Capitalism and the Coronavirus Downunder

Joint Statement of the New Communist Party of Aotearoa and the Communist Party of Australia

The workers of Aotearoa and Australia, like those of other capitalist countries around the world, are facing serious health, social, and economic crises being likened to the beginning of the Great Depression. Certainly, COVID-19 is like little else in living memory.

The Australian Government greatly bungled in its actions to contain the spread of the virus, putting workers, especially port workers and healthcare workers at great risk. Despite early indications of the global spread of the disease, proper protective equipment and health checks were not made a priority for our frontline workers. Testing is restricted and inadequate and is not being extended to all people presenting with symptoms.

The New Zealand Government took more decisive action at an earlier stage of the spread of COVID-19 and has, at least at time of writing, prevented a large-scale outbreak and community transmission from occurring. Yet issues still remain around supply of proper protective equipment to essential workers, both in hospitals and other essential businesses such as supermarkets.

Civil and democratic rights have been eroded in both countries, particularly around freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. These have a public health benefit, but we must ensure COVID-19 response is not used opportunistically to restrict the democratic rights of the working class after the outbreak subsides. This lockdown on freedoms also gives the constabulary significant powers of enforcement, and we have already seen indigenous communities get further militarised in the name of public health.

The suspension of Parliament in both countries is a significant reduction of the checks on Government power and the ability for workers to influence Government policy through select committee submissions etc. The NZ Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee meeting via Zoom, seemingly unquestioned in bourgeois media, is an unparalleled privatisation of civic function which further subordinates government to private companies.

The inefficiency of the market system and of privatised institutions has been unmasked. Businesses are being wound down and thousands of workers are losing their jobs as businesses close or wind down. Millions of people employed as casual, body hire, gig or contract labour have no leave entitlements if they are sacked. Unbelievably, governments seemed slow to anticipate the effect on workers, particularly workers in precarious jobs. Our two Communist Parties demand that all workers including visa workers receive 100% of their wages.

Private businesses, from airlines to hospitals, are standing in line before governments for bailouts.  Many have been granted, and all at a great cost to the countries’ economies. Meanwhile, the protection of working people, the real creators of wealth in society, has come too little, too late, especially in Australia.

Governments Still Relying on Market Forces

The consensus across the board, including capitalist economists, is now that of state intervention to protect the system from the looming disaster. However, it is clear that our governments are beholden to the interests of the monopoly corporations and finance capital and are loath to in any way restrict or move beyond the absolute dominance of the market. The economic response rather tries to supplement the clearly unfit-for-purpose market dominance to ensure it does not break down.

While the revolving door between our capitalist governments and private corporations means bailouts are so easily granted, the working class in the form of unions and community organisations has had to rally and work hard in order to get some relief, albeit insufficient. Unions have been classified as an essential service in New Zealand and it is clear to see why. Already over 2000 cases of employment law breaches during the COVID-19 pandemic have been logged with the NZ Council of Trade Unions.

Despite what it may seem, these are not new problems but old ones that have existed since the rise of capitalism. The working-class, who have always had precarious employment and financial instability, are the foundation of our economy. They have always been neglected, living day-to-day, with inadequate allowances that keep them in perpetual poverty. Now a tsunami threatens this unstable foundation, washing away with it the house that stands on it.

The governments are still trying to prop up private enterprises in the hope that money will trickle down to everyone. Bailouts are nothing but the transfer of working people’s wealth to the coffers of the rich put in place in order to prevent our proverbial house from being washed away. The government is attempting to act quickly, hoping to avoid an impending economic collapse.

Essential Services and Profit Making

The work ethics of private hospitals are dictated by the profit motive. In the current pandemic, when the need is for more hospital capacity, what an indictment it is on privatised healthcare that they have threatened to close business and lay-off hundreds of healthcare workers.

The mortgage freezes are a welcome move, as it also includes those in debt to the banks for their own dwellings and not just property investors, but the measures to protect tenants fall short and the danger of evictions and financial hardship is still very real for too many. A mortgage freeze without corresponding rent freezes is a blatant wealth transfer measure from tenants to landlords.

In short, the crisis has laid bare the inefficiency and troubling nature of essential services as a profit-extracting business under capitalism.

 Nationalise Essential Services, Subsidise Workers

We call for the nationalisation of all essential services including healthcare, aged-care, child-care, airlines, banks and supermarkets. The bailouts of companies should not be wealth transfers from the public purse to monopoly companies, but rather give the state equity. Any attempts to further privatise public services should also immediately stop.

We call for a direct 100% wage equivalent ensuring that no worker, whether casual, part-time, or a migrant worker, is left behind. Neither workers’ hard-earned superannuation nor other savings should be used to ride over these times.

Benefit levels, including those for students, should be raised to be the equivalent of the living wage. It is important that we do not discriminate between workers who were unemployed before COVID-19 and those who need assistance because of it.

Rent and mortgage freezes should be re-drafted to better cover for the safety of the people in very uncertain times. Not a single member of society should face homelessness and wealth transfer to landlords should immediately cease.

We also call for the provision of a nationalised digital infrastructure, so that our reliance on private companies for communication services is reduced, especially for public education, the democratic process and other key areas of society.

This system is unsustainable. A socialist system prioritises the working-class, not profits. The working-class foundation and purpose of socialist society is shown by the significantly better response to COVID-19 in Cuba, China and Viet Nam.

It will not be the bosses that see our two countries through this pandemic, but the millions of workers supporting our class through the troubled waters.

The working class must overcome!

International Department, Communist Party of Australia

Central Committee, New Communist Party of Aotearoa