During the last eight months of economic crisis and the rampant spread of COVID-19, capitalist governments have continued to behave as they normally would: cutting spending to vital sectors of society like healthcare, refusing to provide incomes for the people and failing to provide food and other basic necessities in a time of economic hardship. We see many countries suffering from this, from the Global North and Global South. While continuing to slash spending, these governments have implemented lockdown policies in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In the Global North, there are demands for improvement of working conditions, particularly those of healthcare workers and warehouse workers. In New York, nurses went on strike at two hospitals, demanding more staff, funding and better pay in their fight against the deadly virus. Healthcare workers are not only organizing in New York, but all over the Western world, as they struggle to fight off a pandemic with limited government aid. Amazon workers have also been struggling for better pay and safer conditions throughout the pandemic. The company has seen a major soar in profits, yet none of that is seen for many of the workers.
A unique phenomenon for the Global North that has received even more attention than these movements, however, is the anti-lockdown movement. The demands of these protests differ from those of other protests. Rather than demand the government do more for essential workers — the unemployed, the elderly and the poor — they demand that the government’s lockdown policies end. Many of those who attend are small business owners, professionals, managers or those who are armed with tactical equipment and rifles that cost thousands of dollars. In Germany, some of those who have attended these anti-lockdown protests are members of the Reich Citizens Movement, a movement that believes the current German administration is illegitimate and subscribes to tenets of Nazi ideology.
There is a legitimate concern of capitalist consolidation in times of economic crises. Oftentimes, when the economy is in recession, monopolies and large corporations can make it through the recession thanks to the large sums of surplus value they have accumulated as well as the billions of dollars they are receiving from federal governments. Smaller businesses receive some financial assistance, but not enough to save all of them. Those that go out of business are usually bought out by large corporations who assimilate them into their monopolistic chain of production. So in the midst of economic crisis monopolies tend to grow stronger as they eat up the smaller capitalists and businesses.
Small businesses, however, will not help the workers or advocate on behalf of the working class. Owners protest because they have only their interests in mind and worry about their own profit. In fact, small businesses usually provide workers with less pay, less healthcare and less benefits than large corporations in the United States. On the path towards socialism, capitalist monopolies will be destroyed and broken up and replaced with state planned production, not small businesses and entrepreneurs.
The argument that anti-lockdowners care about their workers needs to be questioned as well. Many of the anti-lockdown protests happen in rich or middle class neighborhoods. Huntington Beach, Long Island, San Diego, just to name a few, are not places of mass poverty or where essential workers live. Rather, they are often wealthy neighborhoods. In addition to this, Black and Brown neighborhoods that often make up most of the essential workers are not seeing mass waves of anti-lockdown protests. There have not been any major Black or Brown-led movements in Watts, Compton, Newark, Bronx, Detroit or other similar neighborhoods. If these anti-lockdown protests are occurring at the same time that workers’ protests are, and they claim to have the workers’ interest in mind, then why are they not demanding the government offer stimulus, universal healthcare and more benefits? Why are they not working in solidarity with the nurses, retail, and warehouse workers?
There is no doubt that people are struggling financially due to the economic crisis that is worsened by the pandemic and the fact that capitalist governments are doing the bare minimum or nothing at all to support the people. However, it is also clear that what we are witnessing in the Global North is a mass movement of entitlement and privilege veiled behind the language of freedom. At these anti-lockdown rallies, people are demanding to go back to their ways of excessive consumption. They want the privilege of being served, catered to, and being able to leisurely hang out. This phenomenon is unfortunate because as we simultaneously have these privileged protests, there are legitimate protests from nurses, warehouse workers, retail workers and other essential service workers who are demanding hazard pay, better healthcare and more staff, as they risk ending up with a potentially life-threatening disease simply for going to work. These anti-lockdowners distract from the actual working-class demands, while hiding their petty bourgeois consumerist ideology behind the wall of “caring” for the working person. We saw the same thing when the Black Lives Matter protests started gaining traction and small and large businesses began hanging signs that said “Black lives are welcome here” and other pretty slogans, while not actually giving a damn about poor Black and Brown folks. In reality, these small-time capitalists could care less about the workers or their community.
In comparison, the movements in the Global South are outraged by their government’s lockdown policy because it has not been accompanied by economic welfare. In Guatemala, we saw the people, outraged by the government’s inaction and corruption, burn part of the Congress building and demand the government increase healthcare funding. Indians partook in a strike of a quarter of a billion people who are demanding the government aid farmers and workers rather than continue its selling out to big business. Colombians have demanded the government distribute food and welfare to those that have lost their jobs or have seen the economic conditions worsen in the midst of the crisis. The lockdowns have exacerbated the problems in nations ruled by right-wing governments who refuse to provide welfare. The people in the South have responded by demanding that their government do more to help the people, not less. Success against the pandemic and the economic crisis has only been seen in those nations that have coupled the lockdown with economic welfare and prioritization of healthcare, like in China, Vietnam and Cuba. Hence, in developing nations that have failed to provide welfare while implementing a lockdown, the people are demanding welfare.
Edit: When talking about small businesses and the current media attention given to them, we have to understand that even within this group there are class and racial divisions. Many of the small businesses and owners highlighted by Western media are white and predominantly middle and upper-class. Small mom and pop shops, bodegas, and other places where the owners are also the workers are being hit just as hard if not harder by the ongoing economic crisis. Many of these businesses exist in poor communities and are largely Black and Brown yet they have received little to no attention by the mainstream media and the government. They are run by people who, even before COVID, are just barely staying afloat or immigrants who give remittances back to their families. This group of small business owners and workers are rarely seen in the anti-lockdown protests nor are they taken into consideration in the demands of the middle and upper class movement.
Nicholas Ayala crafts here a trenchant, powerful summary of what really matters in our world economy during this pandemic. He lucidly explains the exacerbation of global inequities that have always plagued the poor, underrepresented segment of the population which, in fact, fuels our economy. I especially appreciate his bold, indisputable, point about the bogus middle- and upper-class protests whose participants want only for themselves to the detriment of less fortunate people. Thank you for your honest reporting, Mr. Ayala!