In 2022 the UK once again finds itself staring down COVID calamity. The omicron variant has spread completely out of control, infecting millions of people and disrupting the winter holidays for millions more. The Tories and their hangers-on are still responsible for this mess, but the world is particularly vulnerable due to one underlying health condition: capitalism.
Though the Government and the bourgeois press are keen to tout the success of the vaccine booster programme, it is increasingly difficult to see where this success really lies. Deaths and severe cases may be down, but the NHS still struggles to cope with the impact of the new infection wave, with lasting staff shortages exacerbated by self-isolation and illness among workers. The backlog in delayed operations now runs into the millions.
There may not have been a full lockdown announced over December, but for thousands of businesses and families there effectively was. Positive cases broke records only weeks after the first case of omicron was detected in the UK, meaning 7 to 10 days of isolation. Countries around Europe shut their borders to Britain, cancelling holidays and sending the travel industry into a tailspin.
As well as people missing festivities with their families, businesses and services were heavily hit with lost trade and staff absences costing billions. For restaurants and pubs, it was a lockdown in all but name.
Following the lead of the Tories in Westminster, the Scottish Government implemented the same policies. Though they respond to criticism of their pandemic policies by saying their hands are tied by Westminster, there is no reason to believe an independent policy would be any different. The SNP and Greens are wedded to the capitalist system, which is the real constraint on what policies they will pursue.
We are now used to the apparently never-ending nature of the pandemic, as infection follows infection, lockdown follows lockdown, and now, vaccine dose follows vaccine dose. The potential need for a fourth dose among vulnerable people is already being proposed.
This over-reliance on vaccination has been criticised by the World Health Organisation, who point out the impossibility of vaccinating the whole world every six months. The reality of this policy, of course, would be that richer countries get vaccines while poor countries would be left wanting.
The problem here of course is not the vaccine itself, which is a vital weapon in the arsenal for fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The problem is that the ruling classes of rich countries in Europe and North America have thought that they could get away with prioritising their own rapid vaccination programmes while leaving the rest of the world to make do with a drip-feed of donated vaccines.
The main motivation for this vaccine strategy was to end the necessity of lockdowns when infections spread, allowing for an uninterrupted flow of profits. This short-sighted calculation has backfired immensely however, giving only temporary relief while preparing the ground for new variants to spread and thus new lockdowns to be imposed.
Despite the feelings of déjà vu this winter, each repetition of this farce is not exactly the same. By all accounts, Boris Johnson has now made it politically impossible for a new lockdown to occur. Though he now appears cautious in public, warning us all that the pandemic is “far from over”, it was he and his government who threw caution to the wind on ‘Freedom Day’ last year, pledging to never look back.
Not long after this, with coronavirus cases surging, began the whirlwind of scandal, as the country found out what the elite were really up to throughout the previous lockdowns: partying, ‘wine and cheese’, dodgy flat renovations, corrupt lobbying and securing their private interests at public expense etc. Key to all the scandals themselves was the fact that the Tories acquit themselves of all wrongdoing – on Owen Paterson’s second job, Boris Johnson’s flat, Rees-Mogg’s millions. The systems of oversight, designed by the bourgeois themselves, are set up to cover their wrongdoing rather than punish it.
Amidst the exposure of this lawlessness at the top of society, the bourgeois press has heavily telegraphed the idea that new coronavirus restrictions were as good as dead on arrival. “If the politicians won’t follow their own rules, why should I?” was the refrain.
The reality, however, is that workers understand the necessity of restrictions, even if no-one is enthusiastic about more lockdowns. They have dutifully followed the rules for nearly two years, missing out on births, deaths and other life events in order to protect society as a whole. This attitude is actually absent among the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois, who think solely of themselves, their ‘freedoms’ and their profits.
It is the opinions of these ‘freedom’ warriors that Boris Johnson is most concerned about, because they comprise the majority of the Tory party back benches. This small group has the power to remove Johnson as Prime Minister and are not impressed with his constant proximity to scandal and by-election losses. As shown by David Davis’ ideological resignation from the Government and around a hundred Tories rebelling in Parliament, they are least inclined to Johnson when he supports more coronavirus restrictions.
Boris Johnson’s supposed source of strength – the 80-odd Tory majority in Parliament – merely masks his weakness as a leader. With the Labour party wilfully side-lining itself under Starmer’s neo-Blairite leadership, we are all now fully at the mercy of these self-serving Tory lunatics.
Johnson now says that we must ‘ride out’ whatever comes next, confessing that he will allow the NHS to be ‘temporarily overwhelmed’ as infections peak. It is as if the rhetoric of ‘herd immunity’ has returned, and that ‘learning to live with the virus’ means getting used to permanent crisis.
The world is already living with the coronavirus, but what this means for the likes of Boris Johnson is very different to what it means for the working class. In spite of everything – the lockdowns, the shortages, the supply chains crisis, etc – the world’s richest have only gotten richer in the past two years. Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s poor see their incomes stagnate or decline.
This upwards redistribution of wealth was symbolised in 2021 by the absurd space adventurism of billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk. It has swelled asset prices and produced a frenzy of speculation in fictitious values, from corporate shares to cryptocurrencies. Meanwhile workers are being told to tighten their belts as the cost of living skyrockets.
This injustice is odious and has already shown masses of people that the capitalist system itself is unjust and unfair. It is not just this however, but it is because of capitalism that we are in this situation in the first place. Were it not for capitalist austerity that has cut away at the NHS for decades, would we need to suspend our lives in order to prevent it being overwhelmed? Were it not for imperialism, and the division of the world into rich and poor countries, would we be facing new variants emerging from unvaccinated populations every year?
Had the world been run by the working class, with production planned rationally and health being a priority, the pandemic could have ended long ago. Instead, the anarchy of the market and private property prevented this, taking us down our current path.
Workers all over are becoming more and more conscious of this, as they turn towards the labour movement to fight back. The UK’s largest private sector union, Unite, won a record number of disputes in 2021, winning 43 new pay deals for workers under the new General Secretary Sharon Graham, who promised to lead more industrial struggles. In the United States, over 100,000 workers across a variety of industries were prepared to go on strike in the ‘Striketober’ wave, and union organising drives in huge corporations like Amazon and Starbucks have drawn support from wide layers of the US working class.
The potential power of the global working class was on display in Glasgow during COP26, as workers and young climate activists stood together on the mass demonstration through the city. There have been inspiring mass movements and uprisings on every continent, from Myanmar to Chile, to India and Iran, to Poland and Kazakhstan. There will be more this year as the desire to be free from the poverty, inequality and corruption of capitalism breaks through to the surface of society.
The class struggle is a struggle between life and death, and it is only with the revolutionary victory of the working class that the possibility for a new life will be opened for the whole of humanity.