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All work is essential: Celebrating Workers' Day

At the beginning of the crisis, the idea of “essential workers” came to light. These were workers whose skills in a time of crisis were most vital to saving people’s lives and keeping the backbone of the world economies functioning. This rightfully so has brought the importance of nurse, doctors, drivers, civil servants to the centre of attention. Slowly but surely, the centrality of work and the importance of solidarity and workers has come to the forefront. This has cascaded into driving a new wave of worker politics and consciousness, and out of a dire crisis, there are things to celebrate and build on for workers.

It was necessary but let us not forget how unexpected this was. After decades of under-funding, governments across the world ran around to start adequately funding the healthcare sector. The have been powerful demands and calls to ensure the safe protection of workers at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19. Doctors and nurse in most countries are being given more protection than ever before. This culture will inadvertently spread to other working conditions who need it most. A safe place to work is again becoming essential rather it being a privilege provided to those fortunate to work in certain industries.

While the term essential worker has been touted, we are beginning to realise that all work is essential. There are parents who have spent some time on the phone during this crisis calling their domestic help enquiring what is their children’s favourite food is. Vendors’ vital role in distributing goods and food through the cities of developing nations has become more apparent. Even more revolutionary is the fact that these last two months has been the most time men have spent at home and actually engaged in social reproductive work such as cooking, cleaning, and helping their children to read and write. These small examples are testament to how Covid-19 on a local level is challenging us to re-think our work lives and the value we place on other people’s labour.

On a national and international scale, Covid-19 has shown without a shadow of a doubt that the belief systems and ideologies that inform our government leaders are central to adequately protecting and improving people’s lives. Forbes came out with a brilliant piece on how women led nations have responded better to the Covid-19 crisis. Besides being women, there was another trend that most, if not all those women had which is that they came from left leaning, worker supporting, socialist parties. There is the Labour Party in New Zealand and a centre-left coalition in Denmark. Margaret Thatcher showed us in the 1980s that Even when the nations are not women led but have worker issues at the centre, they have done well. Sweden has done remarkably well and in South Africa, ANC which is in a governing alliance with labour has pushed forward some progressive responses to the crisis. The parties and leaders have consulted, listened to civil society and scientific experts, changed budgetary allocations to provide social protection for workers and firms and have been honest and transparent about the virus and its spread.

Those nations are a marked contrast to some of the worst performing nations. Donald Trump in USA, Bolsanaro in Brazil, Modi in India, Boris Johnson in the UK, Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe all share the traits of supporting capitalists and their interests rather than pushing forward policies that protect workers. Covid-19 is showing the cracks in these Presidents ideals. Their legitimacy and ability to hold the highest positions in office are being constantly questioned. Workers, formal or informal, men or women, should continuously challenge these leaders during and after the Covid-19 crisis. The militant, solidarity, revolutionary spirit that workers hold needs to lead the way as it has done over the last 150 years across the globe.

Worker’s day in 2020 has come at a time where the world is in a flux. Covid-19 has completely upended basic aspects about work that we ignored. It has us questioning what the world will look like after we have brought Covid-19 under control. There has been one constant thread through it all which the centrality of worker and a politics that believes in protecting workers and advancing workers’ rights because we have finally realized that we are all workers and it is in our best interests to support each other against the capitalist forces of power. The old maxims are gaining another jolt of strength, ‘workers of the world unite…an injury to one is an injury to all…we are stronger together.’

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