There isn't a Vaccine against Capitalism

Every day a piece of news reminds us that we live in a globalised world where the consequences of human activity are not limited to national boundaries. Whether it’s the Covid pandemic with its rapidly morphing virus, or the last minute attempts to reduce global warming and the wider ecological damage — mainly from the last 200 years — that is threatening life on earth, we all know that the remedies have to be global.

Submitted by Internationali… on March 14, 2021

Such intractable problems cannot simply be put down to individual lifestyle choices. As if most of us have any significant choice about how we live. Like it or not, we live in a capitalist world where almost every aspect of our lives is shaped by the money economy underpinning capitalism and its whole reason for existence: profit making. Credit cards, pound notes, dollar bills, coins, or even bitcoin: we can’t live without money. We have to pay for the very means to live: food, clothes, a roof over our heads, never mind holidays and ‘leisure pursuits’. Pensioners aside, that means at least someone in every household or family has to be earning a wage … otherwise you are condemned to trying to manage on inadequate government handouts such as Universal Credit (if you live in a ‘First World’ country) or to something a lot worse, surviving by means of what the International Labour Organisation (ILO) calls the ‘informal economy’. People in the ‘informal economy’ don’t count.

Yet, of the 5.7 billion people of working age in the world today 2.2 billion are not even classed as part of the global workforce. (And the ILO does not expand on the nature of their “subsistence activities”.) That leaves an official world total of around 3.5 billion wage workers. Before the Covid pandemic around 5% of them were officially unemployed. That’s about 175 million people. Countless more are now without paid work. Meanwhile a UN report last year found average wages had fallen in two-thirds of the countries it was able to track. (Not every country welcomed the UN trackers!) In the remaining third of countries — including Brazil, Canada, France, Italy and the US — an increase in average wages was the result not of pay rising, but of large numbers of low paid workers losing their jobs or ‘leaving the labour market’. It’s amazing what we can learn from statistics! The ILO stats only confirm the bigger picture: unemployment is rising and wages are falling. It’s getting harder and harder to earn a living.

This, despite a world overflowing with consumer goods, where nobody needs to go hungry or be without the necessities of life. It doesn’t make sense. But there is a kind of capitalist logic to it all. The motive force of capitalism is not to promote the health and well-being of humanity, but to maximise profits. The constant push to increase productivity by reducing the cost of labour power and raw materials is the source of capitalism’s dynamism. But it’s also the cause of capitalism’s fatal tendency to economic crisis and collapse. Given the ever-larger capital outlay needed to generate a further round of profit-taking there comes a point when the rate of profit is so low, that instead of investing in the ‘real economy’, more and more firms prefer to … pay their chief executives huge bonuses; gamble on the stock exchange; borrow at low interest rates to re-finance existing debts whilst going through the motions of daily business activity (zombie companies); or simply declare themselves bankrupt and shut up shop. Meanwhile the drive to get more work out of fewer workers for less cost is stepped up. ‘Flexible’, i.e. insecure, precarious work with no guaranteed weekly wage continues to replace what is left of the monotonous old working week. These sorts of attacks are not new. For decades now we have been tracking and tracing the constant attacks on workers’ pay, on their working and living conditions, their declining ‘share’ in gross national product as the capitalists push the cost of their profits crisis onto the working class.

The Covid Double Whammy

Then, along comes the Coronavirus. The economy — in and out of lockdown — is put on hold with Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme granting laid off workers 80% of pay and the bureaucratic obstacles to claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance reduced for the newly unemployed. But, like the suspension of eviction orders for tenants who can’t pay their rents, it’s not going to last. In any case these measures are nowhere near enough to compensate for the lost earnings of a growing portion of working class households. While the comfortable middle class the BBC likes to present as the ‘norm’ are saving more of their ‘disposable income’, many more (as often as not ‘key’ workers) are finding that they haven’t enough income to buy the necessities of life. It shouldn’t take a social survey to find that Covid-positive people who earned less than £20,000 per year or had less than £100 in savings were three times less likely to self isolate than anyone else. Especially since the UK has the lowest sick pay in the OECD and for the almost 2m low-paid workers who earn less than £120 a week, it is zero. Let’s face it. This is all-out class war. While the work-at-home middle class look to buy a bigger house in the countryside where they can listen to bird song, ‘key’ workers are having to resort to the soup kitchens which are now supplementing food banks.

Attacks Have Already Begun

Far from the ‘vaccine roll-out’ bringing relief, bosses are seizing the opportunity to go on the attack. They’ve been honing their skills at firing and re-hiring. Their target is not only the precarious low paid. With unemployment on the rise they assume they have workers over a barrel. According to the TUC nearly 1 in 10 have been told to re-apply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions or face the sack. It would be a surprise if workers were not fighting back. But they need to forget about union boundaries, sporadic days of pre-announced ‘strike action’ and harmonise their resistance to do whatever it takes to get the bosses to stand down. (We’ve written about some of these ongoing struggles and the role of the unions in them, notably British Gas, British Airways Cargo workers and workers at Heathrow on our website. Worth a read.)

In other words, Covid or no Covid, we still face a desperate, crisis-driven capitalism as before. It’s no good pretending there are blue skies around the corner. Unless and until the global working class realises its common interest and embarks on the journey to overthrow capitalism in order to create a new world of freely associated producers, the prospect is grim. Yet, out of this grim situation, shafts of light exist.

New political groups are appearing who are eager to learn from the whole gamut of workers’ previous victories and defeats and who recognise the need for a political compass to guide the international working class struggle. The Internationalist Communist Tendency to which the CWO belongs is growing. From its original political impulse in the shape of Battaglia Comunista in Italy (amongst other things, currently conducting a political battle against rival base unions who are vying for workforce support), the ICT groups in the USA and Canada have worked jointly to produce their online political journal, 1919. At the same time the hard work of learning how to best contribute to the class struggle ‘on the ground’ is going ahead. How to respond to a scandalous housing and eviction crisis in Canada where homeless shelters have been shut down in Montreal and in Ontario the Landlord and Tenant Board has held more than 13,000 eviction hearings over the past three months? What to say to workers at Hunts Point Produce Market in New York looking for a $1 pay rise after 10 have died from the virus and 400 have been infected? How to begin building a workable political group in Australia from a handful of interested sympathisers during lockdown? Challenges like these are increasingly being taken up by a new generation who can see that the material base for a world community of producers already exists in the putrefying carcass of capitalism. What the world needs now is for the working class to take up its own revolutionary fight.

The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 54) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.