US and European governments are beginning to take the coronavirus epidemic seriously. But delays in state action and the recommendations translating class differences into different degrees of exposure by class, generate increasing distrust in this “sacred anti-virus union”, increase the criticism against the governments and promote the first “coronavirus strikes”.
Governments have lagged behind the epidemic because stopping the spread at all costs was not their priority
No one doubts about Trump and his government’s inaction responsibility for the spread of the epidemic in the United States. But until just a few days ago, governments and media criticized the measures taken in Italy for accepting what media told us was an “excessive” cost. However, to this day, it seems obvious that those who spoke of “keeping calm” were buying some time that was neither theirs nor were they able to use, all of this at the expense of increasing the risks to the population.
Brussels is now calling for “aggressive measures” and Merkel said just yesterday that 60 to 70% of Germans will eventually suffer from the disease… which would mean that she expects tens of thousands of deaths in Germany alone. The nordist government of the Netherlands is openly criticized throughout the continent for underestimating the possibilities of dissemination and for aggravating the epidemic. But the Spanish government is not lagging behind: as soon as the governmental messages, measures and number of infections are listed in a chronological order, it becomes clear that the government never took the lead in preventing the spread of the disease because it had competing priorities. However, while invoking “scientific criteria” and the difficulties of coordination with local administrations, we are called upon to “unite” with them and to leave “ideological” discussions aside.
The “solution” does not lie in authoritarianism but in strengthening already overstretched health services
We are also told that China has been able to contain the epidemic because of its authoritarianism. It is true that the epidemic is enabling governments to ask for exceptional powers, as in Japan, and to recentralize some basic things such as the purchase of sanitary materials in Spain or the supply of masks between European countries.
However, the idea that authoritarianism or centralization is a solution to the deterioration of health services is irrational. Hospitals have become saturated with this crisis. We have already seen the struggle of French emergency workers; today in Spain the waiting list for health services in Andalusia alone has reached 890,000 patients. In Italy, the lack of hospital beds is considered the main aggravating factor.
Throughout Europe the state health system was designed as a mutualization, through the state, of part of the labor operating costs. Dismantling it, like attacking pensions, has been an attempt to increase the share of capital in total income, i.e. exploitation in absolute terms. We now see the extent to which it endangers the most basic vital needs.
The focus of state responses has not been on strengthening health systems but on reviving a frightened capital
Yesterday the EU presented its “shock plan”: a fund of 7.5 billion, expandable to 25 billion, to provide liquidity to small and medium enterprises, financing governments to cover the delay in payment of taxes and contributions. For instance, in the U.S. Congress and Trump are negotiating an economic stimulus plan in view of a massive loss of working hours. In Britain the main state reaction has been a 50 basic point rate cut. And in Italy, tax incentives are already up to 16 billion.
One only needs to listen to the employers’ organizations calling for lower taxes and easier dismissal instead of increasing hospital beds, hiring and resources, to see where the real priorities lie. The needs of capital -generating dividends no matter what- are placed above universal human needs even in the midst of a health crisis.
Anti-propagation measures are not equal for everyone
While the shareholders’ meetings of large listed companies are being virtualized and the virtues and advantages of teleworking are being touted, most workers still have to go to work every morning. But now in Spain, in Portugal, in Italy… children stay at home. Who takes care of them? According to all indications, their grandparents. In other words, the population at risk is put at higher risk by taking care of an age group where asymptomatic or mild cases are more frequent.
But it’s not like it’s any kind of bargain for parents either. In the wonderful world of the “platform economy” and precariousness, basic protective measures are neither there nor expected. In factories it varies from place to place, but it seems that they are failing even in emblematic sites.
The “sacred anti-viral union” doesn’t cut it
Just today, workers at Fiat Pomigliano, the factory where the Panda is built, stopped production for an hour because basic health recommendations had not been met. The same thing happened on the assembly line of Leonardo helicopters due to the lack of compliance with protective measures.
These are hardly unique cases. The “sacred anti-viral union”, the slogan of “coming together” with governments and national capital to “get out of the crisis together”, is not catching on. That’s excellent news. Probably the first good news that this epidemic has brought us.