There were a few days last week when it looked as though some fundamental thinking was going on in communities through New Zealand as the lockdown was focusing minds on the things that really matter in life.
Much has been said about the great job essential workers are doing for us during the lockdown – keeping our food, medical supplies and welfare services going while our public health system works on the pandemic.
Quite a bit has been written about most of our essential workers being hopelessly underpaid. Even with the 10% bonus supermarket staff are receiving during the lockdown, most will still be earning less than the living wage.
Meanwhile the bigger problems for humanity are also upon us: the climate crisis, ecological degradation and America’s endless imperialist warmongering for control of the world’s resources on behalf of the global elite.
Heaven knows the planet and its people need radical policy change and there has been a lot of good discussion about all these things and how the pandemic gives us the opportunity to pause and rethink our economic and social priorities.
But while many of us hope the pandemic could be a gamechanger we need to be aware that the global wealthy are on the move to use the crisis to extend their control of our lives.
At one level we are seeing this in the pushback from the National Party which wants more help for businesses and are pushing for a speedy exit from lockdown. political commentators have taken up the call with the likes of “don’t kill the economy with a health diet” from a Stuff political reporter this weekend.
This is backed by Regional Development Minister, Shane Jones, who says “medical triumphalism is great but not at the cost of an economic carcass”. If it’s the rotting corpse of capitalism then personally I think the cost is worth it.
Unfortunately, the government is playing into a “disaster capitalism” narrative in several ways.
Medium and small businesses are struggling but big businesses are reaping the lion’s share of government assistance with another $6,000,000,000 in government “loans” to businesses struggling in the lockdown. This is our community money being paid out to large companies (minimum loan is $500,000) through the big Australian banks where the banks get the profits and we, the government, get 80% of the risk!
Yet another round of help for businesses came from Grant Robertson yesterday with the announcement company directors will not be personally liable if they trade whilst insolvent to get their companies back to profitability. Coupled with the “loans” announcement in the previous paragraph, this policy duopoly is likely to cost us citizens billions more.
Meanwhile the superrich are desperately leveraging themselves into the box seat as the saviours of the country. Led by former Air New Zealand head Rob Fyfe, a cabal of ne’er do wells have had their own private meeting with the Prime Minister and are championing themselves as community leaders using their wealth to bring in personal protective gear and then billing the government for their efforts.
Backing up the business narrative that they are our saviours is the saturation advertising by the owners of our supermarket chains amongst others is telling us how they are working so hard to provide essential services during the lockdown, how they only have our best interests at heart blah, blah, blah. Using the workers, who actually do provide these services, to speak for them is a smart move rather than have the supermarkets’ big investors’ tell the truth that their obscene wealth was created by keeping wages of our essential workers down to the lowest they can get away with rather than the most they can afford.
Any how will we emerge from this crisis? The government has appointed former Fletcher Construction boss Mark Binns to head up a team to decide what big infrastructure projects will be given the green light to get the economy moving again. Despite the climate crisis we should fully expect new roads to get the lion’s share of funding with a couple of new cycleways to keep James Shaw happy.
Big business is dead keen to get us all back to “business as usual” in quick time with the government priority to put the corporate sector first. We must resist this, not only for our own personal and community health, but also because there is no intention to shift from a business as usual agenda.
Instead of getting “back to normal”, we should work to create a new normal where communities are empowered to lead in a grass roots democratic fashion to save our lives, our communities and our planet.