Super-spreaders
Monday, 25 May 2020 17:25

Super-spreaders

Published in Poetry

Super-Spreaders

by Mark Kirkbride

Contagion wants to shake your hand. Now you’re ‘it’
and you don’t even know it. When everyone else
could see it coming, the Prime Minister dismissed it.
With more time to prepare than most around the world,
he squandered it all, sleep-walking into disaster
with missed COBRA meetings, warnings disregarded,
then talk of ‘herd immunity’ and ‘losing loved ones
before their time’ as if sacrificing the sick
and vulnerable to a lottery of death
was a plan. Now the Government’s playing catch-up
to avoid a backlash as a silent wave of death
sweeps the country, taking mums, dads, husbands, grans, thousands
upon thousands more than the official figure
because if you weren’t tested you didn’t die of it.
The dead nurses, who worked 12-hour shifts, caught it
on their own time, not due to binbag PPE
after the hollowing out of the NHS.
You see, the Conservatives are super-spreaders
of lies. The problem is, they just don’t care. They read us
to see how normal human beings should react.
So take off your Brexit blinkers. COVID – the Tories
are on it, they’re all over it, it’s on them, they own it.

Science in a time of pandemic
Monday, 25 May 2020 17:25

Science in a time of pandemic

Published in Science & Technology

Helena Sheehan continues the Culture Matters and Morning Star series on the Covid-19 crisis and various cultural activities, by looking at its effect on science. Photo: Dave McNally

OF THE many dimensions of the present pandemic, swamping our lives and suspending our normal reality, one of the most central to our culture has been the role of science. Every report on our all-virus-all-the-time news references science and the new media stars are epidemiologists, virologists, mathematicians, physicians and public health officials. My Facebook newsfeed has been dominated by amateur epidemiologists.

I do not mean this disparagingly. The times demand that we all inform ourselves and allow specialist knowledge to permeate our collective consciousness to find our way through this crisis. There have been all sorts of challenges to the fast-developing science of Covid-19, ranging from religious immunity to 5G susceptibility, but the over-riding story has been trust in science.

There was massive public pushback against the Johnson-Cummings flagging of a poorly conceived herd-immunity strategy and the Trump suggestion of disinfectant injections. In Ireland, where I live, the health minister — grandstanding with constant interviews and photo-ops — was quickly forced to backtrack and apologise after pronouncing on the 18 previous coronaviruses where no vaccine had been found. And there was disappointment in Africa when the Tanzanian president, with a PhD in chemistry, looked more to prayer than science and supported spurious theories on origins and remedies.

Science, of course, is not a simple matter. Science is always inextricably enmeshed in politics, economics, philosophy and culture. There is a long Marxist tradition of exploring science in all the complexity of its interactions, standing in contrast to the myopia of positivism and the obfuscation of postmodernism.
Generations of Marxists, from Marx and Engels, through Bernal, Haldane and Caudwell, to Gould, Levins and Lewontin, have embraced the cognitive capacity of science while highlighting the problematic shaping of science under capitalism.

Marxism explains this pandemic in terms of the whole network of interacting forces that have created it. Epidemiologists have been warning that such a pandemic was inevitable. Marxist writers who put epidemiology in a wider social-political-economic context, such as Mike Davis and Rob Wallace, have been clearly communicating to a wider public that industrialised agriculture, wildlife trafficking, hyperglobalisation, degradation of public health systems and big pharma-dominated research were creating the conditions for such a pandemic. Just as the 1918 flu spread by mobilisation for war, so Covid-19 has proliferated along the global circuitry of capital.

A Marxist approach also clarifies what is to be done. The current crisis demands that the priorities of public health override all other considerations — not only individual liberty but proprietary science and medicine. It thus runs counter to the whole trajectory of capitalism and points to the necessity for socialism.

This pandemic highlights the need for a global, public and open framework for science, focused on the urgency of finding preventative, diagnostic and therapeutic responses to this virus, particularly a vaccine. It should transcend all considerations of prizes, patents and profits. It requires transparent and international sharing of all relevant experimental and clinical information. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is the obvious body to co-ordinate this effort and the biggest obstacle to the optimal fulfilment of its mission is the US government.

The Trump administration has been negotiating with a German pharmaceutical firm to develop a vaccine for US-only use, pirating personal protection equipment en route to other nations and undermining and then defunding the WHO. This runs against everything the world needs today, with the US accusing China of trying to steal its research on vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, when clearly all such research should be in the public domain.

There is much media speculation on life after lockdown, some of it very shallow, but some of it more penetrating. In querying what has changed in us, in our society, as a result of this experience, many have said they do not want to return to our former normality. They have become increasingly aware of the devastation that capitalism has wrought on our bodies, societies and planet.

Things we were told were impossible suddenly became possible in these islands and elsewhere in this crisis — an end to a two-tier health service, increased funding for biomedical research and clinical resources, a ban on evictions, a rent freeze and a reduction in carbon emissions.

We have lived, however partially and temporarily, in a scenario where public health and welfare overrode the imperatives of the market. The government implementing these measures in Ireland were also responsible for running down our public health capacity and being on the other side of the class struggle. They will want to row back and it is the responsibility of the left, with considerable public support, to resist this.

Of the many memorable sights and sounds that have flowed through social media during this period, I could not refrain from sharing an image from a demonstration of New York health workers for this article. As you can see, its main banner reads CAPITALISM: DO NOT RESUCITATE.

The Unopened University: Stay Alert, Boris!
Monday, 25 May 2020 17:25

The Unopened University: Stay Alert, Boris!

Published in Poetry

Overacting, or The Unopened University

by David Erdos

And so the Unopen University fails as its peri-pathetic
Lecturer garbles. Transmitting graphs and equations
That would set the mathematically untrigged into spin;

A series of mixed ratios equal R over the rate of dissent
Subdivided, before what is in blue times the yellow,
Can, to the power of shite, infect twins. Or some other

Nonsense that shows no clarity, only static,
As hints were leaked of announcements that would
Returns us all to clear air. Before a broadcast that singed

Everyone confused, watching. By a form of brute
Aping Churchill, with a delivery so emphatic
That it seemed to press once wild hair. ‘Stay Alert’,

He said. Where? And how for that matter.
Alert at home or out jogging now that apparently
We all can? But just as long as we’re related? I see.

Or rather I don’t. What’s the question? Are we to now
Jog with passports, or have our DNA stamped across us
As the Street Block Corona Bill tests for clans?

Those who can’t work at home can go to work,
But must bike there. So does that mean as I say
This that the Tour de London streets that were

Empty will now resemble that famous race
Through the Alps? Or will millions of builders
Now walk from one far away zone to another,

While at the same time keeping distance
From the clatter of traffic, and the greasing
Of wheels. I have doubts. I have proper visions

Now of the past as pennyfarthings crest above
Scooters. I see pony traps, horse and carriage
Crammed across Kilburn High Road. And on

The Uxbridge Road a relay from Hillingdon
Down to Acton, as frustrated plumbers
Stop and start and stop. Hope’s borrowed.

Tonight’s lecturer stunned with his lack of clarity
And false promise. It was a tease, a temptation
To make the rabbits twitch in the hutch.

Hotel owners despaired, along with restaurateurs
And pub landlords. As others had no idea
Of what happens when you have moved so far

Beyond what’s enough. Give the public what
They want is the trick, while you in fact
Give them nothing. People will not be as tidy

As you think or expect them to be. For further
Traps can be set if you encourage past
Experience as nostalgia in yet another attempt

To win over, the fact deprived who stay squeezed.
The toothpaste tube empties out, as does the piggy
Banks and the wallet. Those eager to live risk reversals

If a false start yanks their frail lead. And Scotland
Does not agree, along with Wales and Ireland.
A four nation state hung, drawn and quartered,

Along these badly sketched lines can’t be freed.
Stay Alert: More design from the slogan smeared
Cummings. Stay Alert Twats is more like it, as you

Can see the sneer as he writes, on his little
Whiteboard, or iphone, containing pictures perhaps
Of the gravestones, each empty space filled

With scribble, which is conditional, naturally.
And so the rhetoric came. And the lecture screen
Remained empty. Devoid of real information

He talked to us, liminally. Everything remained
Vague or faint despite the overarchedness
Of his acting. He was both Henry the Fluff

And a Falsestaff roaming around ruined fields.
Which he almost ‘Blaked’ or ‘Dunkirked,’

As he tried to rouse the long fallen. Who must not
Rise but keep rocking. Pass our tests to keep failing.
Numb yourselves down. That’s the deal.

VE Day
Monday, 25 May 2020 17:25

VE Day

Published in Poetry

VE Day

by Paul Francis, with image by Laura Moore

After it’s over, time to pause for breath.
It takes some working out, the “what comes next?”
The grim familiarity with death
can not be cancelled with some pious text
and we don’t want to end up like before.

Yes, it was give and take, but too much give
from us, and too much take from them; the war
exposed that gap, and we don’t want to live
as nodding donkeys, doing as we’re told.

We’ve done our bit, and now we want our say
in sorting out the future. When we’re old
we want our children to create a better day,
using a fairer portion of our wealth
to build foundations for the nation’s health.

After the pandemic, culture should not be the same again
Monday, 25 May 2020 17:25

After the pandemic, culture should not be the same again

Published in Cultural Commentary

Jack Newsinger continues the series, jointly published on Culture Matters and the Morning Star, on the effects of the Covid-19 crisis on culture, sketching out what needs to change and why. Can artists, writers and other creatives form closer alliances with the labour movement? The accompanying image is by Jonpaul Kirvan.

Culture matters more than ever, as Mike Quille pointed out in the introduction to this series of articles. Yet  pandemic has completely shut down public arts and culture in the UK. Theatres, cinemas, libraries, music venues (including Glastonbury Festival’s 50th anniversary) – all closed until further notice, and likely to be some of the last to be allowed to reopen, with enormous impacts on the people whose livelihoods depend upon functioning cultural and creative industries.

We are all used to the glamour of the film and television industries, or the pomp of the theatre and opera, but it is worth emphasising that many of these workers are precariously employed on short term contracts often with little security or savings – the arts and creative industries are disproportionately reliant on a highly skilled, dedicated and passionate, but precarious workforce.

The people who serve coffee in the cafes are very often also the people on the stages; the guitarist in the band has also lost her other income teaching music lessons in a school. This ability to quickly contract when income disappears is how cultural organisations have learnt to keep functioning in Britain’s competitive cultural economy, but it can be brutal for many of the people who actually make culture, just like the stresses and strains faced by workers in the NHS, care homes and other public services which have suffered years of exposure to austerity economics and the imposition of capitalist rationality.

As in the rest of society, the COVID-19 crisis has made visible the weaknesses and inequalities in the arts and creative industries that were already present under the surface if anyone cared to look hard enough. Unsurprisingly, the way that the crisis has so far played out has mirrored these inequalities. There is increasing evidence that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people are suffering a disproportionate financial and employment penalty due to the lockdown. These inequalities will intersect with class, age, disability and region to compound and deepen the already significant disparities that exist in access to the arts and culture, for both producers and audiences. The danger is that commissioners used to seeing ‘minority arts’ and working-class participation as something of a side endeavour will retreat into the ‘safe’ zone of the ‘old boys’ network’ with a resulting narrowing of participation, vitality and cultural diversity. 

The COVID-19 crisis has shown the cracks and weaknesses in the system. But it also might reveal ways to overcome them. ‘Lockdown culture’ is forcing makers and audiences to find new ways to connect with each other. Some of these seek to reproduce existing capitalist relationships of production remotely. For example, the Artists' Support Pledge, in which artists sell their work through Instagram, promising that once they reach £1000 of sales they will spend £200 on another artist’s work.

The crisis pushes to the forefront new ideas about how we should fund the arts. Do we want a precarious commercial model that mirrors the inequalities of the market, or can we find more egalitarian ways of providing stability for cultural producers? Can this be an opportunity to overcome the pathological elitism and lack of diversity of the arts and cultural establishment? The Arts Council moved relatively quickly to announce a package of £160m to support cultural organisations and individuals. This is an essential lifeline but it appears to be targeted at maintaining the existing cultural landscape, with larger, prestigious organisations that serve metropolitan middle-class tastes taking priority (as they always have).

In this vacuum of new ideas, it is the spirit of self-help and community organisation that offers the way forward. Debates around Universal Basic Income have become more relevant. As noted by the artist and activist Stephen Pritchard, “Is the time coming when art will finally embrace self-organised alternatives rooted in ethical practice, equitable living, commoning, fair pay, openness and hope? Can art help rebuild our lives and our communities? Can it reimagine ways of being and living together after a global pandemic that surely changes everything?”

Three things emerge from all this so far. Firstly, professional artists, filmmakers, writers, makers, and all cultural practitioners are also workers, ultimately, and need collective representation and a strong welfare state. There must surely be potential for closer links and mutual support between cultural practitioners and the labour movement, given their shared values and belief that the arts and culture generally can be a liberating force.

Secondly, the importance of looking to the people about how the arts and culture can change. People are showing that they will still put their creativity out there whether they get paid or not, which says something about the importance of the human capacity for connecting through culture beyond commercial relationships.

Finally, quarantine has demonstrated the importance of internet connectivity, and culture is flourishing online, whether it be watching a concert on Instagram live, learning how to paint on Facebook, or home art-schooling your children using the Tate’s online galleries. This is surely to be celebrated. If only we had a government that would guarantee free broadband for all…..

Beak Doctors
Monday, 25 May 2020 17:25

Beak Doctors

Published in Poetry

Beak Doctors

by Alan Morrison

We're wandering about by day
Keeping each other at bay
Some of us wearing face masks
Carrying out our daily tasks
Of getting some shopping in
Without touching anything -
Wiping down the supermarket baskets
With disinfectant
Like over-scrupulous neurotics
Or priests polishing communion cups

(One wonders if those orange tops
Will ever be back in the shops)

Meanwhile pinstripes in Whitehall
Are beginning to doubt all
Their weird science, Sage guidance,
"Herd immunity", nudge units -

27,000 souls departed and counting -
It's a strange kind of social engineering
Wearing down the generations' engines -

Is it the underequipped nurses
And sacrificial carers
Or the newly departed we're supposed to be clapping?

Is this virus really a leveller
Or simply a revealer?

Our enemy is invisible,
But then it always is, as is evil,
As is the longest serving visitation
That ever descended on this nation:
The Conservative virus -
For which there's never been a vaccination -

Ironic socialism
Of Keynesian economics
Tories can only countenance
If they don't have to see the consequence

We are all anchorites now

We must keep apart to keep together

(Apart from the unemployed
Who are encouraged to be fruit pickers)

And in this strange transparent plague
The shape of our salvation's vague
But a shadow proctor
The grotesque shape of a beak doctor
Pecking at the buttercups
Pecking at the buttercups

The buttercups in meadows

May Day Greetings from California
Monday, 25 May 2020 17:25

May Day Greetings from California

Published in Festivals/ Events

The Steel Bones of Our Cities

by Fred Voss

The COVID-19 virus is spreading across California
and we are at our vertical milling machines
our horizontal boring mill machines
our 12-foot-long engine lathes
like we were
through 1929 stock market crash
total eclipse of the sun
Einstein overthrowing the universe
with his pen
Lindbergh back from flying across the Atlantic smiling through showers
of New York City confetti
our hands on the machine handles
our feet on the concrete floor
our eyes on the tin walls
a thousandth of an inch is still a thousandth of an inch
chips of steel still fall from the edges
of our cutting tools
carving faucet
and wheel
red-hot rivets still hammered into Golden Gate Bridge
waves throwing their arms around rocks
sailors
studying stars cats
still finding their way across cities back home to bowls
of cat food
the COVID-19 virus has the streets of our cities in its grip
we don’t blink an eye
or miss a beat
making pipe to carry water or easel
to hold canvas
a Gershwin melody is still a Gershwin melody
a falling star still a reason
to kiss as we carve
keys and wheelchair wheels and soup spoons and clown horns
out of shiny steel and brass and aluminum
a laugh is still a laugh
a marriage ring is still a marriage ring
I-beams still the steel bones
of our cities
and a steel block gripped between the steel jaws of a vise on our machine table
might still help make
a new world.

Breaking Through the Tin Walls

by Fred Voss

As our machines chew and slice and groan
through steel and aluminum and bronze
I hope
one of my fellow machinists is dreaming of a union strike
that can make an owner walk into a machine shop and really listen to men
with black machine grease on their hands and heads held high like they’ll never take a back seat
to any man
I hope
one of my fellow machinists dreams of the day when these blank tin factory walls
we’ve been hidden behind all our lives
fall
and we begin to become as famous
as pundits and tv clowns
and kings
I hope
one dreams of the day when machinists don’t have to have grip contests
wrestling each other to the concrete floor to prove
they are men
when machinists can bring bouquets of yellow daffodils into the shop
and proudly set them on their sheet metal workbenches
beside oily shop rags and not
be laughed at
or hang
a Van Gogh on a tin wall because they know Van Gogh would love to paint
our green engine lathes and sweaty faces
I dream of Buddha and Mandela and Whitman
sitting in front of machines on stools in front of us
because nirvana and freedom and beauty
have no need to wear
a white shirt
and the fall of a government can start with a machinist
laying down a micrometer
and I write these poems because Neruda’s father worked on the railroad
Jack London and Herman Melville were sailors and loved the sea
Dostoevsky hauled 150-pound loads of rocks in his arms in a Siberian prison camp
and every man who ever carved a train wheel out of steel
also needs to carve out
a dream.

Author's Note:

May Day greetings from California.

We are the ones at the machines, in the mines, at the desks,
behind the wheels, we are the ones
with the jackhammers and spatulas in our hands
we are the ones waiting for the day
we can make
a better world.

Class and culture in the age of Coronavirus
Monday, 25 May 2020 17:25

Class and culture in the age of Coronavirus

Published in Cultural Commentary

Dennis Broe traces the links between class and the coronavirus, and parallels in cultural works. Plus ca change........

In many ways the rearrangement of life in the wake of the global impact of the Cornoavirus has created a brave new world. And in other ways, the arrangement has reinforced the cowardly old one.

Class differences during widespread global lockdowns and quarantines have in some ways hardened. There is a small minority of a rich class which passes this temporary isolation in comfort, having quickly evacuated the contagion of the city centres for sometimes palatial estates in the countryside. There is a sheltered middle class, many of whom are able to continue to work and earn online, though often at a diminished capacity. And finally there is an unsheltered working class, who must risk their lives in order to earn their daily bread.  

Here in Europe and particularly in France these distinctions are as profound as elsewhere, with perhaps a million people fleeing the high-contagion centre of Paris for their country homes, with new middle-class family subscribers flocking to the just opened Disney+ streaming service while cheering on medical workers each night at 8pm from their balconies.

CVCornoavirus Hospitals and Nurses

Finally, there are not only working-class nurses but also cashiers, that most unsung group of workers, 90 percent of whom are women and many of whom are from minority ethnic groups. They go to work each day and come home to crowded apartments in the Parisian suburbs, where the police are using the excuse of not having proper quarantine papers to assault these women’s children.

Europe, with its well-developed welfare state, might seem to be better equipped to combat the virus than the U.S., with its hollowed-out state folowing the Reagan-Bush-Clinton neoliberal attack. However, Europe also has experienced wave after wave of shocks and attacks on its social compact. For example, a French cashier noted that while doctors and nurses are being cheered today by both the people and the state, “Only a few months ago,” in the wake of a protest against the cutting of hospital budgets by the Macron government, “They were teargassed for daring to rally in the streets”.

CV DD

The impact of the virus echoes Daniel Defoe’s historical novel Journal of the Plague Year, written after the deadly assault of an earlier virus on 17th century London, where nearly 15 percent of the city perished. In observing the parallels, one wonders if these are because of the similar nature of each disease or because this new era of greed-take-all capitalism has hurtled us back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, where protections for workers were almost nonexistent.

Upper-Class Quarantine: Flight to the Country and Wide Open Spaces

In Defoe’s account when the plague first appeared, “nothing was to be seen but wagons and carts, with goods, women, servants, children…; coaches filled with people of the better sort, and horsemen attending them, and all hurrying away.” His comment on this exodus of the rich from the city to escape the disease is that “they spread it in the country” and had they not fled, the plague would not have “been carried into so many country towns and houses as it was, to the great damage, and indeed to the ruin, of [an] abundance of people.”

Likewise, in France, where there are three million second homes, just before the Macron lockdown, Paris trains and highways were jammed with those exiting the city. After the lockdown the health minister had to beg Parisians to stay at home, rather than fleeing to the rural areas and especially to Normandy which was relatively untouched by the virus. One Brittany resident then saw these urban visitors on the beaches “in cool outfits as if they were on holiday,” adding “Quarantine is always for other people”.

Meanwhile Monaco, surrounded by the European virus epicentre countries of France, Italy and Spain, had (as of recently) only 60 cases total and 4 deaths. This country is the wealthiest in the world, with 30 percent of the population made up of millionaires and with a state that could afford to close the casinos, turn away cruise ships, and furlough for 90 days all its employees.

CV para

Elsewhere the French online “faschosphere” was instead quick to blame immigrants for the virus. While others across the world noticed the similarities of the situation with this year’s Academy Award-winner Parasite, with its lower-class family living in a flooded basement, “stealing” internet reception and its upper class, corporate family living in a spacious mansion surrounded by acres of green lawns.

Middle-Class Quarantine: Sheltered in Place and Working Online

The disappearing middle class is sheltered at home, many able to at least pursue some semblance of their business through Zoom, the online meeting app. The company has thrived, going from 10 million to 200 million users as have many online businesses and this has no doubt improved the connectivity of the world. However, as Shoshana Zuboff claims in her monumental work The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, the secret of the internet is that its “evil design aims to exploit human weakness” by creating interfaces that “‘make users emotionally involved in doing something that benefits the designer more than them.’”

Zoom has already been accused of selling data to Facebook and recently hired a Facebook executive as an outsider advisor. The mass use of Zoom is the Holy Grail of selling user data to advertisers. For a long time, there has not been enough data on user’s emotions to match with their words to create more detailed profiles. The Zoom meetings supply that data in abundance, and will increase the quality of data sold or rented that can be used to supply more detailed consumer profiles. As Zuboff says, we grow ever closer to a B.F. Skinner-type “technology of behavior” that would “enable the application of …[surveillance] methods across entire populations.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. Chinese monetization of internet traffic, for example, doesn’t just package data to advertisers. The online service Lizhi creates its revenue stream by offering users the option of buying virtual gifts in which to shower their podcast favorites, as was the case with the Japanese girl group AKB48. Ironically it is China, which does not try to match the US in the efficiency of its consumer surveillance, which is constantly accused of being a thought-control, totalitarian society.

Working-Class Quarantine: Working and At Risk 

While wealthy Parisians were fleeing the city, in poor banlieus across the Peripherique such as Saint Denis, where the cashiers, sanitation workers, and health care workers live, there is “an exceptional excess” of deaths from the virus.This is similar to the disproportionate deaths in heavily African-American populated places in the U.S., such as areas of The Bronx and in the immigrant communities of Queens.

Defoe described a similar situation where servants who “were obliged to send up and down the streets for necessaries” contracted the disease. Similarly, restaurant workers along with the delivery service carriers put their lives in danger each day to bring food to those economically above them. Just as in the present pandemic, where in the French supermarkets new recruits from the suburbs abound, so too Defoe detailed a situation where “though the plague was chiefly among the poor, yet were the poor the most venturous and fearless of it, and went about their employment with a sort of brutal courage; ran into any business which they could get employment in, though it was the most hazardous.”

CVLes Miserables

Meanwhile, the police, whose often casual brutality is detailed in this year’s Caesar winner for best French film Les Miserables, have been cited by Human Rights Watch for “unacceptable and illegal” behavior for several beatings of young men from this polyglot area. These victims were accosted because they did or did not have their “attestation,” the legal paper required for leaving the home. The middle class face a fine of 138 euros for not having their papers – the working class face state violence.

In Marseilles, McDonald’s workers, led by the local union, the Force Ouvriere, decided to distribute the company’s food to the poorest districts of that city and to use the closed-down restaurant as a central site for collecting and preparing food. McDonald’s issued a statement opposing the measure.

Similarly, at a Crenshaw McDonald’s in South Central Los Angeles – one of the poorest districts in the US – when the workers staged a spontaneous action demanding they be sent home for a two-week quarantine, the protest was broken up by the police.

Amazon, one of the companies most extravagantly profiting from the quarantine, was temporarily forced to halt its operations in France when a court ruled the company had failed to adequately protect workers. The case was heard because several employees walked off the job, citing a law that allows workers to leave an unsafe workplace and receive full pay. In response, the company criticized the union that brought the case.

CVDelivery Drivers Under Fire in Ken Loachs Sorry We Missed You

What could be more prescient in the light of these protests by a most exploited workforce than Ken Loach’s latest film Sorry We Missed You, about how a delivery driver for an Amazon-type firm is being driven to despair because of the inhuman pressure put on him and his family to produce.

The quarantine also called attention to the importance of seasonal workers in Europe in terms of harvesting crops. In France, with an embargo against non-Europeans coming into the country, 200,000 workers are needed to replace this seasonal workforce to harvest fruit and vegetables in places like the Loire and Alsace to feed the urban population. These workers come from central and eastern Europe as well as from Tunisia and Morocco and most labor under impoverished conditions and leave after the harvest. Jean Renoir’s 1935 film Toni which recounts the tragic life and fate of one of these workers coming across the Pyrenees from Spain is unfortunately still relevant today.

CVGerman builders in Bulgaria in Western

Germany uses 300,000 day-labourers a year to harvest its crops, mostly from Romania, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Hungary. One of the films that most accurately tracks this discrepancy in income and the disdain of more affluent Germans for these easterners is Western which recounts the prejudice of a group of German workers building a power plant in Bulgaria.

To combat this problem, Portugal granted temporary citizenship status to immigrants while in the US, where the federal government is floating a measure to detain undocumented immigrants indefinitely during “emergencies,” Americans bought almost 2 million guns in March, their own Wild West solution to what they view as the immigrant problem and the anarchy they are afraid will come. The Trump administration seconded this solution, declaring weapons stores to be an essential business that should stay open during the quarantine.

Arundhati Roy’s eloquent description of workers on the roads in India where “our towns and megacities began to extrude their working-class citizens – their migrant workers — like so much unwanted accrual,” and where workers with no other resources had to begin a long walk home to their villages.  As they walked, she noted, “some were beaten brutally and humiliated by the police, who were charged with strictly enforcing the curfew” .

Readers might eerily have confused Roy’s description for Defoe’s, since they were so similar. Defoe says:

The constables everywhere were upon their guard not so much, it seems, to stop people passing by as to stop them from taking up their abode in their towns…[because of the “improbable” possibility] that the poor people in London, being distressed and starved for want of work, and want for bread, were up in arms and had raised a tumult, and that they would come out to all the towns round to plunder for bread.

Recurring class tensions have also broken out between states. Before it finally passed a European relief bill, the hardest-hit countries – Spain and Italy – were proposing that the EU issue joint bonds, called Eurobonds or Coronabonds, which would spread the cost of the economic damage caused by the virus among at least the 19 countries of the common currency. The wealthier northern countries, led by Austria, Germany and The Netherlands, refused. It was similar to these countries’ refusal to cancel the debt and instead impose austerity budgets on the countries of the south, after the 2008 crisis.

CVLatvian emigre in Brussels in Oleg

This disparity on a personal level is well documented in Oleg, one of last year’s best films. The film recounts the story of a butcher from Latvia who emigrates to Brussels, the EU capital and centre of its wealth and affluence, quickly loses his job, and is bullied to join the criminal underground in order to survive. Oleg’s individual path is similar to the national path of countries such as Greece.

Finally, to return to Defoe’s description of the plague, the virulence of that disease hastened the appearances of all kinds of charlatans coming out of the woodwork. Because of fear, working people ran to “fortune tellers, cunning-men and astrologers” and London swarmed with “a wicked generation of pretenders to magic, to the black art… and “to a thousand worse dealings with the devil.”

The difference in this stage of neoliberalism, where the state exists to serve the interests of financial capital – the banks, the real estate and insurance industries who the US government bailed out – is that the con-men are running the show.

Thus Trump,  snake-oil salesman and charlatan-in-chief, suggested that people take hydroxychloroquine, an untested drug that could produce fatal heart arrhythmia and that one report claimed Trump had invested in. Trump called the drug a “game changer,” and told his viewers to “Take it. What do you have to lose?”

In Defoe’s time, the King’s court fled the city and allowed lower civil servants to bear the brunt of dealing with the plague. Unfortunately, in our time, the court remains in the White House, and continues the dangerous and deadly process of urging the country to quickly re-open so that the state does not have to subsidize the people, and can continue to ignore worker unemployment and misery. 

Null and void: tackling the commercialisation of sport
Monday, 25 May 2020 17:25

Null and void: tackling the commercialisation of sport

Published in Sport

Mark Perryman argues that the coronavirus crisis has exposed the commercialisation and corruption of sport; that the current football season should be declared 'null and void'; and that radical change is needed when we emerge from the crisis, involving the revaluation of our public services

When we're not even at the peak of the health crisis caused by the coronavirus, the rush to resume sport has been for the most part unseemly. Speculation as to how this will be done has been badly thought-out. The selfishness, with honourable exceptions, is revealing. At the moment, sport doesn’t seem to have bought into the ‘all in this together’ philosophy that we’re hoping against hope will get us through the crisis.

It’s not often that I agree with Karren Brady, Sun columnist, Tory peer and vice chair of West Ham F.C., but when she argued that the best option for football was to ‘null and void’ the 2019-20 football season, I thought she was at least being honest about the urgency and scale of the situation that football, and all other sports, is facing. 

I prefer the term ‘incomplete’ – meaning the season ends now. Forget about any resumption – the league places are frozen in time, no champions, no Champions League places, no relegations, and no promotions. Of course some fans, thinking mainly of themselves and their own club, accused her of naked self-interest, because West Ham currently hover above the drop zone only on goal difference. But the point is that such a cessation for everyone this season will be good for some and bad for others – Liverpool and Leeds especially. That’s the inevitable result of being ‘all in this together.’ 

As for games played behind closed doors, the great Celtic manager Jock Stein once said ‘football without fans is nothing.’ He was right – it is no accident that football markets itself to advertisers, sponsors, and broadcasters as an inclusive spectacle, as much about what’s going on with those watching the action as those making it.

Coca Cola, one of world football’s principal sponsors, summed this up very well with one of their advertising slogans ‘If transfer fees were paid for fans what would you be worth?’ Of course the value of fans to the game should not be monetised in such a way, but the fact that it is shows that the absolute worth of fandom in the People’s Game cannot be numbered just in pound signs. 

Immediate incompletion would have revealed the sheer abnormality of the times we are living through. It would have been a welcome self-sacrifice, as football faced up to its responsibilities. But no, the desire to get back has dominated, fuelled mainly by the huge commercial merry-go-round, driven more than anything else by the deals with subscription-only broadcasters that funds football’s largesse at the upper end. Football, it seems, cannot be allowed to stop for any longer than can be avoided.

Incompletion would need to be Europe-wide, incomplete seasons would mean no Champions League, this season, and none next either. An eighteen month break: is that really too much of a sacrifice to ask? Yes, apparently as UEFA and the clubs scramble to find a way to keep their money-spinning show on the road.

And the international game isn’t much better. In a rushed decision Euro 2020 becomes Euro 2021, and the awkward fact that this was the year designated for the Women’s Euros has been solved by bumping that into the following year.

What does this produce? A massive set of fixture pile-ups, across the globe. The world sporting calendar is delicately balanced between providing a summer of sport to look forward to and forgetting that sometimes – even with sport – less is more. The women’s Euros in 2022 means England hosting both these and the Commonwealth Games at the same time. Madness! Both will lose out big time.    

There’s also another reason why 2021 should be free of tournaments in the summer for the men’s game. And that is, to give the players  and the fans time off to look forward to the World Cup in 2022.

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And this fixture pile-up when the crisis is over isn’t restricted to football either.  Another rushed decision had been made to move the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to 2021. This means all manner of  world and continental championships for many Olympic sports being postponed to the following year, where they will then clash with other events planned for 2022.

The solution is to null and void the lot. Tokyo 2020 becomes Tokyo 2024, Euro 2020 becomes Euro 2024, the existing hosts move along to the next time. After all,  a 4-year extension is not long given the current global crisis, while providing the time for the event organisation to recover.    

That recovery, to be worthwhile, must involve radical change for the most well-paying sports. It is obscene for football clubs to be laying off non-playing staff in order to claim state aid, when the average wage of a Premiership footballer is £60,000 a week. It is outrageous for owners, chairmen and directors to be taking wealth out of their clubs when clubs lower down the leagues, non-league clubs, and the recreational game are all facing extinction. When the wealth at the top end is so huge, the cost of self-sacrifice and solidarity borders on the negligible – but so far has proved too much for too many. 

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The very welcome exceptions to this sorry tale are to be applauded, such as executive boxes and boardrooms given over for temporary conversion by hospitals, and clubs and players keeping the foodbanks going that depend on matchday collections.  

There is, of course, a community around every club that amounts to more than just gate receipts and replica shirts sold. Maybe this crisis will force a greater recognition of this – that the Fans Supporting Foodbanks stalls outside Anfield, Goodison Park and numerous other grounds, will be recognised as being as much a part of what football is about as anything else.

Sport will take time to recover, and it won’t be the same when it does. Rushing back for ‘business’ reasons won’t help. Sport as a culture will have to rebuild relationships. The hardcore fans’ loyalties won’t have changed, but many of the more casual fans will have discovered that they didn’t miss it as much as they expected to.

And the inevitable financial pressures a huge chunk of the population will face will mean the money previously spent on football is needed for more pressing priorities. For far too long sport has taken the financial loyalty of fans for granted – it would be distinctly risky to assume this can continue.

Something else has happened during the lockdown, what sportswriter Jonathan Liew calls ‘small sport’. There seems to have been a rise in physical activity by people having to stay at home with one outing for exercise – perhaps having a walk, a jog, or a bike ride. Home weights for keeping fit have sold out online, and  Joe Wicks Youtube keep fit lessons for at-home primary schoolchildren have topped 1.5million views per session. This is nothing to do with the failed model of elite sport success spurring participation, because that doesn’t happen.  Rather this is sport as a social movement. ‘Small sport’ may just prove to be a darn sight more useful than ‘big sport’ when finally we emerge from this crisis, and have to rebuild all our cultural activities, including sport.

When we do emerge, plenty of sports – including fans and followers – will want to celebrate. In that moment, let’s remember sport has an extraordinary ability to spark a conversation. It cannot effect social change on its own, but it does get its audience thinking in a way that political parties, protest movements, books and newspaper articles often can’t.

Since the mid 2000’s sport has vigorously embraced the ‘Help for Heroes’ movement. Nobody should begrudge the aid veterans very much deserve, but sport has propagated this otherwise noble cause without thinking about it. As the sportswriter Richard Williams has put it, very sharply:

There is something disquieting about this gradual blending of sporting and military culture, with its underlying assumption that all the spectators at any given event involving an England international team necessarily share the government's view of the rightness of what our forces are doing overseas (as opposed to simply honouring their courage in doing it).

This blending of sport and the military generates an understanding of who our ‘heroes’ are, and in the process all those that aren’t. Yet this crisis has shown that NHS staff, care workers, refuse collectors, shop assistants, cleaners, posties are heroic, providing a public service that our lives depend on.

This demands that financial reward while it isn’t everything is at least a start in providing a recognition of the centrality of these workers to our society. No, Perhaps they don’t the ability to dribble past three defenders, feint one way, send the goalie the wrong way, and put a screamer in the top left corner of the net. But maybe they have something different to contribute – and that deserves our support too.

So when sport resumes, let’s not only celebrate that, but also ensure these public services and their workers aren’t a charity case, and instead are valued, invested in and rewarded financially, as an essential part and parcel of the society that absolutely depends on them.  

Wembley NHS

Mark Perryman is a research fellow in sport and leisure culture at the University of Brighton and co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy Football.

After Lockdown
Monday, 25 May 2020 17:25

After Lockdown

Published in Poetry

After Lockdown

By Christopher Norris, with images by Martin Gollan and James Gillray

No we’ll never go back to the bad old days,
To the days of corporate greed,
When the bankers thrived on their bad old ways,
And the poor folk went in need.
For when viruses strike they don’t care who pays,
Who’s the bit-part or who plays the lead,
As the thing goes into its critical phase
And the leveller gets up to speed.

Oh we’ll not go back to the years we spent
Being told that the set-up was fine,
Though the good things went to the 1%
And the crap to the 99,
While they tried to muffle the discontent
Among those at the end of the line
By treating the Coronavirus ‘event’
As just that: not for us to repine!

But we’ll not go back to their crafty tales,
To their trickery, scams and lies,
To the nincompoops raised as alpha-males,
And the hedge-fund hiking guys
Whose idea of a game-plan that never fails
Is to chase the brown-envelope prize
Till the plan goes tits-up and a long spell in gaol’s
The just sentence that never applies.

For we’ll not go back to that time before
The Coronavirus struck,
Though it struck all the harder if you were poor
Or temporarily down on your luck,
And not raking it in like those devil’s spore
Soon competing to make a fast buck
From the plagues of the time, whether sickness or war,
With us plebs as their sitting duck.

No we’ll not go back to all that again,
To the age of executive jets
And the time when we thought you could hop on a plane
And then life would be good as it gets.
For it’s now clear as day if you’ve half a brain
That the present’s no time for regrets
If the skies show blue through the windowpane
And the Sun gleams bright as it sets.

No, we’ll not go back to the days of old
When those racketeers ran the show,
When our lives were wrecked by the lies we were sold
And the rip-offs they had on the go,
While their government lackeys did what they were told
Or picked up on the quid pro quo,
And the huddling masses, left out in the cold,
Were the last ones who got to know.

Yes, I grant you, the worst time we had to get through
Was the time when that plague hit its peak,
When the doctors and nurses did all they could do
But a vaccine was still far to seek,
And we suddenly knew, as the death-figures grew,
That for many the prospects were bleak
Since we all, nervous sailors and medical crew,
Were headed up Corona Creek.

But know this: if there’s one bit of wisdom we learned,
As we fretted lest months become years,
It’s that even the worst of events can be turned
To good ends as our retrospect clears;
For there’s strength to be had from those lessons hard-earned,
From the hopes intermixed with the fears,
And the new life discerned as we lock-downers yearned
To make good on those lives in arrears.

So there’s no going back to how matters stood then,
No regressing to times gone by,
When the captains of commerce were masters of men
And their whims could decide: live or die!
Yes, we lived through the virus and told ourselves: when
This thing’s finished we’ll want to know why
The old fixers and fraudsters had done it again,
Screwed us over and wrung us out dry.

Now we’ve made sure their schemes and devices won’t come
Back and bite us, like last time around,
That the billionaires won’t get us under their thumb
Till we end up six feet underground,
That their mansion won’t tower over our little slum
Where the viral infections abound,
And that never again shall they do zero-sum
Calculation of lives to the pound.

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A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion, by James Gillray, 1792

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