CrimethInc. – Surviving the COVID-19 Corona Virus Crisis

Here is another anarchist perspective on the COVID-19 Corona virus crisis from CrimethInc.

Surviving the Crisis

Let’s be clear: totalitarianism is no longer a threat situated in the future. The measures being implemented around the world are totalitarian in every sense of the word. We are seeing unilateral government decrees imposing total travel bans, 24-hour-a-day curfews, veritable martial law, and other dictatorial measures.

This is not to say that we should not be implementing measures to protect each other from the spread of the virus. It is simply to acknowledge that the measures that various governments are implementing are based in authoritarian means and an authoritarian logic. Think about how much more resources are being poured into the military, the police, the banks, and the stock market than into public health care and resources to help people survive this crisis. It’s still easier to get arrested for loitering than to get a test for the virus.

Just as the virus shows us the truth about how we were already living—about our relationships and our homes—it also shows us that we were already living in an authoritarian society. The arrival of the pandemic just makes it formal. France is putting 100,000 police on the streets, 20,000 more than were deployed at the high point of the gilets jaunes protests. Refugees in need of asylum are being turned away along the borders between the US and Mexico and between Greece and Turkey. In Italy and Spain, gangs of police attack joggers in empty streets.

In Germany, the police in Hamburg have taken advantage of the situation to evict a self-organized refugee tent that had been standing for several years. Despite the quarantine, the police in Berlin are still threatening to evict an anarchist collective bar. Elsewhere, police dressed in full pandemic stormtrooper regalia raided a refugee center.

Worst of all, all this is occurring with the tacit consent of the general population. The authorities can do virtually anything in the name of protecting our health—right up to killing us.

As the situation intensifies, we will likely see the police and the military employing increasingly lethal force. In many parts of the world, they are the only ones who are able to gather freely in large numbers. When police comprise the only social body that is able to gather en masse, there is no word other than “police state” to describe the form of society we live in.

There have been signs that things were heading in this direction for decades. Capitalism used to depend on keeping a massive number of workers available to perform industrial labor—consequently, it was not possible to treat life as cheaply as it is treated today. As capitalist globalization and automation have diminished dependence on workers, the global workforce has shifted steadily into the service sector, doing work that is not essential to the functioning of the economy and therefore less secure and well-paid, while governments have become increasingly dependent on militarized police violence to control unrest and anger.

If the pandemic goes on long enough, we will probably see more automation—self-driving cars pose less threat of infection to the bourgeoisie than Uber drivers—and the displaced workers will be divided up between the repression industries (police, military, private security, private military contractors) and precarious workers who are forced to take on great risk to make a few pennies. We’re accelerating into a future in which a digitally connected privileged class performs virtual labor in isolation while a massive police state protects them from an expendable underclass that takes most of the risks.

Already, billionaire Jeff Bezos has added 100,000 jobs to Amazon, anticipating that his company will drive local stores everywhere out of business. Likewise, Bezos won’t give his Whole Foods employees paid leave despite the constant risk they face in the service sector—though he is giving them a $2 raise through April. In short, he still considers their lives worthless, but he admits that their deaths should be better paid.

In this context, there is bound to be revolt. It is likely that we will see some social reforms aimed at placating the population—at least temporary ones to mitigate the impact of the pandemic—but that they will arrive alongside the ever-increasing violence of a state that no one can imagine doing without, insofar as it is misunderstood as the protector of our health.

In fact, the state itself is the most dangerous thing to us, as it enforces the drastically uneven distribution of resources that compels us to face such imbalanced distributions of risk. If we want to survive, we can’t just demand more equitable policies—we also have to delegitimize and undermine the power of the state.

Strategies of Resistance

Towards that end, we’ll conclude with a few strategies for resistance that are already getting off the ground.

Rent Strikes

In San Francisco, the housing collective Station 40 has led the way by unilaterally declaring a rent strike in response to the crisis:

“The urgency of the moment demands decisive and collective action. We are doing this to protect and care for ourselves and our community. Now more than ever, we refuse debt and we refuse to be exploited. We will not shoulder this burden for the capitalists. Five years ago, we defeated our landlord’s attempt to evict us. We won because of the the solidarity of our neighbors and our friends around the world. We are once again calling on that network. Our collective feels prepared for the shelter-in-place that begins at midnight throughout the bay area. The most meaningful act of solidarity for us in this moment is for everyone to go on strike together. We will have your back, as we know you will have ours. Rest, pray, take care of each other.”

For millions of people who will not be able to pay their bills, this makes a virtue of necessity. Countless millions who live from one paycheck to the next have lost their jobs and income already and have no way to pay April’s rent. The best way to support them is for all of us to go on strike, rendering it impossible for the authorities to target everyone who does not pay. Banks and landlords should not be able to continue profiting on renters and mortgages when there is no way to earn money. That’s just common sense.

This idea has already been circulating in many different forms. In Melbourne, Australia, the local branch of the Industrial Workers of the World is promoting a COVID-19 Rent Strike Pledge. Rose Caucus is calling for people to suspend rent, mortgage, and utility payments during the outbreak. In Washington state, Seattle Rent Strike is calling for the same. Chicago tenants are threatening a rent strike alongside people in Austin, St. Louis, and Texas. In Canada, there is organizing in Toronto, Kingston, and Montreal. Others have circulated documents calling for a rent and mortgage strike.

For a rent strike to succeed on a countrywide level, at least one of these initiatives will have to gain enough momentum that large numbers of people will be certain they will not be left high and dry if they commit to participating. Yet rather than waiting for a single mass organization to coordinate a massive strike from above, it is best for these efforts to begin at the grassroots level. Centralized organizations often compromise early in the process of a struggle, undercutting the autonomous efforts that give such movements power. The best thing we could do to come out of this experience stronger would be to build networks that can defend themselves regardless of decisions from on high.

Labor and Transit Strikes

Hundreds of workers at the Atlantic shipyards in Saint-Nazaire went on strike yesterday. In Finland, bus drivers refused to take payments from riders in order to increase their safety from contagion and protest against the risks they are being exposed to, showing in the process that public transit could be free.

If ever there was a good time for the embattled and precarious working class to show strength through strikes and work stoppages, this is it. For once, much of the general population will be sympathetic, as the interruption of business as usual can also diminish the risk of the virus spreading. Rather than seeking to improve the individual circumstances of particular employees through wage increases, we believe the most important thing is to build networks that can interrupt business as usual, disrupt the system as whole, and point towards the revolutionary introduction of alternative ways of living and relating. At this point, it is easier to imagine the abolition of capitalism than to imagine that even under these circumstances, it could be reformed to serve all of our needs in a just and equitable manner.

Prison Revolts

Revolts in Brazilian and Italian prisons have already resulted in several escapes, including mass escapes. The courage of these prisoners should remind us of all the targeted populations that are kept out of public view, who will suffer the most during catastrophes like this.

It can also inspire us: rather than obeying orders and remaining in hiding as the entire world is converted into a matrix of prison cells, we can act collectively to break out.

IWA-AIT Statement on COVID-19 Crisis

Solidarity

Here is a recent statement from the anarcho-syndicalist federation, the IWA-AIT, setting forth some minimal demands during the COVID-19 crisis. I note that fast food workers in California are now organizing a strike. Now is not the time to go meekly into the night.

This System is Making Us Sick

Statement of the IWA Secretariat in Response to the Situations Surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic

In many countries now, people are confronted with a huge health issue. Due to the nature of the capitalist system and its abuses towards working class people on so many levels, many more of us may become victims of ruling class negligence and disdain – the disease that already afflicts our society and social-economic relations. In this situation, like all others, we really need to rely on each other to preserve our health and our lives.

The Sections of the International Workers’ Association have responded to their local situations in different ways. As advocates of the general strike to weaken the power of those who oppress and abuse us, we see no better time for the working class of certain countries to use this tool of struggle, to act in self-defense, to protect their health and promote the strength of collective action against the power of state coercion and capital.

Our unions have put forth various demands and calls for action on the local level and are engaging in some concrete struggles in a number of workplaces. On the global level, there are several general positions and demands which need to be propagated in response to the current pandemic.

1. All workers who have been forced out of work because of state-enforced measures employer decisions, economic cutbacks or other reasons or who are ill need to receive paid leave.

A great majority of the working class around the world barely make ends meet and cannot afford to lose income. Those that do are threatened to become victims again – among others, the victims of landlords and creditors. Several governments have already announced aid packages to businesses, but the elites are much less generous to working people.

After the pandemic has decreased, the working class must struggle to make paid leave a permanent right for everybody.

2. We advocate the immediate stoppage of work (with paid leave) for all the workers of non-essential industries and services in all areas which are threatened by the spread of this virus. Where the bosses or state threaten and coerce people to continue working despite the risks, we call for the organization of strikes, solidarity strikes and other forms of direct action. We need concerted solidarity and mutual support to show that we will not be stopped.

3. We demand immediate and significant wage increases for all medical workers (including other “non-medical” personnel in medical centers, such as cleaners). These wage increases are to be permanent. One of the greatest pathogens facing many countries around the world is lack of access to healthcare, caused by gross underfunding, as governments decide to divert money elsewhere, away from the most essential human needs. Many medical workers are severely undervalued and have spent years in struggle. They are exploited and disrespected on an everyday basis – yet we expect their total dedication to saving other people’s lives in situations like this and it is sometimes at great risk to their own health and well-being. We must struggle to force the State – which we view as only the temporary custodian of our public collective money – to properly secure the health security of the population by readjusting social priorities. Further, the IWA reminds the working class that the State has usurped the power of people to decide things themselves and usually acts mainly in the interest of capital. We must take power back from it to introduce a truly social and egalitarian system of taking care of all the members of our society collectively.

4. We demand immediate bonus payments to all the other workers who are needed in various functions still so vital to keeping things running smoothly – from supermarket cashiers to food deliverers, producers and suppliers, from social workers to sanitation workers. Anybody who is working in increased risk and still working while others stay in their houses deserve our mutual aid and support. Where possible, we also call on people to help these people with their jobs, to give them a rest and to share the burden. If such workers are forced to work a lot of extra hours due to the situation, they should be given extra paid leave as soon as possible when the situation stabilizes.

We need to stress that many of these categories of workers, without which life itself would be barely possible in urban centers (such as farmers and other workers on the food supply chain) are among the worst paid workers in many countries. We must agitate and struggle to egalitize the value of labor and eliminate the huge contradictions of the capitalist logic, which fails to adequately compensate huge parts of the workforce they consider only as replaceable parts, not as vital members of our human community.

5. We demand absolutely free access to health services for all who may be affected by this current crisis. We must keep this demand as an area of permanent struggle.

6. We demand special emergency assistance for all people who do not have a roof over their heads or who live in poor sanitary conditions. In general, homelessness, housing poverty and various forms of tragic displacement lead to many deaths and illnesses each year, on top of the general misery. This is a problem of huge proportions on the world level. It must be dealt with, in particular by society’s assistance and a permanent struggle against the class of those with capital who profiteer off their access to and possession of private property. The world has also responded poorly to numerous humanitarian crises caused by war and natural disaster, leaving its victims in precarious and often life-threatening conditions.

7. We demand that any materials which are needed by the population be provided, especially where people cannot afford it. Our collective public money should be used to ensure that vulnerable segments of the population have access to hygienic products, prophylactics and medicine.

These seven demands are the minimum we need to push for and, in order to make the situation a little healthier in the end, we need to press for more social protection for the general population. This cannot remain a privilege of the rich.

The working class should finally realize that it is not the state or the bosses that keep the society running, but the working people themselves.

The expenditures we demand, to ensure the safe and fairer running or society as a whole, is our collective money and we have the absolute right to decide what kind of society we want to live in: one that treats the elderly, sick, less-privileged masses of people like expendable or one that cares for everyone and treats everybody as important and with respect. The State, the bosses and the others that live off the labor or working people must not be allowed to run things like they have any longer. Too many people have been made ill by this all and it has been going on for years and years. Enough is enough!

The system is ill and we need to cure it.

The best medicine against the disease ravaging our populations – and we are not talking about Coronavirus now – is mutual aid and solidarity of people.

During this time when many people are affected, we have witnessed various acts of solidarity initiated from the bottom up, sometimes so necessary where the system has failed to protect a vulnerable member of our human community. We call on people to embrace solidarity and to make it a part of their lives, not only in times of tragedy, but also as something regular. Solidarity builds community and community is something that can help any social struggle to gain benefit for everybody.

From the IWA, we wish all working class people health, safety and strength in the struggles and challenges you may face at this time. Remember that solidarity is our weapon, one that is so useful in times like these. We all need to organize – not only for now, but to fight for a better world for us all in the future.

IWA Secretariat
Warsaw
March 16, 2020