With the news emerging of possible vaccines against COVID-19 the focus now turns to the possibility of returning to normal in 2021.
But what do they mean by ‘normal’?
Ireland entered this pandemic with huge problems and sharp contradictions between the wealthy minority and struggling majority. What recovery there had been from the great recession of 2008-2010, was minimal and even non-existent for most working class people.
The housing crisis saw people living in tents on the streets and in the parks of our cities. Entire families warehoused in so-called ‘hubs’ on a ‘temporary basis’ for years on end. Young people unable to leave home with no hope of buying or renting their own home. Councils were selling off public land to private developers with promises of ‘affordable homes’ which few working class people could afford. This ensured most developments were snapped up by landlords, in particular vulture landlords like IRES REIT and other real estate investment trusts who plan to gouge extortionate rents from workers.
The chronic education crisis, exacerbated by austerity, saw over-crowded class rooms in run down primary schools with very little funding to improve matters. Secondary schools relying on ‘Voluntary’ payments from parents to bridge the gaping holes in their budgets and capital expenditure curtailed despite the need for new schools with greater capacity to accommodate the rising numbers of students. Staff were demoralised with most young teachers stuck on temporary precarious contracts, which despite sneers from Right wing media commentators, means that during long school holidays they have to sign on the dole or look for other work with no guarantee of a teaching job in September.
Increasing numbers of children faced deprivation and hunger at home, so much so that many schools offered breakfast clubs — financed in many places by the teachers — to ensure the children didn’t have to face the day with empty stomachs.
At third level students faced financial hardships. While officially third level tuition fees were abolished in 1996, colleges still charged registration fees of around €3,000 per annum on top of the expenses students had to deal with: rents, books, transport, and the little matter of feeding themselves. Many students had to work long hours in precarious jobs just to keep their heads over water.
The health system, the frontline in the fight against COVID-19, entered the pandemic in deep crisis. For decades public health care had been underfunded while privatisation became the norm. The recent vote by public health doctors for strike action, in the middle of a pandemic, is a sign of how far healthcare workers have been pushed. People forked out hard earned money on private health insurance which only partially covered the cost of treatment, while at the same time medical vultures like Affidea charge huge fees for diagnostics services that should have been available for free in the public system. We began 2020 with overcrowded hospitals: patients lying on trolleys; the threat of hospital borne infections; wards closed due to the ‘winter vomiting bug’.
Is this the normal they want us to return to?
After everything we have gone through since March, are we prepared to accept more of the same? Even if the vaccines bring an end to the pandemic, are we going to continue living under the conditions imposed on us by the capitalist establishment? The conditions which exist because the capitalist ruling class want them to exist.
COVID-19 has posed in the sharpest terms possible, the long term sustainability of the lives capitalism forces on us. Long work hours, long commutes, chronic shortages or unaffordability of basic human needs like housing and healthcare. Millions of workers see now that we need change, real deep change, not just a kinder softer capitalism, offered by some who pose as offering a ‘Left’ alternative. The only way to bring about such a change is to build a revolutionary socialist organisation which fights for the socialist transformation of society.
COVID has taught us that there can be no return to the abnormal conditions the capitalist class insist on imposing upon us!