Socialist Worker

Put people before profit to protect us from coronavirus

As bosses demand we return to work, Sadie Robinson says it’s possible to have a safer society if we take on the profit system.

Issue No. 2721

Put people before profit

Put people before profit (Pic: Wikimedia)


The Daily Mail newspaper last week whined that “railways, roads and offices stand empty” despite schools reopening.

The bosses and their backers are screaming for a return to “business as usual”.

They say if we don’t accept this, we will be stuck with lockdown measures that get in the way of profits—known as “the economy”.

Understandably lots of people do not want to return to busy and unsafe trains, buses, offices and workplaces.

At the same time many fear being isolated at home for months on end, and worry about the impact on jobs.

But these are not the only options. We could have a Covid-safer society—but it would mean challenging the way that society is organised.

Firstly, it would cost far more money than those at the top want to spend.

For instance, schools could teach children in smaller classes to enable social distancing. To do this, schools would need to buy up more buildings and recruit extra workers.

Top

This isn’t happening because those at the top don’t want to spend money on things that would benefit ordinary people.

It isn’t only about money. To be most effective, running a Covid-safe system would also involve challenging the competition that lies at the heart of capitalism.

For instance, we could have much safer public transport.

There could be limits on passenger numbers. People could book a “slot” on a service, in the same way that people now have to book a gym slot.

But it’s much harder to organise this across entire networks because the transport system is made up of different competing firms. And cramming as many passengers as possible into as few trains as possible is a lot more profitable.

Ideally, it would be good to figure out just how much transport is needed in the first place. Industries could draw up plans for a mix of at-work and home working, depending on the jobs.

But this begs a much wider question—what are we going to work for?

Is it really necessary to have thousands of workers travelling across London to build more office blocks in the city? Is bringing together hundreds of workers in factories to make weapons a good idea?

Is it urgent to rush children back to school so they can start cramming for exams that are rigged in favour of the rich?

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Coronavirus has led more people to question how society is organised.

Capitalism is not designed to protect the majority of people at the best of times.

During serious crises such as the coronavirus pandemic, it fails horrifically.

We can and should demand changes, and it’s possible to win some. Before coronavirus, no one would have thought that the Tories would pay millions of workers to stay at home for several months.

But ultimately we aren’t safe in a system that puts profit above all else. A better system is possible.

After the 1917 revolution in Russia, typhus posed a major threat. The revolutionary government confiscated stocks of medicines from speculators and set up factories to produce more.

In Moscow train stations, disinfection teams treated tens of thousands of passengers daily.

Ultimately the new system, run by and for working class people, helped to stop the spread of the pandemic.

Coronavirus has exposed capitalism as a system that wants to literally work us to death.

We need to fight to get rid of it.


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