“In times of crisis, seemingly impossible ideas suddenly become possible,” says Naomi Klein at the beginning of a video
for The Intercept
on coronavirus and capitalism.
Klein, author of 2007’s “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
”, is uniquely placed to comment on events unfolding around us in the COVID-19 world. In her book Klein describes a recurring pattern of behaviour from right-wing governments in the wake of shocking events to exploit public disorientation and force through radical free-market policies that consolidate wealth and power in the hands of a few.
You only have to look at what happened in the wake of the GFC to understand how masterfully capital is able to take advantage of chaos. The capitalist class has seen massive gains in wealth globally since 2008/09, while worker income and wealth has never really recovered.
Here in Australia in the time of coronavirus, there’s been support for the government’s response to the pandemic’s economic impacts, from political rivals and the media alike. Some have heralded this moment as a circuit-breaker that could lead to a new kind of compassionate and cooperative politics.
But, as we cautioned in issue 37
, “We’d be fools to believe that anything has fundamentally shifted.” And wouldn’t you know it: we were right!
During the week, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter (more on him in “The Week in Review” below) announced that bosses would be able to force workers
to vote on changes to enterprise agreements within 24 hours, down from one week. It’s a blatantly anti-worker decision that reduces workers’ ability to consult with their union and organise, and empowers businesses to reduce pay and conditions
with little resistance. Which they will most certainly do.
But that’s not all that the government is trying to ram through while we’re arguing about overzealous policing and stupefying ourselves with Netflix.
The Business Council of Australia has used the pandemic to launch an attack on corporate transparency laws, urging Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to use new COVID-19 powers
[$] to suspend class actions and protect companies and directors who fail to provide continuous disclosure.
As former Senator Nick Xenophon points out
, the continuous disclosure regime minimises “the potential for insider trading and other forms of market abuses that may arise as a result of entities withholding or selectively disclosing materially price sensitive information.” In other words: suspend these laws – even temporarily – and watch the financial elites cash in.
Elsewhere, bosses are calling for a wages freeze
because of course they are. Master Grocers Australia, which represents 4000 independent retailers, has called for a one-year wage freeze to be imposed on retail workers in a submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual minimum wage review.
Meanwhile, the JobKeeper rorts
have already begun (some employers have been telling staff they are entitled to keep a share of the payments as "administration fees”!), while the government doles out no-strings money to tax-dodging airlines.
And all of this is happening while parliament is suspended, leaving the government subject to no oversight. As Labor senator Kim Carr writes
, “We must all practise social distancing, but that should not become an excuse for the abrogation of democracy.”
Nevertheless, this crisis remains an opportunity for the left, just as much as the right, and we shouldn’t be disheartened by the cynical and predictable machinations of the Coalition.
“If there is one thing that history teaches us,” says Naomi Klein, “it’s that moments of shock are profoundly volatile. We either lose a whole lot of ground, get fleeced by the elites, and pay the price for decades, or we win progressive victories that seemed impossible just a few weeks earlier.
"This is no time to lose our nerve.”