It is astonishing how vulnerable our system is to disturbance. A tiny virus and everything stands still. Not because of our strong arm. The trade unions also stand still. No assemblies; no strikes; no May Day celebrations, our traditional day of struggle.
Suddenly, it becomes obvious who and what is “systemically relevant”. People applaud from their balconies and the Swiss Federal Minister (Bundesrat) Parmelin calls for a compensation for health workers, given the extreme circumstances. Even the Swiss liberal newspaper “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” celebrates those “systemically relevant”, while at the same time campaigning for a system restart as soon as possible and almost at any price (of lives). We shall finally go back to work. The shut-down, they say, is far too expensive. We shall return to the usual course of events: to rates of return and profits. To them, profits are more important than health.
Year in, year out, they have been preaching the free market that solves everything. The public service came under pressure and was increasingly exposed to competition. Yet, when it comes to approve generous measures for the sake of the companies, the state is good enough. The good old slogan: “Profits for the private sector, losses for the state…”. Why do actually also those entrepreneur-politicians receive state aid, who constantly vote for tax cuts and austerity programmes? Shouldn’t state aid for companies depend on the consistent implementation of the health measures of the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) and on the fact that no jobs are cut? Or are the aid programmes just thought to protect corporate profits and not people?
Politics is more contradictory. The City of Zurich has put up multilingual posters everywhere: “Stay at home. Please. All of you.” Unless you have to go to work – whether your work is systemically relevant or not. Public workers continue to revise files that could easily wait for one or two months. Policemen and policewomen impose parking fines instead of monitoring compliance with of the new protective measures at the workplaces. Administrative workers sit in their offices with two meters’ distance, but to get to work they have to use public transport – the use of which is at the same time advised against. And while the BAG calls on particularly vulnerable people not to leave their homes and they are totally banned from the use of public transport, only three days later the federal government decides – upon the pressure from employers – that also particularly vulnerable people must get back to work if the employers guarantee that the recommendations for hygiene and social distancing are respected. No controls. The employers are to be trusted.
However, the corona crisis also reveals what is NOT systemically relevant. The bonuses of CEOs and bankers, for example. Instead, we should have a corona bonus for all those who must go to work and risk their health. Or new warplanes and other army equipment on the governments wish list? Are they more systemically relevant than health services and good pensions?
Systemically relevant… Do we actually want this system? A system that has led the world into a climate disaster? A system that leaves millions of people to die of hunger and disease? A system that doesn’t esteem vital (women’s) work and – if at all – pays miserable wages? Instead of complaining about “systemic relevance”, we should start to reflect on what is actually really important, what we really need, and what is worthwhile to live and fight for. What is life-relevant? That’s what matters.
Therefore: For social proximity and solidarity while keeping distance. For a militant May Day that focuses on the people and their living and working conditions. All the rest is irrelevant. In any system.