In a healthy, well-ordered society, in order to achieve safety, efficiency, fairness and innovation, activities would be under the control of those workers who possess the relevant direct experience and knowledge to run them. Thus, for example
- Running trains would be determined by train crew, station staff and maintenance engineers.
- The fire service would be run by fire fighters
- Schools would be under the control of teachers.
- Universities would be under the control of those who research and teach in them.
- Hospitals would be run by doctors and nurses with suitable input from those who provide the essential support services – cleaning, food etc.
They would need, of course, a few advisers to assist them, but this would be on the basis of ‘on tap but not on top’; and some exceptions would be necessary. The armed forces, police and security services would still need close, democratic monitoring as their activities are too intrusive to be left to generals, police commissioners and shadowy chief spooks.
As we were reminded again this week, our society is neither healthy nor well-ordered.
- RMT and TSSA opposition to removing guards from trains and reducing platform staff is ignored. Whether this had an effect on the Aberdeen train crash this week remains to be seen.
- Three years after Grenfell, the FBU’s concern about inflammable cladding continue to be ignored.
- Schools are set to re-open in the autumn while concerns expressed by the NEU are swept aside and NEU itself is attacked in the yellow press by stooge Tory MPs. Meanwhile, teacher assessments in lieu of exam results are amended by a government that consistently behaves as if it knows more about teaching than do teachers.
- Universities are displaying more concern about the loss of income from fees from foreign students than the quality of the education they will be proving in the autumn to students from the UK.
Furthermore, as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and respond to the ensuing recession, ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option. We face a global climate crisis that, unaddressed, could dwarf the effect of the pandemic. We cannot expect the rich and powerful, or the governments that promote and protect their interests, to come up with solutions. They are too well insulated, financially and physically, from the consequences. Workers lack this insulation. Without their input, the current mess we are in will be nothing compared with what is to come.
History teaches us that pandemics do end; but in their wake huge social change can follow.
The Antonine Plague in the second century, thought now to be smallpox , caused the expansion of the Roman Empire to falter; and the Justinian Plague in the sixth century halted the attempt, successful up to that point, to re-establish that empire in the west. The Black Death in the fourteenth century accelerated the dissolution of feudalism and the transition to a wage economy. Recurrences of plague in the seventeenth century heralded the dawn of merchant capitalism and colonial exploitation and then the eventual emergence of the real thing as the Industrial Revolution took off. The assessment by bourgeois economists is that the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 had few social or economic consequences, at least in the developed economies of the day – see link below for a typical assessment – but in its wake the world did, nevertheless, experience the start of the first attempt anywhere to build a socialist economy. Coincidence?
Whether the Covid-19 pandemic will have comparable social consequences remains to be seen. Our rulers are prone to reassure us that, like World War 1, it will be ‘over by Christmas’ – or at least under control thanks to our supposedly “world class test and trace system”. As this system is run Serco and based on call centres, its only conceivable ‘world class’ aspect is its ability to extract revenue from government. But even if the pandemic were to be brought under control by 2021, a prolonged recession appears inevitable and the tools this government is prepared to employ to end it are inadequate: printing money and using it prop up the corporate sector in the hope that they will make the capital investment needed to resuscitate the economy. There is no historical evidence that such a policy will work. What is actually needed is public ownership and massive government investment; but to embark down that road is to risk opening the door to socialism. Lose control of the government after making this investment, however temporary, and it might no longer be possible to shut and bolt the door again. The danger is that our government or its successor will prefer anything to that including war and fascism. Unfortunately, unlike printing money and propping up the corporate sector, these are well tried strategies that have been demonstrated to work – for capital but not, of course, for workers.