Solidarity in the Corona-crisis will only come from those who are most affected by it, says Christopher Wimmer*
The corona pandemic poses enormous social challenges for capitalism. Its contradictions are currently more evident than ever before. Every day we are shown how badly a mode of production whose purpose is profit is equipped to protect human life. It is true that governments are trying – in order to prevent millions of deaths – to boost the production of basic medical equipment, to increase the number of intensive care beds, to stop forced evictions and, in some cases, even to provide accommodation for the homeless. But all these things should, of course, always be at the heart of any humane society and not just appear as an effect of a pandemic. But under capitalism the protection of life is systematically neglected – just as the environment is systematically destroyed. Now the absurdity of such a way of organising our lives becomes obvious.
However, another insight seems to be gaining ground these days. The term “systemically relevant” currently does not refer to CEOs, bankers or factory owners. It refers to all the nurses, parcel carriers, saleswomen, educators, housekeepers, midwives and truck drivers who – as they say – keep the business running. At the same time, it is people in these professions who have a significantly higher risk of contracting the corona virus than the CEOs, bankers or factory owners. But they are paid much less for this. Statistics say that the chance of surviving the pandemic increases with income. The mantra that has been heard for years – put forward by all those CEOs, bankers or factory owners – that performance must finally be rewarded turns out to be what it always was: pure mockery.
It is also scornful when people now applaud from the balconies of the upper floors of the social hierarchy for “those at the bottom” or play music. Surely symbolic solidarity is better than no solidarity. But the rent doesn’t pay any easier, even if the neighbour plays “To Joy” on the piano. Who has a piano anyway and for whom is the home a place of peace and privacy? And for whom is it the dark one-room apartment in the back building with two children? It is just silly and wrong to claim that social classes have disappeared.
“Those at the bottom” have always known that and they’ve always resisted. During the pandemic, there have already been wildcat strikes by grocery store workers, bus drivers, Amazon warehouse workers and health care workers around the world. They all demand protective equipment, hazard pay and dignity at work. There are also movements to occupy empty flats, to coordinate rent strikes, to house the homeless and to open prisons and detention centres. These are self-organised actions that put life before profit. But for many, refusing to pay rent or engage in risky wage labour is not a matter of choice, but a necessity. If such necessities are organized, they can become a powerful political force.
All the nurses, parcel carriers, saleswomen, educators, housekeepers, midwives and truck drivers have nothing to expect from the state. The measures taken by governments are primarily aimed at preventing the collapse of the financial system. Although the worst social consequences are supposed to be mitigated by government intervention, but this helps thr CEOs, bankers or factory owners much more.
The nurses, parcel carriers, saleswomen, educators, housekeepers, midwives and truck drivers increasingly understand that capitalism will not protect them. Instead, they must rely on themselves and the practical solidarity of other working class people. “Those at the bottom” will only help “those at the bottom”.
*Christopher Wimmer is a political activist and scientist. He lives in Berlin and deals with leftist history and movement. His most recent anthology “Where have all the Rebels gone?” was published by Unrast.