- “I don’t see why the vulnerable can’t just stay in and the rest of us get on with our lives.”
- People arranging to meet friends and family from other households both indoors and out, even though they know this is against the rules
- Thousands attending parties, raves and big gatherings all over the summer and even during the second lockdown
- Churches rebelling against lockdown and holding services
- Workplaces still open that aren’t Covid- secure, including schools, colleges and universities
- Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown rules
- Johnson having to self-isolate because he clearly broke his own rules at number 10 Downing St
- Thousands demonstrating against lockdown
Given anarchism’s attitude towards authority and the State, you would have thought that we would have been all for the way people are rebelling against the various lockdowns and rules, which have been imposed by the State and enforced by the police. After all, isn’t anarchism about freedom?
There may be some anarchists who would fit this description, however, in the ACG we are anarchist communists and though freedom from coercion is a key part of our politics, so is collective responsibility, mutual aid and solidarity. We take a different approach to being safe during the pandemic, both from the government and those who claim to be rebelling against curtailments of their freedom.
Firstly, we need to be clear about two things:
- Everyone’s life is valuable, no matter what their situation. Protecting the old and vulnerable, people with underlying conditions, is as important as protecting the lives of more ‘productive’ members of society. Some people use this as an excuse for their own behaviour – they and their friends won’t die so why worry about those who would die soon anyway? This attitude we find despicable. Who is to decide who deserves to live?
- The pandemic is far from over, despite a vaccine hopefully on its way. Thousands are still getting the disease and many dying. It is spread by people coming into contact with someone who is already infected and because many are asymptomatic, it is impossible to know who has it and who doesn’t. Track and trace has helped to an extent but you can still never be sure because the system is far from being completely comprehensive. Therefore, if we are to stop the spread of Covid, people have to drastically limit the contact they have with others. We can see this for ourselves; we don’t need to be told by government, who often rely on their own version of science that suits them, or don’t fully understand the often complicated scientific explanations. The evidence in front of our own eyes and that of the NHS and care home staff should be enough for us to understand what needs to be done. It is not just people dying from Covid. Many more people will die from untreated cancer and other diseases because of the way Covid cases have dominated health care services.
Anarchist communists believe in self-organisation. We do not follow rules because the government says we have to, we follow rules that we ourselves have collectively developed. It is this that lies at the heart of the problem with lockdown; rules have been imposed on people without a sense of them arising from people themselves. They do not come from the experience of people in the community and the workplace but are developed with other agendas in mind. This has resulted in confusing and contradictory messages and has created a general mess, leading to many ignoring guidelines, whether that be individuals, workplaces or other institutions. One example was the rule that all pubs needed to close at 10 pm. This was not thought through and led to people piling into the street at the same time and workers having to travel home in crowded transport.
One of the key problems is that the government, despite following the advice of scientists to an extent, continues to put the economy and profits first. This has resulted in workplaces staying open that are unsafe. Many of these workplaces have no union organisation or unions that do very little to protect workers because there are often no independent health and safety reps. A major part of the problem is that workers are in fear of losing their jobs and many would not be eligible for furlough. The fact that so many workers have no security or income makes them willing to work in any conditions, leading to increases in Covid cases.
The policies on education have also caused the increase in cases. Students, many of whom had been travelling and mixing socially all over the summer, were encouraged to start their university courses, many crammed together in halls of residence. It was not surprising that Covid spread like wildfire. Though schools were also opened (supposedly for the benefit of children’s education but really as a way of making sure people went back to work) and this has led to a rise in cases as well. Though children and young people may not suffer in the same way as older people, they still bring the disease home and also can infect their teachers.
Meanwhile, in order to show that they are doing something, the government in England has imposed a second lockdown and closed non-essential shops and services and the hospitality sector. Though there may be some cause to do this – pubs and restaurants were the source of some cases – people are resentful because many other sources of the disease are still open, eg universities. And, many shops, services, such as gyms and hairdressers, and pubs and restaurants have spent a lot of money to ensure they are Covid-secure. Yes, there were some places that were not and did not enforce basic safety rules, but most did. And, it will be the workers who suffer, with employers in these industries quick to lay people off.
The end result of these policies is that it is unlikely that the pandemic will get under control, with many more deaths, before a vaccine is fully rolled out.
So what should we be doing, regardless of what the government says, to end the pandemic?
- All workplaces need to be Covid-secure in order to open, under the control of the workers. (For more ideas about making workplaces safe see: nosafetynowork.org). If they cannot be made safe, then they should not be open and the workers furloughed with job security. Covid-related sackings must not be tolerated.
- Universities and colleges should end face-to-face teaching until the crisis is over.
- Schools need an influx of money to make sure that they are Covid-secure – more space is needed for social distancing and home schooling. If parents and teachers are not happy with arrangements then they should refuse to have children at school.
- Local communities should take more control over what is open and what support is offered to people who are on their own. Track and trace and testing needs to be under the control of local communities so everyone knows what is going on and who actually has the disease.
- People should resist the temptation to meet up with others unless they really are in a bubble – not one that keeps changing to suit. Mutual aid groups are important here to support people both physically and mentally. Socially distanced outings and meet ups can be organised.
- The government has always been lukewarm and contradictory about wearing facemasks. But common sense tells us that they are a good idea – both inside and when walking around if a lot of people are about. Just because something isn’t a rule doesn’t mean we don’t have to exercise common sense.
All these ideas are based on the basic anarchist communist principles of self-organisation, solidarity and mutual aid. We don’t need the government to tell us what to do, nor do we have to go against our own common sense just because the government wants to keep the economy going. Of course, it is hard for people to do what is best when they are in precarious positions at work. This is why class organisation and struggle is the vital element in any strategy.