- by Con Costa
- The Guardian
- Issue #1974
Our governments want us to accept the failures of their pandemic response as just chance events, bad luck or someone’s personal fate. They admonish journalists asking questions in the daily press conferences – “Let’s all move on and stop being so critical, don’t forget we are on this journey together!” And so, magic dust is sprinkled into the people’s eyes. The truth-seekers and critics are dispatched, enclosed in their boxes in the corner, punishment for their negativity.
It’s becoming harder and harder for the mass media to continue to cover up the reality that workers are paying an unacceptable price for the bipartisan, pro-business pandemic response. Unfortunately, small businesses are not far behind; many will not survive because of lockdowns because workers can’t consume what they can’t afford or they cannot pay the rent.
The Daily Telegraph and shock jocks are working overtime to maintain the ideological fog by towing the party line – a very grateful Brad Hazzard (NSW Minister for Health) rubs their backs in return by singing their praises at every opportunity. The stranglehold of the monopoly mass media over the thinking and beliefs of ordinary Australians is a major obstacle to lifting the fog that is clouding people’s view of the COVID response, which is focused on supporting the monopolies and saving the system.
PROTECT THE PEOPLE
QANTAS has been receiving multiple generous government handouts since 2020. It recently stood down 2500 workers. That means instead of paying its workers with the handouts it was given, QANTAS staff now have to apply to Centrelink, eating up more taxpayer money. Meanwhile, QANTAS executives and their shareholders don’t take a hit, coming out the other side untouched. That’s how the system works.
From the first COVID outbreak in Australia in 2020, we have needed a planned, people-centred prevention and protection strategy. Instead, we are fed the lie that our governments are working on our behalf. Everything that has been done from the start – including Jobkeeper and Jobseeker – has been to shore up profits and the monopolies.
Pfizer sells its vaccine at $44 per shot, increasing its profits by seventy-five per cent in the last quarter. It refuses to waive its money-minting vaccine patents for poorer countries. No capitalist government has stood up to them, despite the spread of the Delta variant worldwide and the preventable deaths in the tens and hundreds of thousands. Instead, pro-business governments distract us from this reality by insisting the solution is an individual responsibility. They argue that the Delta variant is different, which excuses their failures, and the people need to get vaccinated, comply with lockdown to get us all back to the freedoms of the past.
Sinovac, the Chinese vaccine – which is distributed to many corners of the globe – is negatively compared to other vaccines and criticised by the capitalist world. Yet, the same capitalist countries refuse to release their “superior” vaccines to benefit all freely and equally. Thus, the real science-deniers are the governments who act to protect monopoly profits, ensuring no one will be safe from future mutations.
AstraZeneca sells its vaccine at $4 a shot. Did the Australian government do the maths and choose not to take Pfizer because of the profit gouging price? No, the monopolies call the shots as no capitalist government is prepared to bite the hand that feeds it.
OUR HEALTH IS NOT FOR SALE
Given the numbers already in hospitals and ICU in Sydney, medical experts warn the public health system is showing signs of stress and could soon be overwhelmed. This is because for decades healthcare funding has been diverted to private health and private health insurance.
Privatisation has also driven the development of pathology cartels in Australia. These are impacting the pandemic response and influencing government choices of strategies and rollouts of vaccination. For example, the rapid testing kits were opposed in the first place by private pathology, which has cornered the vaccine testing market. The issue is not so much the efficacy of rapid testing alternatives but the exposure of who is driving government decision-making and how the profit motive is prioritised over people’s needs.
The blown-up controversy over the ALP proposal to make a $300 payment to workers to get vaccinated served to draw attention to the growing economic pressures on working Australians. Casual, part-time, and full-time workers are being asked to give up half a day or more to get the vaccine, with those in Western Sydney ask to get COVID tests repeatedly. Lost wages and earnings, if they are self-employed, are never factored in by bourgeois governments. Workers have always had to fight for every dollar and there is no recognition for the common good in these struggles! The LNP screams that they will not pay for people to do “what should be their Civic duty” but whispers in backroom meetings with their business partners about extra business subsidies under cover of COVID.
Throughout the recent COVID lockdown, trade unions have been noticeably excluded from similar “consultative meetings” with governments. Berejiklian certainly has not asked the NSW Teachers’ Federation about sending the HSC students back to face-to-face teaching. Nor has Unions NSW been invited to consultations despite being the workers’ organised voice.
INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY IS NOT THE CAUSE OR THE SOLUTION
The double standard on civic duty reinforces which class interests are being represented by our bourgeois governments. They clearly believe that civic duty (i.e. doing things freely for the benefit of all) applies only to the working class – not to the monopolies, cartels and big business that want to be well paid for their civic duty. Not unlike when bourgeois governments pick who will be sent to war, they send the workers and the rural poor. In this war on the virus, they sacrifice the working people over the profiteers and the exploiting classes.
In 2021, the workers of Australia are the ones at most risk of being infected, dying, and spreading the virus, including to their families and communities. They should not have to risk their and their family’s health just to go to work.
The Australian working class must make sure the 27-year-old worker from Western Sydney will not have died in vain. His name should be their battle cry against the ongoing devaluing of their lives and the ceaseless exploitation of their labour for the enrichment of a tiny fraction of humanity. The organised working class can demand and win basic concessions.
LET’S COUNT THE FAILURES
Failure 1: A newly married 27-ye˙ar-old forklift driver died last week of COVID in Western Sydney. His wife, a disability support worker, was also infected by COVID.
Neither was vaccinated.
Failure 2: Sydney’s Delta outbreak was triggered by a limo driver doing his job by the rules. He caught COVID doing his essential work of transporting people into hotel quarantine. Most of Sydney is now in a prolonged lockdown that shows no sign of an end.
Failure 3: Workers in western Sydney, including a population of 800,000, where most of Sydney’s essential workers live, struggle to get vaccinated with no 24-hour drive-ins and little vaccine supply while the government demands they “get vaccinated”!
Failure 4: At the time of writing, despite weeks of lockdown, and a “ring of steel’ around Sydney’s Southwest, there are 374 people with COVID in hospital in Sydney, sixty-two are in ICU and twenty-nine are on life support. This includes people in younger age groups.
DEMANDS FOR WORKERS
Workers should not pay for the economic and health costs of the pandemic. Workers should demand a social and collective pandemic response that meets the needs of the people, including full adequate health care, choice of a range of vaccines from GP, pharmacy or 24-hour vaccine hubs, and COVID-safe and healthy environment and working conditions:
Indoor workplaces to have certified ventilation in place. Full and free access to safe PPE masks, equipment and sanitisers for all, at work, on public transport and in the community.
Workers and trade unions to be involved and consulted at all levels of pandemic planning. All workers retain the right to stay home during lockdowns on full pay.
Dedicated purpose-built quarantine facilities close to airports and in remote locations.