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The Coronavirus Crisis ‘Must Be A Call For Unions To Reshape The World’

Published Sunday, January 3, 2021
The Coronavirus Crisis ‘Must Be A Call For Unions To Reshape The World’

The economic shutdown caused by COVID-19 lockdowns has thrown the world into turmoil and accelerated trends that were already underway.

But Unions are prepared and they can seize the moment to remake the world.

The virus seems to have emerged at a fresh produce market in Wuhan, China, sometime in late 2019.  Like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings, the infected bat or pangolin has caused a storm of disruption around the world.

The pandemic perfectly exposes globalization, and its long, opaque supply chains.

Everything is connected to everything else, but it’s not always clear how or what we can do to influence the flow of money, power and information.

This is the environment Trade Unions have operated in since the 1980s - attempting to find local solutions to complex global problems, and learning to confront formless, footloose capital through growing international cooperation.

But that world came to an abrupt halt in March 2020.

The global economy shut, borders closed and countries went into lockdown.

Now, as many countries have gone back and forth with cautious reopenings, the shape of the new world is yet to be defined.

Nonetheless, the Coronavirus crisis seems like a definitive break, a full stop

The world will be different from now on.

The virus was hailed as a great leveler - rich or poor, we are all biologically susceptible to infection.

In fact, it highlighted a distinct class divide.

The virus first spread from China through the class of international business people who attend global meetings.

It spread across Europe through the class that winters in Italian ski resorts and to Africa and Latin America through the class that holidays in Europe.

The impact has also been uneven and unfair.

The mobile, globalized people who spread the virus across the world are also the ones who are best placed to cope with it.

Most can comfortably perform their White Collar jobs from home, with the space and equipment they need.

Working Class People - the ones who could never imagine a ski trip or a foreign holiday - have borne the brunt of the crisis: The unemployed on lockdown in overcrowded apartments; The Health Care Workers and Hospital Cleaners who have had to go to work without protective equipment, like soldiers going into battle without guns. 

The Supermarket, Transport and Delivery Workers, until recently disparaged as low skilled, suddenly recognized as the essential glue that holds our societies together.

And the Workers in production who can’t build a car, sew a shirt, mine coal, or extract oil from the sofa

Further inequalities have been exposed - there are more Women than Men in dangerous front line jobs, and more People of Color.

Those who were already vulnerable in this economy have been made more vulnerable

Unions have responded well, mobilizing their activists and resources to defend Working People.

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