March 2020 Ohio St library (Colum DIspatch)
Worker disinfects counters in the library of Ohio State University. Since then, the university has cancelled on-site classes, and other schools around the state have followed suit. (Columbus Dispatch)

By CENTRAL OHIO REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALISTS

As this statement is being drafted, Ohio’s top health and government officials have estimated that more than 100,000 people in the state are carrying the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. So far, over 1,600 people in the U.S. have tested positive for the illness, and forty people have died.

At the surface level, the state government has only introduced the most minor methods for preventing the spread of the virus and providing treatment for those who have been affected: closing public schools, colleges and universities, sporting events, and gatherings of more than one hundred people; state Democrats introduced a bill struck down by Republicans that would have provided a measly seven day paid leave for workers affected.

We have also seen the crude violence of the capitalist state unleashed: sending out riot police to attack students at the University of Dayton, arresting immigrants at hospitals, and doubling down on the xenophobic call for a wall along the US-Mexico border while using the pandemic to continue stoking racism.

With the growing state of emergency that is accompanying the spread of COVID-19 worldwide, people are becoming more conscious of the instability, unreliability, and inability of capitalism to prevent the spread of and provide adequate treatment for disease and illness. People are concerned about their survival: how they will be able to pay bills and acquire food if they have to be quarantined; how they can remain safe at work or if they should be working at all; and how to obtain access to sufficient healthcare and testing, among other things.

The coronavirus cannot detect the wealth of the individuals it infects, and members of the capitalist class have already been impacted. Despite this common human interest in stopping the spread of COVID-19, capitalists have proven unable to direct their resources toward anything other than the continued maintenance of profitability. The New York Federal Reserve is throwing $1.5 trillion at the stock market to try—unsuccessfully—to save it from an abysmal week. While the rich continue worrying about how many millions of dollars of wealth they will have at the end of the week, millions of working-class people are wondering whether they’ll continue to have a job, housing, and healthcare, assuming they are fortunate enough to have all three to begin with.

Under capitalism, where human necessities such as healthcare and housing are made into commodities, workers are coerced into a violent ultimatum: either go to work while sick and risk infecting others, or stay home to get healthy and risk losing your job and ability to survive.

A responsible approach to the current pandemic would see the leadership of nurses, doctors, researchers, and other care providers giving out directives based on public health interests, not the banks and insurance companies gobbling up more money from government subsidies and parasitic fees against workers. It would see basic necessities distributed for free and free medical care for all, because any vulnerability at all during a pandemic puts the whole population at risk. In a reasonable society—which is to say a socialist society—we would mobilize collectively to put a stop to the pandemic; instead, we wait in uncertainty as the economy crashes and our livelihood is risked along with it.

The status quo is untenable, and we must fight to overturn it.

*****

Healthcare

There has never been a more urgent case for Medicare for All than the COVID-19 pandemic. Guaranteed healthcare for all is a basic, necessary step in preventing the further spread of the coronavirus. This includes ensuring access to food, toiletries, and other basic goods. As immediate emergency measures, we need:

  • Expanded testing for anyone experiencing symptoms, free of charge
  • Free treatment and a free vaccine, once one is developed
  • Public investment in research for developing treatment and vaccines
  • Guaranteed refills on prescription drugs
  • Public ownership of all treatments developed to combat COVID-19, to prevent the pharmaceutical industry from price gouging to shore up profits
  • Expanded production of necessary medical equipment
  • Distribution of basic goods free of charge

Housing

Social distancing and quarantine are impossible without stable housing. The capitalist housing crisis will not be solved overnight, but there are several steps that can be taken immediately to mitigate the worst outcomes:

  • Moratorium on evictions
  • Rent and mortgage freeze
  • No utility shut-offs, including wifi
  • Take vacant housing units under public ownership to be provided to unhoused people at no cost
  • Compensation for the thousands of university students who have been evicted from their campuses

Landlords and developers have been getting their subsidies in the form of tax abatements to gentrify the city; it’s time for the working class to get subsidies of our own and ensure housing for all.

Incarceration

While giving out directives to avoid large gatherings, the government has not ceased to lock people in cages, where they are forced into close contact and subject to heightened risk of infection. The state of New York has also relied on prison slavery to produce hand sanitizer, while prohibiting those very workers from using it.

From the colonization of the Americas to the Nazi concentration camps, the immediate cause of death for victims of genocidal violence has often been disease—due to overcrowding and intentional deprivation of health. To prevent more of the violence, we call for:

  • Moratorium on deportations
  • Closing the concentration camps
  • Releasing incarcerated people and provide them with housing

Jobs

Paid sick leave is essential to prevent people from spreading diseases while ill and especially important while waiting for COVID-19 test results. The capitalists will try to offset the hit to the economy by laying off workers and imposing more austerity. Companies cannot continue to hold such power over the lives of their employees; we must instead have:

  • Paid sick leave for 4 weeks without touching vacation time
  • Indefinite paid leave for those caring for a sick loved one
  • Continued pay during any quarantine period
  • A basic income to cover expenses for workers pushed out of their jobs

Internationalism

The pandemic is a global phenomenon that must be tackled on the international level. Rather than closing borders and blocking trade with rival states, we must respond with international solidarity. This means:

  • Distributing medical supplies to countries most impacted by COVID-19
  • Lifting the deadly sanctions on Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, and other states targeted by U.S. empire

*****

COVID-19 highlights our dire need for socialism: an economic system founded on providing for people’s needs, rather than creating profit for the rich. A socialist society is one where economic production and distribution is democratically organized and governed by the working-class, who has the best idea of how to care for itself, and prevent the spread of deadly diseases such as COVID-19.

The government needs to take sweeping action to ensure the safety of all, especially the most vulnerable among us. Every death is blood on the hands of a cruel and incompetent system failing to act. We unfortunately cannot put our faith in waiting for them to take appropriate actions; we must band together and take care of ourselves, our neighbors, and our coworkers.

Workers, such as those employed in the service, hospitality, and healthcare industry, must get organized to ensure that they receive adequate paid sick leave and that people receive medical treatments and testing at no cost. This may entail that workers go on strike and/or shut down their workplaces to prevent the further spread of the virus. This may also entail that medical professionals and patients take control of healthcare facilities to ensure that people are receiving care at no cost.

Retail, logistics, transportation, and distribution workers must ensure that essential goods continue to be stocked in local stores, and to prevent business-owners from price gouging these items. At the same time, workers must have the right to self-isolate and refuse work without risk of retaliation. While distributing basic goods is necessary, we must also ensure the health of workers in these industries and prevent further spread of the virus through logistics.

Tenants and homeowners must organize amongst their neighbors to go on a rent and mortgage strike, and to demand that their utilities not be shut off. Unhoused people must occupy vacant housing units to ensure that they have safe access to shelter.

We encourage everyone to get connected to Mutual Aid Central Ohio to organize a grassroots community response and to fill out their Google form to indicate resources that you need or can offer to others. If you are not in central Ohio, look for a similar network in your own community or consider starting one of your own.

We will fight disaster capitalism with solidarity and socialism.

Central Ohio Revolutionary Socialists is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Network, as is Socialist Resurgence.