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Solidarity blooms amid pandemic chaos

From the editorThese are uncommon times. Someone on a podcast I listen to said that "history was spee


March 22 · Issue #35 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
These are uncommon times. Someone on a podcast I listen to said that “history was speeding up”, which is a sentiment I think we can all understand. With anxiety a permanent feature of daily life it’s never been more important to form and build bonds with our communities, something we explore in the main story this week. Also this issue, we examine Murdoch’s sudden leftward turn and find out how Taiwan has remained largely unscathed by COVID-19.
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Enjoy the issue!
Guy Mosel, editor

Solidarity blooms amid pandemic chaos
by Guy Mosel
Photo by Toa Heftiba | Unsplash
Photo by Toa Heftiba | Unsplash
In times of international crisis like this it’s very easy to slip into despair. There’s a reason why psychologists are warning people in physical isolation to stay off social media. As mental health researcher and social worker Gregory Armstrong says, “One of the things that is more contagious than the virus might actually be the panic itself.”
Yet for the most vulnerable Australians – the sick, the elderly, the poor, the homeless – panic might very well be an entirely appropriate response. For some, COVID-19 puts their lives in peril; for others, the collapse of the economy and the strain on public services severely threatens their already tenuous week-to-week existence.
But while government responses to this urgent need have been mixed, people across the country are uniting to provide emergency aid and comfort to each other and their at-risk neighbours.
One example of this is in Canberra, where the Canberra Region Coronavirus Mutual Aid Facebook group has grown to 2000 members in a matter of days. The group describes itself as “a place to share practical resources, information, create plans and networks of care in the case of social distancing measures, self-isolation, job insecurity; especially to support more vulnerable folks in our community with groceries.”
Group organiser Tamara Ryan, who is also women’s campaign organiser for UnionsACT, told The Canberra Times the group offered “a systematic approach” with “a centralised pool of what requests people need so they can be answered by others”.
“People are inclined to help others,” Tamara said.
“There’s been a range of demographics helping and offering up ways they can, like older people and younger people as well as students.”
Mutual aid models are springing up all over Australia and the rest of the world. In Chicago, a 19-year-old girl created two Google Forms – one for people who need help and another for people who can help – and circulated them among her networks. They raised $7000 in two days. There’s now an online directory of over 150 US local mutual aid groups.
Meanwhile, Nextdoor, an app that connects people within the same neighbourhood, has created functionality that allows users to identify themselves as “able to help” – from picking up shopping to walking the dog – during the COVID-19 crisis. You can even print out a flyer and leave it in neighbours’ mailboxes. (Alternatively, for an example a great handmade flyer, click here.)
While Facebook and apps provide built-for-purpose platforms for connecting with people and organising responses to need, solidarity is taking other forms, too.
In Wales, local councils are recruiting “an army of volunteers” to deliver essentials and offer emotional support by phone to elderly people and others in isolation.
In Wuhan, at the height of the Chinese epidemic, isolated residents yelled encouragement to each other and sang songs from their apartment windows in an attempt to boost morale.
In Seville, Spain, a fitness instructor climbed to the rooftop of a building to run an exercise class for quarantined residents in the opposite apartment block.
Even our very own Woolworths, a company rarely deserving of praise, has stepped up by offering a dedicated hour of early shopping for elderly and disabled customers before opening stores to others.
We are right to demand that governments do all in their power to protect our health and well-being and prevent total economic collapse, and we know the federal government must do much, much more, like expanding the social safety net and introducing rent holidays for tenants.
But it’s also up to all of us to look out for each other and offer aid where we are able. And you can start by asking a complete stranger one simple question: “Can I help?”
Solidarity is how we’ll get through this. It’s how we always do.
Do more
With migrant and ESL workers especially vulnerable right now, the Migrant Workers Centre in Victoria has produced multilingual flyers containing basic questions that people can print out, add their contact details to and share in their neighbourhoods.
And if you’re worried about the pandemic’s impact on your mental health, or the mental health of a loved one, visit Beyond Blue or Way Ahead for helpful resources.
The week in review
👎🏽 Too little, too late for the Oz economy?
While Morrison ponders ways to “cushion the impact” of COVID-19 (whatever that might mean), economists are accusing the government of not acting fast enough. Centre for Future Work director Dr Jim Stanford said the government had been “very slow, compared to other industrial countries, in recognising the need for immediate help to flow directly to households, businesses and workers”. “It won’t make a dent in the recession that we’re already in,” he said.
Meanwhile, Qantas stood down 20,000 workers – two-thirds of its workforce! – without pay during the week, despite the government’s airline bailout. It’s more evidence that being the CEO of Qantas is without doubt the easiest job on Earth: dodge taxes, pay yourself whatever you like, mistreat your workers – and the government will still come running with a bag of cash.
👍🏽 Solidarity, Comrade Murdoch!
The Australian has revealed a new shade of pink with national affairs editor Simon Benson describing [$] nationalising the likes of “bus ­services … airports and airlines and basic economic infrastructure” as “necessary and, in the end, the smart and right thing to do”. Great idea, Simon, but did you forget where you work? On the same day the paper reported [$] that Macquarie Wealth Management had prophesied the death of “conventional capitalism” and the rise of “something that will be closer to a version of communism”!
Turns out there are no libertarians in a pandemic.
👎🏽 Bernard’s bombshell
A new book by Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery , who will soon face trial for breaching secrecy laws, reveals even more shoddy behaviour by the Australian government in its negotiations with Timor Leste over oil in the Timor Sea. The book, Oil Under Troubled Water, exposes how the Australian government excluded helium from production-sharing contracts, a resource even more valuable than the petroleum gas which carries it. You can listen to an interview with Collaery about his new book here.
👍🏽 No outbreak, no worries
While countries around the world grapple with their responses, Taiwan remains remarkably unscathed by COVID-19. With only 135 reported cases and two deaths its “enviable level of civil and governmental synchronicity” allows life to go on largely undisturbed, temperature checks at restaurants notwithstanding. Relatively new to democratic governance, Taiwanese tend to “prioritise successful results over democratic ideals. This doesn’t mean that the Taiwanese don’t practice democracy, they just expect it to improve people’s lives in concrete ways — an effective bulwark against populist revolt, not to mention a virus.”
Stay at home! The politics of COVID-19
Did America misjudge Bernie Sanders? Or did he misjudge America?
For your bookshelf
Our House is on Fire, by Malena Ernman, Beata Ernman, Svante Thunberg, Greta Thunberg
Can't Pay, Won't Pay: The Fight to Stop the Poll Tax, by Simon Hannah
"What a unionist looks like" t-shirt
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