Solidarity is more than just sitting at home doing nothing, wearing a mask when leaving the house, watching others and pointing fingers without even bothering to look into the life, health or financial situation of that particular person, community or country. Solidarity is easy that way. Even easy to recognize: Look, I am wearing a mask, therefore I care. In the western world, we pat ourselves on the back for doing nothing. After all, we are winning the war against the coronavirus and you can be either with us or against us. Truth be told, staying at home just won’t cut it.
Let’s show some solidarity to those in financial despair
Granted, enough is being done with regards to an actual disease. Keep your physical distance, by all means, stay at home completely, but show some empathy and support for those people who can’t afford this luxury. There are people depending on jobs that require them to leave the house and there are many more people (on a worldwide scale) who lost their jobs completely. Official numbers focus on the formal job market but in many so-called “developing” countries large parts of the population hardly get by with very little income from informal jobs on a day-to-day basis.
Just to give an example, we are still enjoying our physical distancing on the beautiful island of Bali (Warum auf Bali das Toilettenpapier nicht knapp wird). As the tourism sector basically collapsed, thousands of people lost their official jobs in hotels and restaurants – and there is no social security. An even greater number works in informal jobs as well as business linked to people visiting the island. A single mom with two kids, whom we had the pleasure to work with some years ago, is usually taking care of children. These are kids of short to long-term visitors, many of whom are Australians. She has not had any clients since March. Many share this fate, for example, tour operators, taxi drivers, vendors, and even fishermen … Keep in mind that in a lot of countries the savings of the local population may last a week or two. After that, the simple approach of “stay at home” doesn’t look so simple anymore.
However, also in the so-called “developed” world has plenty of people in a similar situation. It seems that we have been trained really well in ignoring the ones less fortunate than ourselves – be it in our own community or in other parts of the world. I have seen so many people raging on about staying at home and wearing their masks, I have hardly seen anybody sharing their direct support to people in need – be it organizing shopping for the elderly, or volunteering for other work. Something which is actually possible in many countries such as Germany or the Netherlands. Supporting their local shops by buying vouchers or checking for possibilities to order with them online, donating money or goods – just to give some examples.
Let’s show some solidarity to those in essential jobs
By that, we don’t mean clapping at your windows and balconies once a week or even every day. Let’s make sure the essential work is paid fairly. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office has announced extra pay in 2020 for essential workers earning less than $2,500 per month. In New Zealand Foodstuffs announced:
Supermarket workers will be paid 10 percent extra for working through the lockdown, while vulnerable workers can stay home on paid special leave.
These are to most shining examples and a great start. But why are these increases temporary? Should essential work not be valued all the time and not just in the heat of a crisis? In any case, there are many more countries that should follow suit. Let’s get online and search for campaigns, initiatives and political programs to support those our society depends on, be it with voluntary help, donations, a signature or the next vote. In any case, they deserve more than just a smile, wave and a thank you like the German Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, suggested (more on labournet.de).
In Germany, every citizen had to follow physical distancing rules in their private lives while health and hygiene at the workplace were left to the employer, like Amazon, one of the few obvious profiteers of the crisis. When all local shops had to close down, Amazon’s orders went up and more people got hired – whenever possible via temps agencies to have even fewer responsibilities for these essential workers. Amazon warehouses, in the USA and elsewhere, turned into hot spots for the spread of the virus.
Another one is the meat industry, where working conditions, salaries, and communal housing are not just highly questionable with regard to the ongoing situation. At the moment meat factories are among the workplaces where the virus is spreading, while in the future might very well become the source of another pandemic. But, of course, it is much easier to point fingers at Asia’s wet markets than question our own production and consumption – the meat industry only being one of them.
Let’s show some solidarity to people and societies
At the moment it feels like everyone that is critical of any aspect of the current measurements is labelled a conspiracy theorist who wants to get back to life as it used to be. Rest assured, we don’t want to go back to “normal”. Normal was destructive and distorted. Let’s shape a new future without only having personal gain in mind.
Let’s start by making sure that our government’s aid is actually going to people and the families that need it the most. Of course, also businesses have to survive this crisis. But corporations that are laying off a big part of their workforce while paying out bonuses to their managers or dividends to their shareholders are not in need of financial help from the state. Hence they shouldn’t get any government support, as Sweden and the European Union demonstrated. Several countries have also exempted corporations registered in tax havens from the financial aid programme, such as France, Poland and Denmark. Rightly so, these corporations are avoiding sharing a part of their profits via taxes and can use these same savings to get through hard times now.
Some countries roll back environmental policies as if they were luxury goods we can not afford right now. We actually need strong environmental protection and incentives for different forms of production, as well as alternative patterns for consumption and sharing the wealth, now more than ever. At the moment, there is a lot of the tax payer’s money being pumped into the economy. So, let’s take the economy back as a tool to serve the people and protect nature. Let’s stop the economisation of each and every aspect of society and our lives.
The last months have clearly shown that the sole focus on economic factors in the health sector and major parts of the national risk management leads to the fact that most countries were simply not prepared properly. They did know about the risk of a pandemic as shown by press reports (USA or the UK as examples), it was just not valued as important as outsourcing, privatising and cutting down costs to the extent that all flexibility was lost and quick management of the situation severely impaired. No emergency plans, not enough hospital beds for intensive care, and no masks or other protective gear in stock …