On the national day of “freedom rallies”, thousands of people protested in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane against both NSW’s lockdown and the national vaccination program, under the influence of a range of right-wing Trumpian anti-science conspiracy crap and social Darwinist individualism masquerading as the call for “freedom”.
If lockdowns were lifted now, it would mean letting the virus rip through NSW and Australia. We would quickly be seeing thousands of cases and huge numbers of hospitalisations and deaths. This would be the biggest attack on the working class, in the interests of profit, that Australian governments could have unleashed throughout this pandemic so far. It is precisely because the NSW government delayed its lockdown so long, and implemented it in a half-arsed way so as not to disrupt profits, that the outbreak shifted from the wealthy eastern suburbs. Now it's concentrated in the working class of south-west and western Sydney, where people’s jobs put them most at risk of catching and spreading the virus.
The pro-business, anti-lockdown call for “freedom” has been promoted by the NSW government for eighteen months, by the media, by business lobby groups, and shamefully by some trade unions and even sections of the left. It’s not uncommon to hear some Sydney leftists call the lockdown, the key measure stopping the virus spiralling out of control, an “attack on the working class”.
Meanwhile, the economic support needed for workers to safely stay home, to miss shifts, to get tested or to isolate is outrageously low or non-existent. Even the measly maximum $600-per-week disaster payment is inaccessible for almost 400,000 people, because they are already on the Centrelink books. The federal and NSW governments could easily expand these payments. We need that, alongside a strengthened lockdown that can close more non-essential workplaces. Huge stores like Bunnings, for example, could easily move to click-and-collect only, as they have in Victoria; in Sydney they remain open and busier than ever, with management refusing calls to shut them and lose their record sales.
Thankfully, necessary lockdowns still retain massive support, despite the outrageous lack of financial support that imposes such a real burden on workers while they endure it. A recent poll showed that a big majority support of the current lockdown in NSW, and 56% think the government was too slow to lock down Sydney. Just as big business lobbyists put on the mask of embattled small business owners to demand the lockdown be eased, free-marketeers want to present the anti-lockdown protest as a working class uprising. But despite a few thousand people attending these reactionary protests, that polling indicates that most of NSW’s workers support measures for containing the virus, even as they unfairly bear the burden due to the low level of support. That lack of economic support might, over time, encourage more people to take up reactionary anti-lockdown stances—a process that isn’t helped by leftist indulgence of right-wing anti-lockdown talking points. It also means there are bound to be cases of people dodging the lockdown measures to make ends meet, which the government can then highlight to deflect blame from their own failings.
The protesters are a horrifying spectacle: taking to the streets, maskless, to dance in an outbreak and call for the “freedom” of businesses to trade. But they aren’t the ones really to blame for the danger that the outbreak might worsen. That blame lies with the NSW and federal governments. And if they can wear down public opinion sufficiently, we face a danger that some day in the future, they might throw up their hands, declare that the Delta strain can't be contained, and that we should move towards our own "freedom day" and let the virus rip. NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard outlined precisely that vision early on in the current outbreak. Thankfully this approach has been marginalised since, but there could well be a fight about it in the coming weeks, especially if their current inadequate measures fail to start getting case numbers down, and as their business backers become more restless.
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