Covid-19 (CV19) has been a tragedy for many across the world. The crisis has also revealed how willing our political establishment is to sacrifice working class communities in the pursuit of profit. As we transition into the ‘new normal’ we must build on our Union’s demand for economic transformation.
This pandemic has uncovered the extent of wealth inequality and structural racism in this country. Workers in low-income industries such as construction or those driving our buses were the last to be phased into lockdown and the first to be sent back to work, bus driveres in particular were also much more likely to be working throughout the lockdown. In particular, BAME working-class communities have suffered the highest death rate from CV19 in the UK, ONS figures recently revealed.
The UK is waking up to the fact that our economic system is broken. The backbone of our CV19 response have been front-line workers such as our nurses, cleaners and bin collectors, yet we know they have been historically underpaid and undervalued. Previously described as ‘low-skill’, it is now clear that without these key workers, our daily lives could not function.
The values that have underpinned our economy, such as competition, have been shown to be redundant, as communities across the UK organised into more than 2000 mutual aid groups to support the vulnerable. These groups have shown the mantra of our Labour movement to ring true – that our instincts are to look after one another through collective action. If one person is unwell, financially unstable, hungry or lonely; then we are all affected and together we are stronger.
This heightened sense of interconnectedness and interdependence in the UK is building on the foundations created by our Unions. We must ensure that our Unions are at the centre of defining what the ‘new normal’ is as we see incoming seismic changes to our society, such as plans for transport infrastructure or the use of facial recognition technology.
This crisis has forced the world to see behind the veneer of capitalism. Our Unions have been at the forefront of demanding economic transformation to put an end to the exploitation of our workers. As we transition into the ‘new normal’ we must be clear: the same extractive economy that punishes our workers has also led us down the path of escalated climate breakdown. We must transform it to save people and planet.
All equalities strands must remain at the heart of our movement’s organising. As we’ve rapidly altered our ability to stay connected, we must ensure this level of accessibilityy remains in the ‘new normal’. The Social Model of Disability offer guidance on this, explaining that people do not ‘have disabilities’ but rather, they are disabled by society; so let us make sure our organising spaces remain truly accessible in a post CV19 era in line with this Model.
For justice to be at the heart of our CV19 recovery as we transition into ‘the new normal’; we must overhaul the values that underpin our economy. Instead of competition, our economy should enable cooperation and the strengthening of collective power. Instead of conomic extraction, we should demand economic equity so that wealth is distributed in our society and we can protect our planet from oil barons. The ‘new normal’ is coming, and the demands of our Labour movement must be at the centre of it.
By Sakina Sheikh, Unite LE524 Branch, Lewisham Councillor and Unite sponsored candidate for GLA. @SakinaZS