Freedom is a class question
Freedom is a class question
)

Scott Morrison smirked as he announced that he was removing the “heavy hand of government” while COVID cases soared in late December. Government would no longer be “shutting down people’s lives”. The repellent image was a metaphor for this inhuman society.

The one glimmer of hope has been the outpouring of bitter anger and cynicism against his calls for us to exercise “personal responsibility” to stay safe while every measure to protect people was being dismantled. He is guilty of the incompetence, hypocrisy and lack of empathy people accuse him of. But that is just the result of a determined, reactionary agenda. Morrison preferred all along to end support for people in their suffering and get back to business as usual.

The call for individuals to take responsibility for the safety of children, the aged and the sick is reprehensible. It is an open declaration that the needs of the many must be trashed for the untrammelled freedom of business to make profits.

There has been a chorus of denunciations of health measures as authoritarian, and for giving governments too much power to surveil and control us. But the removal of regulations to deal with COVID has not reduced government power—the emphasis of how that power is wielded has just shifted. Now, by decree, the government is denying individuals the information needed to stay safe, removing payments to make isolation possible and forcing people to work in unsafe conditions.

This gives capitalists added freedom to ignore the usual expectation of safety at work. As Marx argued, capitalists demand the freedom to employ workers without governmental limits on their savage exploitation. The demand for public health measures is just an extension of the battles unions have waged for centuries to win minimal legal health and safety standards. This time we’re losing.

Those who suffered most in lockdowns are now most at risk. They still work in essential industries with no option to work at home and can’t obtain RATs or afford to sacrifice income waiting in queues for PCR tests.

Those “responsible” enough to have clawed their way into the higher groups of wage earners can work from home or take paid leave to limit their exposure to the virus. Anyone who had the “foresight” to ensconce themself in a spacious, well-ventilated house with at least two bathrooms, balconies and spaces that can be shut off can isolate an infected member of the family.

The chaos and out of control spread of COVID is shutting down people’s lives. Many of the elderly or sick have never been as isolated as now for fear of infection. This is confirmed by the whining of the small capitalists in the cafe industry as people stay away in droves.

“This is worse than lockdown, because we have no support and the staff are really a lot more freaked out at the moment than they were last time”, said Melbourne bar owner Maz Salt to the New Daily, echoing many others formerly demanding freedom from state intervention. “There’s panic that they are going to catch [COVID-19], there’s panic that they can’t get tests, there’s panic that they won’t get any [financial] support.”

This boss dismisses as “panic” what for workers is a realistic understanding of the threatening situation.

The rhetoric of personal responsibility, of getting the government out of our lives, comes from the song sheets of the far right. It’s the cover to unleash an outright attack on standards of universal free health care workers have come to expect. The Liberals always have an eye for this opportunity. Their capitalist backers have never fully supported free health care and fight tooth and nail to reduce the tax rates required to fund it. Over the last few decades, after being the initiators and defenders of Medicare, Labor has shamefully also refused to fund it properly.

Labor premiers have followed NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Morrison down the path of unleashing COVID on the population. This is a serious defeat for the ideas of social and collective responsibility that have been the hallmark of the labour movement for centuries.

There is an ideological cleavage in society. The mantra of “personal responsibility” has always justified capitalists’ refusal to provide a decent, secure life for the mass of people they exploit.

Adherence to safety measures, helped by government payments to make isolation possible, generated a sense of social responsibility among the vast majority. But this is anathema to capitalists. It would never go on indefinitely without challenge.

The ideas of collective solidarity are associated with the workers’ movement. When workers are confident and militant and our side fights for decent conditions, that ethos is reflected in our slogans: “Touch one, touch all”, “Workers of the world unite!”

If we are to force governments to provide decent health care, we must rebuild a movement with a renewed fighting spirit.

But while this profit driven system of exploitation exists, it will be one battle after another to defend health over profits. Out of these struggles we need to build a socialist movement. The only way we’ll have genuine freedom is when society is no longer driven by the profit motives of a tiny minority who only support freedom for their class.

Read more
NT Intervention a racist disgrace
Kim Bullimore

Fifteen years ago, the John Howard federal Coalition government launched a military invasion and occupation of Aboriginal townships and lands in the Northern Territory. More than 600 military and police personnel, accompanied by a phalanx of government bureaucrats, entered 73 Aboriginal communities, placing them under the unilateral control of the Australian army.

‘Pregnant? Need help? Call Jane’
Shirley Killen

In the late 1960s, cryptic notes began to appear on poles and noticeboards around Chicago, directing women who were pregnant and in trouble to “call Jane”. The number provided connected them to the Jane Collective (officially the Abortion Counselling Service of Women’s Liberation), an underground network of activists providing illegal abortions in the years before the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. This collective is the subject of The Janes, a new HBO documentary directed by Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin.

Roe vs. Wade overturned: a hammer blow against women’s rights
Fight the US Supreme Court
Liz Ross

Around the US, tens of thousands have hit the streets slamming the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established abortion as a right. In Manhattan, a large crowd of young, multiracial activists marched, chanting “Fuck the Supreme Court!”

A voice to parliament will do little for Indigenous justice
Voice to parliament will do little
Jordan Humphreys

Anthony Albanese started his victory speech on election night with a commitment that his government would implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, beginning with a referendum to create an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in its first term.

Labor hires evil professor
Alex McAulay

When a new government is being formed, the appointment of senior bureaucrats to the public service often tells you as much about how the country will be run, and in whose interests, as does the allocation of ministries to politicians.

Julian Assange needs public support
Josh Lees

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the US, where he will face 18 espionage charges brought against him by the Department of Justice. The charges carry a combined penalty of up to 175 years in prison. It is another cut in the long, torturous crucifixion of the Wikileaks founder, who dared to embarrass and expose the war crimes of the US empire and its allies.