The fight against Covid, Zero Covid and the growth of the right – A report from Australia

On December 12th  the US based for  United Front For a Mass Labor Party held a panel on the “Fight Against Covid, Zero Covid and the growth of the far right”. The panel explored how after two years of the pandemic continues unabated in the US, Europe and Africa. US and European governments say that this is endemic and cannot be stopped. At the same time Taiwan and China have been able to crush the virus spread. the panel also looked at the lessons of China and Taiwan and how rightwing forces have used the pandemic to organize internationally including supporting the attack on unions in Italy and Australia.

Davey Heller from gave a presentation on the situation in Australia ( see full transcript below) . Other speakers included Dr. Nayvin Gordon a US public health family doctor, Chatta a Labor Activist from Taiwan, Charles Rachlis, a Retired Cal-OSHA Industrial Hygienist UFCLP CWG.

The full panel can be viewed here on Youtube below:

A report from Australia – by Davey Heller

Abandoning Covid Suppression

After the Delta outbreak in July in Sydney was allowed to spread to Melbourne and New Zealand, the push back against suppression as a strategy by big business really kicked in Australia. It allowed the ruling class to push the idea that “living with covid” was the only option because supposedly the Delta variant just couldn’t be controlled.

The experience in China and Taiwan was never discussed, nor is the fact that suppression in the majority of States in Australia was still working was ignored. Winding back public health measures was also justified by the high vaccination rates in NSW and Victoria as people rushed to get vaccinated in the face of the Delta outbreaks, About 90 percent of adults are now vaccinated in Australia’s most populous states. Some of this was due to vaccine mandates but the vast majority of the  class was very keen to get vaccinated. Like elsewhere, lower vaccination rates are associated with disadvantage and so for example some of the lowest vaccine rates are amongst Australia’s indigenous populations.

Now heading into Christmas all except one of the Australian states that was suppressing covid is taking the extraordinary step of deliberately allowing the virus in once vaccination rates hit 80 percent of the adult population. Rarely if ever before have we seen such a deliberate policy of infection of a population by governments. Both major parties back this situation.

The international borders are now being opened up too with no real quarantining occurring. Quarantining of international travellers had been the cornerstone of the suppression strategy. The emergence of Omicron has not changed these plans one iota.

In terms of deaths there has been over 1000 deaths just in NSW and Victoria due to the Delta outbreaks. Not a lot compared to other places but all entirely unnecessary and the level of disease has placed the underfunded public health sectors under great stress.

It seems all but inevitable that cases will rise in coming months when the Omicron variant spreads in an environment of few if any restrictions.  

“Freedom rallies”

We are seeing a paradox in Australia where “freedom” rallies continue to grow in size around the country despite the fact that Zero covid policies are now almost completely abandoned by State and Federal Governments and public health measures are being rapidly scaled back.

In Melbourne, where I live we have seen rallies of tens of thousands of “freedom” protested against not just the vaccine mandates but any public health measures. Like elsewhere these protests have become a breeding ground for the spread of far right ideology, conspiracy theories and anti-communism.

It has fuelled a wave of far-right violence particularly targeted at social democratic politicians, health officials, unions and workers. Just as on Jan 6th imagery of the gallows has appeared at the Melbourne protests, effigies of “Dan the Dictator” have been burned, incidents of real and threatened violence are played down by the media as isolated incidents such a man brandishing a cross bow outside parliament, death threats and bomb threats, retail workers have been attacked for enforcing the vaccine “passports” including one retail work knocked unconscious when thrown down some escalators, a nurse was run over and hospitalised outside a testing clinic .

However the rallies continue to get largely uncritical and massive coverage in the capitalist press.

This movement now serves a number of purposes for the ruling class. In the short term they have created a movement which will making it much harder to reintroduce public health measures that cut across business interests if and when cases once again start to rise.

Secondly, in the long term, the seeds are being sown for a far-right Trump like movement in Australia to shift the whole political process even further to the right and to act as a battering ram against the working class as the capitalist economic crisis deepens and the Australia as part of the US alliance prepares for open conflict with China.

The myth of Australian exceptionalism needs to be abandoned. It can happen in Australia. We already have a far right Liberal Government headed by the evangelical Christian Scott Morrison and this government has openly flirted with this new fascist movement in the hope of harnessing it also electorally to stay in office in the upcoming Federal election as well as utilising for the reasons I have already mentioned. The crisis of covid has created and accelerated a dangerous situation in Australia just as it has elsewhere internationally

Counter protests

There has been little organised resistance from the Left againt the abandonment of the suppression of Covid19 in Australia. A campaign called “Health Before Profits’ was created largely by the group Socialist Alternative but is now largely a social media campaign. A small group of doctors and scientists are very active in lobbying and social media campaigning .

What has largely been missing as in the US and the UK is the trade union bureaucracy. Not only have the trade union bureaucrats been complicit in the pro-business reopening but they have not mobilised in any way against the far right movement that has attacked a union office in Melbourne a few months ago, targeted workers and their political patrons in the Labor Party. The Victorian Trades Hall response has been limited to creating an online petition calling for a Royal Commission into the rise of the far right!

The bureaucracies have been conspicuously absent from the two counter rallies organised in Melbourne over the last month under the banner “stop the far right’. Whilst many rank and file unionists have attended and a few motions have been passed at the local branch level in support of the protests, the bureaucrats have stayed away entirely.

These protests whilst much smaller than the right wing rallies (about 1000 people for the first rally on Nov 20th and about 500 people on the second on Dec 4th) have at least broken the monopoly the anti-public health rallies have had on the streets of Melbourne. I don’t think many similar rallies have been organised anywhere in the world so I think they have some significance.

A united front of of trade unions and other organisations who understand the threat of fascism needs to be created. IN the context of the covid crisis, the fight against fascism and for public health are inseparable.

Whilst, at the moment, the political forces fighting for zero covid are not strong, I think the situation is very dynamic. People are told 100 times a day that we are now “post-pandemic” by the mainstream press due to our high vaccination rates but reality cannot be denied. If Omicron or future variants continue to create chaos over coming years, the example set by Taiwan and China will become harder to ignore.

I sometimes think the situation is a little like the fooling of the working class in 1914 when swept up in  a tide of social chauvinism they were told the “boys will be home for Christmas”. A few years later, these lies had worn thin with enormous revolutionary consequences in Europe. How will the working class respond to the ongoing covid crisis, when it becomes clear that the ruling classes have no solution to this or any of the other crisis now facing humanity?

Davey Heller

Davey Heller is a Trotskyist from Melbourne and long-time campaigner for Left-wing causes including anti-war, refugee rights, environmental protests and workers' struggles. He is a former secondary teacher who studied history at Monash University and currently works in the environmental field. You can follow him on Twitter at @socialist_davey

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