Covid-19 exposes and deepens societal inequalities
The quiet passage of International Workers’ Day (May Day) due to the COVID- 19 pandemic was an opportunity lost by the labour movement, not for any mass mobilisation of course, but for some sort of reflection and perhaps media discussion on how the crisis affects working people disproportionately.
Already all the projections from international and regional institutions point to a worsening situation, made even more grim because as yet there is no clear indication of how long it will last or the intensity of the suffering to be endured. What is clear though, is that it is those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, the working and poor people who will have to bear the brunt of the pain.
There are those who peddle the idea that COVID- 19 is a “great leveller” since it affects everyone. On the surface this is true but on closer examination not only will the many suffer most but because they lack access to resources, it will be even more difficult for them to cope or to recover. One needs to go no further than the analysis of how COVID- 19 is affecting the black and poor population of New York for instance to know that it is far from an “across the board” issue.
The health authorities in the respective Caribbean countries have been doing a herculean job in helping us to cope with the crisis, but there are structural limitations. Take for example the health advisories about sanitary practices. We are advised about regular washing of hands, even using liquid soap and the use of paper towels to be disposed of immediately after use. This is fine, but there is a cost to it, a cost that jobless families will find it impossible to meet. Also we are reminded to “stock up” on essentials, but stocking up calls for money. How can people who live from pay cheque to pay cheque, from day to day, or worse, hand to mouth, “stock up”?
From island to island governments have announced varying stimulus packages but the very size of our respective economies places limitations on how far these can go and for how long. What the coronavirus has again cruelly exposed is the need for deep structural changes so that we can tackle the in-built inequality which makes the many suffer more than the privileged few.
A repeated concern must be the education sector for it is the children of the poor who are at a greater disadvantage even though all will be affected. There is unequal access to the Internet, to the relevant hardware and software, and to the possibilities for home help. We will temporarily try to address these but for all our politicking those are the great issues which we must seek to address as a society.
It is a pity that the organisations of the working people are so weak and divided that the overall picture is missed and the focus lost on the disadvantages facing the working people. Even the pressing matter of the repatriation of workers on cruise ships has been pushed into a narrow political corner, ignoring the wider scope of the problems and challenges facing workers whether on land or at sea and their exploitation by the owners of capital.
These are some of the issues which we should try to draw out of the crisis so that they can deepen our perspective and strengthen us in the real task of eradicating inequality and poverty in our society. The labour movement cannot shirk its role in this regard.