Resisting the Shock Doctrine in the age of Coronavirus

As Australia (and the world) grapples with the coronavirus crisis, we are already seeing that the Liberal Government and business lobby are trying to exploit the crisis to further push through extreme neoliberal policies.

The brutal tactic of “Shock Doctrine”, the exploitation of choas, public disorientation and the enrichment of oligarchs, must be resisted.

Wait for a crisis (or even, in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), declare a moment of what is sometimes called ‘extraordinary politics’, suspend some or all democratic norms – and then ram the corporate wish list through as quickly as possible

Naomi Klein, No Is Not Enough

We are seeing the Shock Doctrine across such a wide range of areas, it can be hard to keep a track. Here’s just a small sample:

  • Businesses are calling for minimum wages to be frozen (and threatening job cuts if it is not).
  • Welfare stimulus payments are being further funnelled to the privatised Indue cashless welfare card.
  • Hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds are being handed over to a billionaire-controlled airline with no obligation to support job security for workers.
  • Attacking superannuation and dignified retirements by “raiding” balances during the crisis.

The chaos and uncertainty is part of the Shock Doctrine. We need to be wary of what additional steps the Federal Government may take to curb civil liberties and democratic freedoms. It is vital important that we resist attempts to implement Shock Doctrine policies. Typically, governments have only 8-9 months of “shock” to push through their agenda.

We also need to be very vigilant about the threat of the extreme-right and neo-Nazism. They are already a literal terrorist threat, but ruptures like the coronavirus crisis could see them grow into a “wildfire”.

Naomi Klein’s “No Is Not Enough” book is a good starting point for resisting the Shock Doctrine, especially her call for the progressive left to build and forcefully campaign for a popular economic alternative. Her specific antidote has evolved into the US “Green New Deal”, so the specifics of that agenda are not directly relevant to Australia.

The coronavirus crisis, as Dan Kois wrote in Slate, exposes the sham of neoliberalism; how so many laws and rules and systems were designed to punish the poor and disadvantaged and privilege the powerful:

Each day of this public health crisis brings a new example. People thrown in jail for minor offenses? San Antonio is one of many jurisdictions to announce that, to keep jails from being crowded with sick citizens, they’ll stop doing that. Why were they doing it in the first place?

The federal government charging interest on loans to attend college? Well, Donald Trump has  instructed government agencies who administer loans to waive interest accrual for the duration of the crisis. But why on earth is our government charging its own citizens interest anyway?

Broadband data caps and throttled internet? Those have been eliminated by AT&T and other internet service providers, because of the coronavirus. But data caps and throttling were really just veiled price hikes that served no real technical purpose. Why did we put up with them?

Police helping landlords evict tenants in times of financial trouble? Due to the coronavirus, not anymore in New YorkMiami, and New Orleans. But—and you see where this is going—why do the police aid evictions when tenants are stricken with other, noncoronavirus illnesses?

The city shutting off your water, or your power, as punishment for hardship? During this public health emergency, plenty of cities and companies have suddenly found a way to keep service turned on. “As long as COVID-19 remains a health concern,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, “no Detroit resident should have concerns about whether their water service will be interrupted.” Why in the hell should any Detroit resident have concerns about their water service being interrupted, ever? Shouldn’t clean water be the absolute base level of service delivered by a city to its residents?

Sick employees forced to take unpaid leave or work while sick if they want to keep their jobs? Walmart recently announced it would provide up to two weeks of paid leave for any employee who contracts the coronavirus. And the House just passed a bill to address the problem, though as the New York Times editorial board notes, the House’s failure to make the bill universal “is an embarrassment that endangers the health of workers, consumers and the broader American public.” But why should any sick worker fear losing their pay or their job at any time? And why are the most vulnerable to punitive sick leave practices the workers making the lowest wages?

In every single one of these cases, it’s not just that most of these practices are accepted as “standard.” It’s that they are a way to punish people, to make lives more difficult, or to make sure that money keeps flowing upward.

The fight back against the Shock Doctrine must not only expose these types of truths, but also push hard for a better system altogether.’

The Australian Liberal Government for example announced that Newstart recipients who lost their job due to coronavirus would receive a higher rate than other people receiving Newstart. The question obviously must put (and the answer actively campaigned for): “why can’t all Newstart payments for everyone be increased?”

Now is a juncture, a moment, that progressive organisations and institutions must use — we cannot, we must not, “return to normalcy” after the crisis is passed.

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