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Capitalism is the Crisis

Faline Bobier

September 15, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is a once in a lifetime health and economic crisis but the solutions being put forward by our governments are the same old, same old. The voices of austerity are beginning to raise their ugly heads with their same old mantra of “we can’t afford it.”

In the US the Republicans have railed against continuing the $600 top-up to unemployment benefits for working class and poor Americans, while the virus rages on. Republicans and Democrats bicker about issuing a new stimulus package, the stock market continues to hit records for the already wealthy and up to 40 million Americans could face eviction by the end of the year without a new stimulus bill.

Here is a timely warning on the priorities of Canadian government priorities from UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers) union’s web site:

 “While Canada is still in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, our efforts in physical distancing and other measures have helped slow the spread of the coronavirus, to the point where governments are now looking at slowly reopening parts of the economy. But as we look further into the future of what Canada may look like post-pandemic, we must be wary of those who will once again be calling for austerity.

COVID-19 has revealed some ugly truths to Canadians. Decades of austerity, tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, privatization, and cuts to health care and education left the country struggling to respond to the pandemic, while also exposing the fact that too many workers are just a few dollars away from economic hardship.”

So far workers in Canada have suffered 3 times the job losses compared to the 2008 economic crisis. 7 million Canadians have applied for CERB (the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit). 700,000 have applied for mortgage deferments.

But the CERB money (which will be expiring soon) isn’t enough to keep people housed in this crisis. 6,000 eviction notices have already been served in Ontario and 260,000 households are on the verge of eviction in Toronto.

Doug Ford’s Tory government implemented a ban on residential evictions across the province back in March, but that ban has expired and will lead to unprecedented mass evictions — especially in Toronto where many have struggled to stay afloat amid the pandemic.

Ford’s empty promises to protect Ontarians from evictions during a pandemic are just as empty as his assurances to teachers and parents that schools can be re-opened safely in the midst of COVID.

Individual teachers have been voicing their concerns and exposing government plans to ‘collapse’ classrooms – in other words to increase class sizes and get rid of jobs just at the moment they are trying to force teachers and students into these overcrowded and deadly COVID classrooms.

Our governments are just as miserly as private capital, companies such as Amazon and Loblaws, who offered pay increases to essential workers at the beginning of COVID so they could continue to make record-breaking profits and who abruptly ended those pay increases at the beginning of April, saying things were returning to ‘normal’.

But this is the ‘normal’ state of affairs under capitalism. The system depends on the exploitation of those who provide all the profits for the tiny minority who benefit from our misery. And our governments provide the grease that oils the wheels of profit-making in the system.

US President Donald Trump may be a particularly odious symbol of capitalism in decay, but his global counterparts have the same agenda and the same priorities.

The German government has said it will return to its savings policy once the coronavirus crisis is over. Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said the following during a recent interview: “Once the crisis is over - and we hope this will be the case in several months - we will return to austerity policy and, as soon as possible, to the balanced budget policy.” ‘Balanced budget’ is capitalist code for more attacks on public services and ordinary workers and their families, while at the same time protecting the profits of the worst exploiters, polluters and abusers.

In the US, as well as in most EU countries and Canada, teachers and students are being forced back into classrooms. Trump’s administration cries crocodile tears about how many kids have no access to regular meals or protection from abuse at home if the schools don’t open (which should be something they were concerned about long before this pandemic) but everyone knows the real reason behind the push to re-open schools is the push to get parents back to work so the capitalist economy can get back on its feet to help Trump’s re-election hopes.

As we see in Ontario, Ford also wants to get back to the ‘business’ of government, which is the continuation of the austerity agenda, with further cuts to all those public services which have already exposed millions to unnecessary hardship and suffering during the current pandemic.

The Trudeau government has introduced measures such as CERB to throw crumbs to workers and their families but at the same time has given billions of dollars in breaks to corporations and allowed projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline in BC to continue as an ‘essential’ service and to run roughshod over Indigenous land and those who are concerned about the effects on the environment and the ability of Indigenous people to control their own destiny.

The COVID crisis is certainly a health and economic crisis but its seeds lie in the very workings of capitalism itself. Mike Davis, American socialist and activist, wrote the following in a recent article “C’est la lutte finale? Covid 19 and the crisis of humanity”:

“COVID-19 is the biological earthquake that science has been warning about for almost a generation. The outbreak, which is likely the overture to an age of plagues, pre-empted and detonated the ‘imminent recession’ that has been uppermost on the minds of most economists and financial observers for the past year.”

In other words, capitalism was already in deep trouble before the pandemic hit. Many economists were predicting when (not if) the next downturn (recession or depression) would happen. The system had not even recovered from the Great Recession of 2008 and profit levels hadn’t returned to pre-recession levels.

What the pandemic has done is highlight and exacerbate all the already existing fault lines and inequalities of the system. Austerity as an official  government policy before the pandemic widened inequality on multiple levels, between rich and poor countries and between the wealthy and the poor inside each country.

We see this in the global South where many poorer countries, squeezed by years of IMF-imposed austerity programs, have public health care systems that are either severely under-funded or non-existent and incapable of protecting their citizens.

In the advanced capitalist countries austerity over decades has meant the creation of two health-care systems: one for the wealthy who can pay for the best privatized care and the other, underfunded and struggling, for the vast majority of the population.

COVID has also exposed the inherent racial injustice in capitalism, where fatality rates for people of colour – Blacks, Latinx and other minorities, as well as for people living in poverty and the homeless – are much higher than those for the general population.

If there is any hope to be found in the current crisis it is the fact that ordinary people are fighting back. The eruption of Black Lives Matter protests throughout the US (and globally) in response to repeated acts of murder and brutality by the police have exposed yet again the power structures that keep capitalism in place.

But this time around the protests are multi-racial and happening even in places where the majority population is white, such as Portland or in the mid-West. The fact that the protests have spread to Canada, France, Germany, Britain, etc. also exposes the racist injustice which is part and parcel of how capitalism functions, no matter where it is.

The rising fightback by teachers in many places, including here in Ontario, as they are coming to see themselves as the only ones who will lead the fight for a safe return to school, is a welcome development.

In France recently militant anti-racism and the fight against austerity are coming together powerfully. Tens of thousands have joined protests against racism, despite police bans.

Health care workers have been an important element in the demonstrations. On the demos there were placards with messages such as, “Thank you is not enough, we want action,” and, “We don’t want medals, we want cash for workers and hospitals.”

"The government believed we would be too exhausted to be angry. But the Covid crisis did exactly the opposite. We will hold out until the end. It is out of the question to let the public hospital system die," said Olivier, a lab technician at Henri Mondor Hospital in the suburbs of Paris.

The lessons from such actions are that ordinary people – workers, students, teachers, parents, anti-racists – are the only ones who hold a real solution to the multiple crises of the system that have been highlighted by the pandemic.

Getting rid of capitalism and a system based on greed, not human need is the only way to end these crises. A socialist economy would be democratically-planned to meet social and environmental need.

We need to fight for jobs now—and for a break with the profit system that produces riches and poverty.


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