Collective action is vital as we navigate a pathway out of the pandemic
Solidarity has been at the heart of our success against COVID and we’ll need a lot more of it to deal with the financial and political consequences of the coronavirus.
A commitment to collectivism is what helped to protect us during the pandemic and it also gave us “a glimpse of what is possible”.
This was the stirring message ACTU Secretary Sally McManus gave us in a recent speech to the National Press Club.
Sally was talking of the social contract that has always existed in Australia – the notion that when any of us stumble the rest of us will be there to help them back up.
This has led to Australians accepting the need for lockdowns, mask wearing and social distancing during COVID so the wider population is protected from the virus.
In the United States, with its more individualistic culture, these measures have not been so readily accepted and the tragic consequences have been chaos and more than 400,000 deaths.
The economic measures implemented during COVID to alleviate some of the poverty and economic stress and to save jobs have also shown what governments can do when they show the necessary political will.
While 2020 focused on meeting the clinical challenges of beating the virus, 2021 is likely to see the economic and political consequences manifest themselves more clearly.
There are ample signs appearing that our work will be cut out for us as unionists if we are to maintain our standards of living and protect our hard-earned safety nets.
A recent report by the respected economic forecaster Deloitte Access Economics paints a positive future for Australian companies as we attempt to rebound out of the pandemic but at the same time it predicts a dire outlook for wages.
Deloitte says Australian workers could be waiting up to five years for a return to 2 per cent wage growth.
This is a shift in power from workers to employers and it doesn’t happen on its own – it is driven by politics. It is a choice made by governments.
The Morrison government has flagged its intentions to help facilitate this shift in power with the introduction of a new industrial relations bill.
It is a bill which “favours employers over employees” according to IR experts.
It will allow employers to cut pay and wipe out claims for back pay for casuals. It also proposes new flexibility for part timers which would see them lose overtime rates.
It doesn’t have to be this way. It is clear that things cannot go back to what they were before the pandemic but as the former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has eloquently described:
“The moment calls for public investment on a scale far greater than necessary for COVID relief or stimulus – large enough to begin the restructuring of the economy.”
Reich cites universal early childhood education, universal access to the internet, world-class schools and public universities accessible to all as priorities for government spending.
Converting to renewables and fighting climate change as well as adequately resourcing our public health and aged care systems are also important priorities.
Reich says it is not a question of affordability.
“Such an agenda won’t burden future generations. It will reduce the burden on future generations. It is a question of political will.”
Nurses and midwives must continue to show strength and will to protect the health system that has served the country so well during COVID.
In this month’s Lamp we feature members who have stood tall in these difficult days defending the rights of our patients and our professions.
At Blacktown Hospital our members took action to force management to confront the chronic staff shortages across maternity services after the tragic loss of a number of babies.
Taking such action is a drastic measure but when babies’ lives are at stake there is a moral imperative and professional obligation to act.
Standing together has been a prerequisite for combatting COVID. Strong collective action will be needed even more as we navigate a pathway out of the pandemic.