- by F Kermode and Z Doney
- The Guardian
- Issue #1981
The topics covered were discussed at a recent Melbourne CPA branch meeting. Members spoke up freely in response to the topic: The Closure Of Melbourne CBD: A Threat or Right To Demonstrate? Two days later the CFMEU offices were attacked.
On vaccines, the branch spoke with one voice: we need more people to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This means we need a social response, driven by the people affected, not imposed on them. Members criticised the dominant liberal ideology that places responsibility for responding effectively to a whole of society crisis like the pandemic on individuals.
Additionally, Scott Morrison has been encouraging both vaccine hesitancy and, indirectly, the recent anti-vaccination protests by catering to the idea that public health has to take second place to a middle-class idea of choice, and by more or less campaigning against lockdown measures when it suited him politically. Morrison is very selective about when freedom of choice is important: we’re not going to get a free choice about the US bases on our country or public funding of private schools any time soon.
Underscoring the need for real leadership in this area, it was reported that vaccinated workers are starting to get angry with unvaccinated workers, with Health and Safety reps needing to know if vaccinated workers can refuse to work with unvaccinated workers.
We should say “no” to the liberal framework of individual responsibility. When asked if vaccination is important to the government, we should ask where the infrastructure is to support it? Where are the accessible vaccine centres and vaccination sites at work? Since the pandemic is a Workplace Health and Safety issue, a supposedly pro-worker state Labor government should be consulting with unions rather than dictating to them. Governments could be giving the community and workers some control over the vaccination process, for example, training Health and Safety reps to talk about vaccines.
In rejecting the narrative that the pandemic response is down to individuals, the pointed finger is firmly at the government – we are still wilfully relying on hotel quarantine which is not the same as having a proper quarantine system. At the Victorian government for over-policing and under-consulting with the community; for imposing mandates on groups of workers without consulting with the representatives of these workers, and; for draconian measures like closing public transport down to stifle protests without planning properly for the workers who rely on that transport to do their jobs.
None of our governments are really integrated with the people, so the only people governments can deploy are organs of the state – the police and the army. Rather than attempting to make lockdown bearable for people, the government tries to make it easier for the police to keep people in lockdown.
Members condemned both the recent protests, which are aided by and inspire far right groups, and over policing, including excessive use of force which set a precedent for future police responses to demonstrations of all political stripes.
THE VACCINATION DRIVE
We can see what happens to the public health response when the community is not involved: riots and attacks on workers. We stand with Health and Allied Community Services Union in their condemnation of the attacks on uniformed health workers as they commuted to work. For a protest movement allegedly comprised of unionists, this behaviour is totally unacceptable. Health workers deserve to be safe at work, as do all workers.
As for the continuing vaccination drive: mandatory COVID vaccination is beginning to be applied. The hasty and ad hoc way this is being done is leading to some bad analysis. Watching “the government,” unions, and the business lobby all push vaccination has some conspiratorially-minded people believing that the “one-world-government” is “behind all of this.” This position is wrong. A more correct position would be that lockdowns can’t continue and commercial activity needs to increase. The bosses won’t pay everyone to stay at home and the workers can’t force it. The governments are pulling the purse strings closed on the welfare response. If the state opens up with low vaccination numbers, then our hospitals will collapse. Whether or not it is mandated, access to the economy will be on a vaccinated-or-not basis. This sucks, this isn’t fair or just, but this is the case. It’s valid and not surprising that some workers are reluctant about vaccination.
The sneering and condescending “pro-vax” sermonising coming from some sectors is not helping the current vaccine drive in our state. The tactic of shaming people into accepting vaccination is not going to work. There seems to be a desire to label anyone who is “anti-vax” as an opponent, even a fascist – leading to an environment where discussion of the vaccine drive is a no-go area of discourse. Opening up further possibilities for discussing this topic is important if we want people to abandon conspiracy theories.
With that said, we can look at the response to COVID-19 around to world to see that vaccination is effective. The delivery of a vaccine program is more important than the type of vaccine. Vietnam has just approved its seventh vaccine and has five vaccines in use, with another one on the way. A government which can mobilise huge sectors of society to aid in creating and maintaining the infrastructure discussed above to provide for reasonable lockdowns and a vaccine program to ensure the safety of a populace, is a government which can effectively respond to the COVID crisis.
The protest actions in Victoria have included genuine concerns with the vaccine process, amplified by rights-based individualists and opportunistic far-right actors. But, as the CPA discussion correctly identified, consultation with the unions would have helped. A federal government that didn’t encourage vaccine hesitancy and that acted as decisively as Vietnam’s did would have helped too.