Covid, capitalism and women’s double burden

An absorbing new book looks at the changing patterns of women’s work in Britain since the industrial revolution. With Covid-19 potentially marking a new pivotal moment in the history of women’s employment, it could not have been published at a more opportune moment, writes CHRISTINE THOMAS.

Double Lives: a history of working motherhood

By Helen McCarthy

Published by Bloomsbury, 2020, £21

There is hardly any aspect of society that has not been seriously impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. One of its main consequences has been to magnify and exacerbate all of the existing inequalities in capitalist society. The interplay of class and race, for example, has influenced who catches the virus, its severity, and how likely people are to die from it. The same factors determine who suffers from the economic fallout.

The interaction between class and gender inequalities has also been highlighted and intensified. While it’s true that men with coronavirus are more likely to become seriously ill or die, women – working-class women in particular – are more likely to work in areas where there is a greater exposure to Covid-19. They have been 30% more likely to be furloughed, 47% more likely to have lost their jobs, and 50% more likely to have had their hours cut.

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Covid testing the TUC

The 2020 TUC congress takes place at perhaps the most critical time facing workers since the second world war, meeting six months after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the UK into lockdown. The recessionary features that were already visible by the start of the year have been transformed into the deepest economic downturn since the 2008 great recession and possibly the 1930s. Workers’ lives and livelihoods are on the line.

The TUC congress has been stripped down because of coronavirus restrictions but union activists and reps will be looking for it to give a lead in the face of this crisis. The slogan for the conference is ‘Jobs, Security, Dignity’. But this totally understates the scale of the emergency and, unfortunately, the vast majority of motions are inadequate in mapping what is necessary to both protect the health of workers and their families and secure an economic future.

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US elections: lesser evilism is no solution

After four years of disastrous, corporate, racist policies, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party are running in November’s elections against Trump – and not much else. They are not promising to fight for crucial improvements in our living standards like free healthcare for all. They hope to win by being the ‘lesser evil’.

Americans are continually bombarded by the idea that the only way to defeat Donald Trump and the Republicans is to ‘vote blue no matter who’ (blue is the Democratic Party’s colour). But has this ever actually worked? After the repression and right-wing policies of the Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, did the Democratic president Jimmy Carter champion the working class? No, in fact he maintained the capitalist status quo by deregulating major industries, busting unions, and facilitating huge wage cuts, paving the way for the openly right-wing policies of Ronald Reagan. After the ‘trickle-down economics’ policies of Reagan that ushered in the modern era of neo-liberalism – in which basic social services were cut to death and tax breaks for the rich were handed out like candy – did Bill Clinton, with Democratic control of the legislature and the presidency, reverse these anti-worker policies? Not even close. He and his fellow Democrats slashed welfare spending along with the then senator Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats authoring the 1994 Crime Bill, a major leap into the disproportionate mass incarceration of black and brown workers.

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Will Covid break the EU?

July’s EU coronavirus rescue deal was hailed as a qualitative step forward for European integration but, argues HANNAH SELL, has not overcome the fundamental contradictions of the bosses’ club – which the workers’ movement must respond to with socialist internationalism.

For a large part of the previous decade the European Union (EU) has teetered on the edge of disaster. Globally the last world economic crisis that began in 2007-2008 led to the authority of capitalist elites being severely undermined. For the EU, and particularly the Eurozone, it was an existential crisis.

The weaker economies of the Eurozone, Greece but also Portugal, Spain and Cyprus, were facing bankruptcy, unable to service government debt. The institutions of the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – ‘the troika’ – demanded vicious anti-working class austerity as a precondition for those countries receiving so-called ‘bailouts’. This was against the background of an already calamitous fall in living standards. As general strikes swept the continent – with upwards of 30 in Greece alone – and the Greek anti-austerity party Syriza was victorious in the 2015 general election, the existence of the Eurozone hung by a thread. Thanks to the capitulation of the Syriza government to the demands of the troika, however, the Eurozone survived at the expense of the living standards of millions.

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In defence of our great anti-poll tax victory

Radical publishers Pluto Press have released a new book looking back at the defeat of Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax. Unfortunately it fails in presenting the real historic significance of the anti-poll tax movement – led by Militant, the Socialist Party’s predecessor organisation. CLIVE HEEMSKERK writes.

Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: The Fight to Stop the Poll Tax

By Simon Hannah

Published by Pluto Press, 2020, £16-99

The battle against the poll tax in the late 1980s and early 1990s is one of the greatest episodes of working class struggle. Mass non-payment of the tax, with around a third of the entire adult population facing some form of legal action against them over a four year period, laid the basis for an organised movement to make it unenforceable. With Tory party splits also developing over the European Union, Margaret Thatcher, the international standard-bearer of brutal neo-liberal capitalism, re-elected with a 102-seat majority in June 1987, was forced to resign 41 months later in November 1990. The anti-poll tax resistance was, as Simon Hannah says in the preface to his new book, “the last mass movement in Britain [to date!] that helped bring down a Tory prime minister”.

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Global Warning: A Green new dawn?

Across Europe the past year has seen a mini Green surge. In Austria, Ireland, Germany, France and elsewhere they have jumped up in support, joining coalitions with pro-capitalist establishment parties in many cases, either at a regional or national level. This follows the explosion of protests across the globe in recent years, sparked by anger at the destruction of the environment and calling for system change. Could Green parties – whose defining feature is environmentalism – provide an alternative that is capable of living up to the desires of those wanting real change?

In June the Green Party in Ireland entered government with Fianna Fáil (FF) and Fine Gael (FG), the two traditional parties of the capitalist class. The Greens increased their vote in both the 2019 council elections and the general election in February, quadrupling their members of parliament from three to 12.  

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Liberation struggles and workers’ internationalism

Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance & British Dissent

By Priyamvada Gopal

Published by Verso, 2020 (pbk), £14-99

Reviewed by Brent Kennedy

The main points of Priyamvada Gopal’s book are that the colonial peoples repeatedly revolted against their exploitation and were themselves the agents of their own liberation; that they received solidarity from various quarters in Britain; and both learnt from it. It’s an answer to right wing academics like Niall Ferguson who repeat the old excuses for the British empire: that it was benevolent, civilising and prepared ‘backward peoples’ for the gift of independence when they were deemed ready for it.

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Dispossessing the thieving class

Stolen: How to save the world from financialisation

By Grace Blakeley

Published by Repeater Books, 2019, £10-99

Reviewed by Paul Kershaw

For a long time it has been easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, according to Grace Blakely’s best seller. But, as she shows, capitalism has not always existed and “the technological, economic, and political preconditions for the establishment of socialist societies exist today in ways that they never have in history”.

The current period is marked by huge capitalist monopolies, often several times the size of nation states, that organise themselves based on top down planning. Technological development means that unparalleled data is now produced about needs and production to inform planning. Currently this is used by a tiny elite for profit but why not plan production for people with democratic control?

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