands, not just to deal with the consequences of the pandemic but also to start building and fighting for the better world we want and deserve once all of this is over. On that basis, we’re happy to welcome any constructive contributions to this process.