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Editorial: Amid the coronavirus crisis, class relations are laid bare

AMAZON, acting as if it possesses the unchecked prerogatives of a feudal lord, has ordered its employees to undertake compulsory overtime. 

That this is a transparent attempt to raise the rate of exploitation — and take advantage of the increased demand for home delivery services that the coronavirus crisis creates — is beyond doubt.

It demonstrates the absolute falsity of the notion that workers and employers meet as equals in the marketplace for labour power.

Notionally, each individual worker can, of course, tell Jeff Bezos to stuff his minimum-wage job where the coronavirus rarely sees the sun.

In doing so they will be considerably more disadvantaged then Bezos himself, cocooned as he is from the uncertainties of the capitalist labour market by his £100 billion personal fortune.

But collectively, and sooner or later, they can and will bend his will to theirs.

The class of people of which Bezos is a prime example is due to be given an object lesson in the inevitable consequences of crisis management that the coronavirus epidemic is compelling every government to initiate.

Ian Lavery MP, who is chair of the Labour Party in Parliament, has seized the moment with his proposals to impose order on the anarchy of the markets with a collective solution to the human problems that the crisis is creating.

Labour wants full protection for the incomes of working people including the self-employed, comprehensive rent deferrals and mortgage holidays, deferrals on energy and utility bills and measures to protect the real-life economy of millions.

This will meet opposition from every element in our society that lives not on their own labour but on rent, interest and profit.

Millions see these measures as not only common sense but as manifestly necessary. 

It is as if, to paraphrase the words of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels written 172 years ago — modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange that it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.

In constructing his transnational monopoly and aggregating in one enterprise a vast logistics machinery, Bezos has prepared an important part of the modern machinery of distribution for public ownership.

It will not be lost on him, or his top echelons of shareholders and executives, or the other owners of large-scale enterprises, that these events simultaneously reveal the inadequacy of the system of private ownership for modern society and show that even transnational enterprises as mighty as his must be compelled to submit to the authority of the state, even one as routinely unresponsive to popular demand as the one headed by a Tory.

Lavery is giving voice to that which the Labour Party must do with energy and commitment every day. 

It must act as the tribune of the working class, the only class that has no interest in exploiting any other and the class which stands for the interests of all human society over the interests of the rich.

This whole crisis is standing a topsy-turvy world on its head. It is fusing rational and scientific opinion with popular understanding. It is compelling governments of all political complexions to heed the science and learn from the experience of others.

It is dissolving decades of deference and giving birth to new popular initiatives. At the end of this, nothing will be same or, if it is, it will stand as the ruined relic of an obsolete age.


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