We learned what Dr. Williams J. Barber II has been preaching: “This virus is teaching us that from now on, living wages, guaranteed health care for all, unemployment and labor rights are not far-left issues but issues of right versus wrong and life versus death.”
Here are lessons we have learned.
Recent Upsurge and Interest in Socialism
The pandemic caused by the coronavirus highlights many of the reasons socialism is needed now in the U.S. Most immediate, under socialism, there would be national health care with no costs to you for your treatment of any health problem caused by a virus or for any other health problem regardless of how mild or severe or how long you have it. In a situation like the current pandemic, the entire scientific and educational community in the country would be mobilized to work on finding treatments and cures and vaccines.
In socialism, helpful drugs like Remdesivir for COVID-19 would be available to anyone for free. Pharmaceutical companies like Gilead who make this drug could not prevent the use of Remdesivir by people who are ill and poor. Currently, the use of possible drugs for COVID-19 will not be available to everyone because of overpricing and company patents which block the production by other companies. This could mean death to some whom these drugs could save. Much the same has happened with drugs in the treatment of AIDS. In socialism, patents could not be used to block the making of drugs by various companies who could sell it cheaper. A socialist government could even buy a drug and distribute it for free or manufacture it and provide it for free to anyone who could not afford it.
In socialism, hospitals would be well supplied with respirators and other medical equipment because they not be constrained by budgetary choices. Health care would be fully funded and treated as a human right. The government would also have supplies warehoused to meet emergency demands. In the case of unforeseen shortages caused by national emergencies, industries would be directed to produce whatever is needed to end those shortages. The government would pay for all expenses those industries would incur in retooling for different production. People working in those industries or in any field of work would not lose their jobs or their paychecks even when asked to stay home from work because of national or local medical or non-medical emergencies such as earthquakes, floods, or tornadoes. One example is the people working in the meat processing plants where the coronavirus has become a hot spot because the owners of those plants did not want to cut their profits by spending money on safety for the workers. These workers then take the infection back to their communities.
In socialism, small businesses would receive funds to meet their payroll and their business expenses if they were required to remain closed during any national or local emergency that required workers to stay home from work for their safety. Under socialism, utilities like gas, water, electricity, and rubbish removal are public so they would not be disconnected or stopped in such emergencies because these services are considered essential in our country to live in decency. In socialism, you would not have to worry about losing your apartment or home due to missed rent or mortgage payments because housing, a decent place to live, is guaranteed to all families and individuals.
Direct Monetary Transfer
This is the most well-known form of money transfer and is used for both Social Security and unemployment payments. Keynesian economics refers to the “multiplier effect”—where every dollar in payment stimulates a chain reaction that results in spending more than merely the original dollar. The coronavirus pandemic clearly exposes the unequal distribution of wealth in our nation. The recent direct monetary transfer of $1,200 to individuals will result in a deeper discussion on the redistribution of income and wealth in our country. We have learned that Social Security and Medicare are much-needed safety nets for many and should be expanded to everyone for their lifetime. We have learned that there needs to be a transfer of wealth from the corporate sector to the working class for social needs. A government should, after all, serve the people. If the money is there for emergencies, and the Republicans said it wasn’t before the pandemic, then let’s make it be there all the time, not just in emergencies.
Emphasize More Spending on Health Care
One of the systemic failures within our system of government is the lack of health care for everybody that needs it. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the poor and inadequate health care system in our nation. It has exposed the discriminatory features of our nation’s health care system. We have learned that universal health care has become a top priority as a method of addressing and fixing our health care system. Health care for all is basic in socialism.
Temporary Debt Freeze
With the loss of jobs and income, the issue of debt relief has been injected into the political conversation. Debt relief is extended to those in need of assistance because of financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. There is a temporary freeze on debt collection across the country: from suspending parking fees to creating regulations on predatory lending, banning garnishment of wages, and temporarily suspending mortgage payments. Deeper institutional challenges need to be addressed. Canceling student debt and even global debt forgiveness are issues we learned are commonsense policies. Under socialism this kind of help to the population would be automatic and part of your constitutional rights.
Rent and Mortgage Caps
Moratoriums on rents are intended to help tenants affected by the coronavirus. It is a temporary fix. Mortgage caps are also a temporary fix. All these temporary monetary fixes are meant to prevent the entire housing market from collapsing. We have learned that more control needs to be placed on banks, developers, and big landlords who are only interested in a profit motive. We have seen in the recent presidential debates that the lack of affordable housing and adjusting any profit equation in the housing market are already being discussed by individuals such as Bernie Sanders. In socialism, these kinds of help to the population are automatic and cannot be blocked by one party or another or by an individual with executive power.
Housing the Homeless
The housing problem has created a serious financial toll on city budgets, and human despair is more widespread than reported due to the coronavirus. Homelessness was a major concern before the pandemic hit our cities. Pressure has been placed on cities to focus on spending, policy development, and planning to design creative new ways to deal with homelessness. We have learned that cities and all communities must work together to solve this problem. We have learned that it is our responsibility and the government’s to address issues such as housing, food shortages, and other human needs. Attention to these issues is automatic and guaranteed in a socialist society.
Disaster Relief Funds for Undocumented Migrants
We have learned that any form of relief that funds discrimination is harmful to our safety and health. We are all in this together. Disaster relief for the undocumented is a much-needed action that does not negatively impact our economic and social order; in fact, it improves it. We have learned that states such as California have provided disaster relief to undocumented migrants. This policy has saved jobs in various sectors of the job market and has saved workers in other industries. In socialism, all protections are available to all and do not depend on your immigration status.
We have learned that unions are necessary to protect their members and protect the workplace from harmful decisions based on making a profit. We have learned that unions are necessary and that unions are on the road to reinvigorating the labor movement. In socialism, unions continue to be necessary to make sure that the policies that the government develops are helpful to all the nations and are not exploitative of working people.
Universal Basic Income
As a way to keep people employed during the pandemic, a guaranteed income is being considered in the halls of Congress. Even Nancy Pelosi has said that guaranteed income could be worthy of attention now, as was recently done with the stimulus checks, and it was called for before the pandemic by one of the presidential candidates. But such income will be necessary on a regular monthly basis. We have learned that such discussion and action would have been unheard of just several months ago. In socialism, this too could be a right guaranteed by the constitution.
The current anti-crisis policies and programming by the government are a short-term fix. In many cases, problems exist in the implementation of these short-term fixes. Many are designed without any real analysis of cause and effect. These programs are installed simply because there are those who believe that the market will self-correct. Nothing could be further from the truth. These fixes should be permanent parts of our financial planning and would be permanent in socialism.
It should be understated that in the coming months, we will learn many more lessons, such as the hardships caused by unemployment and underemployment. Let us look to new lessons to help our nation move in the direction that will put the well-being of all people and the well-being of our planet first under a better system—socialism.
David Trujillo is a member of the National Writers Union, a playwright, writer, and community activist. Ismael Parra is the Southern California Chair of the National Writers Union, a musician, and writer.
Reprinted and edited with permission from ¡LatinoLA!, May 12, 2020.