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I remember as a kid, one particular afternoon playing two records over and over again. A working class hero by John Lennon and Ben by Michael Jackson. With Ben the attraction was the purity of the soaring vocals and of course the idea of loyalty despite isolation in the lyrics.
Lennon’s working class hero – spoke of the bitterness of knowing the class to which you belonged, and the role assigned to you in life. I identified completely, with the lyrics.
Imagine, WC hero, The Luck of Irish, Woman, Power To The People, all show that John Lennon was the most socially conscious of the Beatles. We don’t live in a world of our own making, and can only respond as we find it. Paul McCartney responded to the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 72 with Give Ireland Back to the Irish. John Lennon responded to the Vietnam war as part of the anti war movement. .
One of the most famous examples of a protest or campaigning song is Pete Seeger’s ‘Which side are you on.’ A product of a famous Harlan County Miners strike. In the 1980’s in the UK it was the Miners strike, that prompted the question Which side are you on? John Lennon’s working class hero, is part of a tradition of people fighting for better working conditions, pay, and lives, and singing about it.
Which side are you on? A question posed by the most powerful orators and leaders, in times of desperate struggle; Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela. The answer you give determines who you are.
Today internationally we are faced with a health, economic and political crises that is fundamental to how society is organised. The question underlying the strategic differences in how the Covid-19 virus is being managed is the economy or humanity, which translates as ‘the people’ or the owners and shareholders of industry.
The whole false idea of ‘herd immunity’ was to limit the damage to the economy while the virus took its toll on human life. Trump’s musings about ‘getting back out there’ are the same thing.
The markets or the state. The nanny state, big government has been the object of derision and denunciation over the past 40 years, as neo-liberalism promoted ‘market solutions’ and privatisation.
The truth is that value is created by those that work, those that own and control business, hoard and manage the profit created by the labour of the working class – if we don’t work – they don’t make money.
The state was reduced to an enabler of private industry and profit, and all social aspects of its functioning, welfare, education, health, everything except the army and police were diminished. Now is a chance to reverse that.
The demand should be that the state acts in our name, we have paid for it, given it the resources it has, through our taxes over the years. Now it should be given back in the form of substituted wages and salaries, free health and social care. The army and police should be mobilised to support society not to control it. The danger here is that temporary measures to draft in resources to overcome the virus may become permanent measures to overcome resistance and protest.
The economy or humanity? Which side are you on? is a false division but one that will face us soon. The idea that ventilators, masks or gowns can not be produced unless someone is making a profit from it, shows how absurd our organisation of society is. In showing us the weakness of globalisation and mobility maybe this virus is also showing us the the seeds of a rational society where the resources of the state are used in the interests of protecting the planet and its people.
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