Anti-Union Terrorism: The Judi Bari Story

Yesterday marked the 30th year since American environmentalist and IWW labour organiser Judi Bari, along with fellow activist Darryl Cherney, were the victims of a terrorist attack in which a pipe bomb was detonated in Judi’s car as they were driving in Oakland, California. Judi was a key figure in the Earth First! group, a radical environmental advocacy organisation that, at the time, was trying to arrange protests to protect the ancient redwood forests in Northern California. Unfortunately the bomber has never been caught and the FBI response to the incident was suspicious from the start and led many to believe that they had something to do with the bombing or were wilfully mishandling the investigation to hurt the labour activists. They even went so far as to accuse Judi and Darryl of being the bombers themselves, but more on that later.

Throughout the 1980’s Judi Bari was a prolific activist and in 1988 was instrumental in starting a local group of the Industrial Workers of the World that would ally with the Earth First! group in protesting the cutting of old growth redwood trees. The idea was to bring environmentalists and timber workers together to oppose the increase of the rate of harvesting that was introduced by new management, as it was completely unsustainable in the long run.

Unfortunately, many timber workers felt antagonised by the activists and they were seen as threatening their livelihoods. Many protests would turn violent and Judi would be targeted as a problematic figure in the protesting and so suffered more than most. In 1989 a logging truck rammed her car while her children were inside, the driver of the truck is said to have left the truck and rushed over shouting “I didn’t see the children!” implying that it was no mere accident that he run into Judi’s car. She also regularly received death threats with one being sent on the lead up to the bombing stating it was her “last warning”.

Judi was a firm believer in non-violent protest so her chosen mode of demonstration was through music. She and Darryl would perform original protest songs that became quite controversial for their use of loaded language. For example, one song was named “Spike a Tree for Jesus”, tree spiking was a careless form of sabotage that included driving a long metal spike into a log so as to damage chainsaws or saws at lumber mills. While effective in sabotaging machinery it was also the cause of serious injury to timber workers. Such an incident happened on May 8th, 1987 at the Louisiana Pacific mill in Cloverdale, California. A large saw blade struck a spike in a log being milled causing shrapnel to fly off and one mill worker, George Alexander, nearly died as a result of the injuries he sustained. At the time, the Earth First! group still had “monkeywrenching” as its main strategy (monkeywrenching being sabotage) so they were blamed for the incident causing them to publicly disavow the practice of tree spiking.

In 1990 Judi was one of the main organisers of the Redwood Summer demonstrations that were supposed to take place to protest the careless logging practices. On May 22nd of that year she would meet with local loggers to agree on ground rules for nonviolence during these demonstrations. A couple of days later she left a house in Oakland that she had been staying at with Darryl Cherney on their way to more organising activities when a pipe bomb would explode in her car.

Both Judi and Darryl survived the incident, but Judi would come away from the explosion seriously injured. The first of many actions taken by the FBI that caused suspicion happened just after the bomb went off. They arrived on the scene at the same time as first responders, suggesting that they knew about the bomb beforehand. Judi herself is quoted as saying it was as if the investigators were “waiting around the corner with their fingers in their ears.” This would be explained later that there had been a tip to law enforcement that “some heavies” were transporting a bomb for sabotage. This, apparently, was the reason for their quick response and the fact that they targeted Judi immediately as a suspect.

Due to Earth First!’s previous known involvement in sabotage campaigns, when the Oakland Police and the FBI immediately accused Judi and Darryl of carrying the bomb to use in an act of terrorism the incident would make headlines all across the nation with the group being labelled as ‘radical’ and tying in potential bombing to their history of ‘monkeywrenching’. While still being treated at a local hospital Judi would be placed under arrest on the same day that the bomb went off. The FBI would exclusively focus on targeting Judi Bari as the main suspect, raiding her home, and pestering anyone they knew she had been in contact with. They claimed to have irrefutable evidence that Judi Bari was guilty and so ignored any evidence that pointed to Judi being the victim. Once it came time to present any of this evidence to a court the FBI did not produce any and the district attorney had no choice but to drop all charges against Judi and Darryl due to a lack of evidence.

There have been many theories as to who was responsible for the bombing. Although never thoroughly investigated by the FBI there was someone that claimed to be the bomber. Just five days after the bombing staff at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat received a letter signed by “The Lords Avenger” claiming responsibility. They went into great detail about the bomb in Judi’s car, as well as a second bomb that had been unsuccessful in blowing up the Cloverdale mill. It was concluded that it was indeed the bomb maker that had written the letter but due to the fact that how they described planting the bomb was implausible in light of evidence it was most likely a way to divert attention away from the actual bomber.

Judi Bari herself believed that the bomber was an acquaintance of hers that was suspected of being an FBI informant. It was revealed that earlier in 1990 the FBI had run a ‘bomb school’ in redwood country showing how to investigate car bombing that bore a striking resemblance to the bombing of Judi’s car. As well as this, Bari’s attorney handed over numerous death threats aimed at Bari to the FBI after the bombing but none of the threats were ever investigated.

Unfortunately, Judi Bari would not live long enough to see some semblance of justice carried out. While she and Darryl opened a civil lawsuit against the FBI when she was still alive, claiming that their first and fourth amendment rights had been violated, she would die due to breast cancer in her home on March 2nd, 1997. Darryl continued the fight and 5 years later in 2002 it was confirmed that their civil rights had indeed been violated. The verdict was that Darryl and Bari’s estate was to be paid a sum of $4.4 million and once the trials gag order was lifted on of the jury members was quoted as saying –

“Investigators were lying so much it was insulting… I’m surprised that they seriously expected anyone would believe them… They were evasive. They were arrogant. They were defensive.”

Although during the trial the theory that the FBI was involved in the bombing was dismissed; it was agreed that the case was restricted to investigative malpractice on the part of the FBI as instead of looking for the real terrorists they instead persecuted the victims simply on the basis of their political activism.

The memorial service held for Judi Bari was attended by around 1000 people. On her request they were all there to have a “party” and to celebrate her life and activism. One of her friends claims that before she died, she asked people to remember what legendary IWW organiser Joe Hill said just before he was executed in 1915: “Don’t mourn. Organize!”

Why We Need To Keep The Lockdown

The U.K now, officially, has over 30,000 people dead as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This puts us 2nd in the entire world for death rate, only being beaten by the calamity that is the United States. It seems in spite of this the Tory government have seen fit to add to their already confusing message about the pandemic response by implying that they plan on announcing an easing of the lockdown restrictions.

This is the latest in a series of poor messaging and bad decisions by the Government, which began with the disastrous “Herd Immunity” strategy, that meant a slow reaction to the virus has ensured a scenario much worse than it needed to be. This is obvious to see when you compare the response even to other capitalist countries such as New Zealand. They had 1,144 confirmed cases of the virus and only 21 deaths. Compare this to the U.K’s 215,000 confirmed cases and 31,587 deaths as of the time of writing. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, had this to say –

“There were some countries who initially talked about herd immunity as a strategy. In New Zealand we never ever considered that as a possibility ever. Herd immunity would have meant tens of thousands of New Zealanders dying and I simply would not tolerate that, and I don’t think any New Zealander would.”

A far cry from Boris Johnsons message during an appearance on This Morning –

“One of the theories is, that perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures. I think we need to strike a balance, I think it is very important, we’ve got a fantastic NHS, we will give them all the support that they need, we will make sure that they have all preparations, all the kit that they need for us to get through it.”

This one did not age particularly well. The NHS has struggled constantly for PPE and instead of doing everything they can to help, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has behaved terribly. Firstly he suggested that NHS staff were over using PPE and that it should be treated as a “precious resource” and more recently in the house of commons, when confronted by A&E Doctor Rosena Allin-Khan on the governments response he simply responded that she “might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow secretary of state’s book in terms of tone.”

A real class act.

Another facet of the confusing messaging has been the actions of a lot of the mainstream media outlets. At the first hint of a slight relaxing of the lockdown measures many newspapers were running headlines that made it seem like the lockdown is being lifted entirely. Headlines such as –

The Daily Mail – ‘HURRAH! LOCKDOWN FREEDOM BECKONS

The Sun – ‘HAPPY MONDAY GO OUT AND EXERCISE ALL YOU LIKE’

It should go without saying that lifting the lockdown while so many people are still catching the virus is an awfully bad idea. Understandably people are frustrated and afraid for their financial future, but the answer is not to ease the lockdown. The failing here is on the Government and the lack of support for ordinary workers. Everything announced has been about protecting business owners and landlords in the hopes that they will pass on some good will to the people that they employ or rent from them.

Here in Scotland, where the message has been a clear deviation from England in that the lockdown has been extended another 3 weeks, there has been no talk of easing it until we are out of the woods. It was announced that there will be “a £5,000,000 fund to offer interest free loans to landlords whose tenants are having difficulty paying rent during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.” The idea being that they will not evict tenants if they can cover the rent with this loan. As we have seen so far in this crisis, many landlords simply do not care about the people that rent from them, as many stories have come out of landlords evicting tenants that no longer have the ability to pay rent.

The government has now announced a change in slogan from “Stay Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS” to “Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives”. A decision rejected by both the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments as it yet again muddy’s the waters and causes confusion, evidenced in all the footage shown on VE day of people having street parties in clear violation of the lockdown order. It is clear that the government has handled the pandemic terribly and are directly responsible for many unnecessary deaths. With social media replete with calls for warlike unity in a time of crisis, we would do well to remember those responsible for the scale of this disaster. They should absolutely be held to account for their actions.

Corruption, Bribery and Sports Entertainment

As an outside spectator it can be baffling to look at what is happening in the United States in regards to the Covid-19 outbreak; there has been corruption and incompetence at every turn. From senators selling stocks ahead of the virus hitting while at the same time reassuring citizens that this won’t be a big deal, to Trump predictably making more and more outlandish claims at briefings, that are then eaten up by his cult of followers, as though he were an embattled messianic figure protesting against the lockdown measures that have been put in place to save their lives. The stories that come out of the states have been so ridiculous and unbelievable that many of them are talked about at the time and then forgotten.  Encapsulating the corruption at the heart of U.S governance, exposing their system as nothing more than an oligarchy, has been the news of the WWE’s involvement in the state of Florida.

On the 3rd of April Florida became one of the last few states to issue a stay-at-home order to protect people from the pandemic. Many argued this came far too late, especially when people were still allowed to travel to the state for their spring break holidays even after the first cases had been reported in the U.S. Originally when the lock down was instated the sport of Professional Wrestling, quite rightly, did not make the list of “Essential Media”. This was reserved for news outlets and radio, anything that could help inform people on the latest news and developments with the virus.

Not long after, Ron DeSantis the Republican governor of Florida decided to change his mind and deemed the WWE an “essential business”. A strange decision, but one that he defended in a press briefing; here is his rambling explanation word for word –

“I think people are chomping at the bit. I mean, if you think about it, we’ve never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had such little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, people are watching, we’re watching, like, reruns from the early 2000’s, watching Tom Brady do the Super Bowl then, which is neat because he’s gonna be in Tampa and I think they have a chance to win a Super Bowl this year. But I think people, to be able to have some light at the tunnel, see that things may get back on a better course – I think from just a psychological perspective I think is a good thing.”

He really sounds like someone that has his priorities right. God forbid you get bored of the telly while avoiding a horrible respiratory disease.

The legitimacy of this decision has been brought into question, not only for its obvious stupidity, but because it came after a Super-Pac chaired by Vince McMahon’s wife Linda that supports Donald Trump pledged to spend $18.5 million in the state of Florida. Amongst the decision, that I’m sure had nothing to do with the very generous donation from the Trump supporting Super-PAC, it was also revealed that a member of staff at WWE had also tested positive for the virus. Anywhere else this would be enough to close the business and send all staff into self-isolation but not at WWE. The show, it would seem, must go on.

If the political ties between Trump and the McMahons weren’t obvious enough, Trump then named Vince McMahon as one of a number of business leaders now part of a group that would advise Trump on how to relax social distancing measures and get the economy back up and running. Really think about that. The government of the United States is taking advice on when to relax social distancing measures from business owners. The people that stand to make the most money for the least amount of risk to themselves if the stay-at-home orders are lifted.

So, the WWE is declared essential and the employees are then compelled to travel and flout social distancing rules so as to still earn their wages. What next?

On the 15th of April WWE announced that as part of necessary cost reductions due to the coronavirus they will be firing a lot of talent and furloughing a large proportion of their behind the scenes crew. This was announced at the same time they made the following statement –

“WWE has substantial financial resources, both available cash and debt capacity, which currently total more than $0.5 billion, to manage the challenges ahead. The fundamentals of the Company’s business remain strong… Management continues to believe the Company is well positioned to take full advantage of the changing media landscape and increasing value of live sports rights over the longer term.”

To understand the extent to which this is a slimy decision on behalf of the WWE management you first need to understand that for years WWE has been signing as much talent as they can to contracts to keep them from working at other companies. Now that they might take a slight hit to their profit margins- and despite they’re huge wealth reserves- they have decided to fire these wrestlers at a time when there is nowhere else for them to go for work, all while the staff that they did keep on have to risk their lives to produce a televised product.

The chain of events here definitely tells a story. One of corporate greed, bribery and downright apathy to the well being of employees. One story amongst many that paint the Trump administration as even more incompetent and spiteful than before. A true oligarchy that has constantly put profits ahead of the well being of its people and has just enough fascist characteristics that Trump has built a cult of personality around himself with followers that will do whatever he says. With Trump now suggesting that perhaps we should inject people with disinfectant we can only hope that at least some of his acolytes may begin to question his judgement.

Pandemic Perspective: Community Response in Vietnam

As the coronavirus pandemic affects nations across the globe, we should continue to consider the circumstances which have helped or hindered countries in handling the situation. With this in mind, friend of the ACU Ian sheds light on Vietnam’s response measures.

Ask anyone what comes to mind when you mention Vietnam and they will probably respond with one of two words: war, or communism. Vietnam’s civil war began in 1955 between the communist led North Vietnam, officially the Democratic Republic of Vietnam(DRV) and South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam. The USA provided support to the South Vietnamese from the beginning. This was part of US efforts to curb the spread of communism worldwide, efforts that would eventually lead to a ground invasion of Vietnam in March 1963, which didn’t end until 1973 when all US personnel were withdrawn from the country. 2 years after this withdrawal the North Vietnamese and their southern Việt Minh allies captured Sai Gon in the south, bringing an end to the 20 year conflict known in Vietnamese as Kháng chiến chống Mỹ cứu nước (“Anti-American Resistance War for National Salvation”).

North and South Vietnamese governments finally united in 1976 forming the modern Socialist Republic of Vietnam and this new united government was immediately faced with the task of rebuilding the country after a devastating war in which an estimated 1,353,000 Vietnamese were killed. The war itself was over, but with countless people wounded or suffering from the effects of America’s use of poisonous chemicals such as Agent Orange, the aftershock would be felt for many years afterwards. Other damage from the war included villages and arable land being littered with mines and unexploded bombs, an economy in ruins and the destruction of critical infrastructure. Rebuilding efforts were made even more difficult by a trade embargo imposed on Vietnam by the USA in an attempt to economically isolate the fledgling nation that had so valiantly fought for its independence. This embargo lasted for 19 years.

Despite all of the challenges the nation has faced, Vietnam has persevered and in recent years has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Since 2010, Vietnam’s GDP growth has been at least 5% per year, and in 2017 it peaked at 6.8%. With such rapid economic growth, the country grew from one of the poorest countries to a comfortably middle-income one. Whereas its GDP per capita was barely $230 in 1985, it was more than ten times that in 2017 ($2,343).

Vietnam has experienced almost miraculous success in the face of adversity, and this article will address another situation in which the country has been incredibly successful – the 2020 world coronavirus pandemic.

We’ve all seen by now that with few exceptions, the coronavirus pandemic has expanded at an alarming rate, particularly among western countries. The U.S government, much like the UK, has been strongly criticised for its lack of coherent nationwide response measures, with many commenting that eventual implementation of response measures have been too little, too late. As a result of the Trump administration’s dysfunctional handling of the pandemic, federal scientists have predicted that the U.S is likely to see millions of people infected, with a sobering prediction of over 100,000 deaths.

By contrast, the number of COVID-19 cases in Vietnam, according to the government’s figures, is staggeringly low.

So far the South East Asian nation has reported just 245 cases of the disease, with 95 recoveries and, almost unbelievably, zero recorded deaths. They have only 2.99% of the number of cases it’s neighbour China has, and 0.072% of the cases of the nation with the highest recorded cases (the USA). The mortality rate of 0% is incredible compared to countries (Spain and the U.K) which are experiencing rates of over 10% and in addition to this, on April 4th Vietnam reported no new cases of the virus for the first time in over a month.

Vietnam’s first case was recorded on January 23rd when a Chinese national from Wuhan who had travelled to Ha Noi to visit his son tested positive for COVID-19. Since then Vietnam has averaged only 3.6 new cases per day – in complete contrast with the USA’s 4,432. I have no doubt that by now you must be wondering how it’s possible that Vietnam, a country which shares such strong ideological ties, a 1444km land border, and counts China as its largest trading partner, can possibly have been so successful in controlling the spread of the coronavirus pandemic despite being so closely associated country from which the virus emanated.

How exactly has Vietnam managed to keep its numbers so low?

On January 24th, one day after the first confirmed case of COVID-19, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and acting Minister of Health Vũ Đức Đam held an emergency meeting with the World Health Organisation and the Steering Committee for Emerging Disease Prevention. At this meeting the Deputy Prime minister ordered the activation of the Covid-19 Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. He also declared that the government had many measures prepared to prevent the proliferation of the new coronavirus threat. The government made good on these declarations and wasted no time implementing these emergency measures.

Authorities immediately started to pursue a strategy of identification, isolation and testing. Anyone who had come into direct contact with infected individuals were found, quarantined, and tested for COVID-19, with those testing negative being released. These measures were originally considered to be drastic by WHO recommendations, however they proved to be extremely successful, with the WHO praising Vietnam for “doing a good job in monitoring and quarantining those suspected of contracting the virus and in treating infected patients, ever since the nation detected the first infection cases”.

On January 24th the Civil Aviation Authority announced a ban on flights both to and from Wuhan, China. A week later this ban was extended to include all flights to and from China. Vietnam also stopped issuing tourist visas to Chinese nationals from epidemic stricken areas in order to reduce the chance of other outbreaks.

In the first week of February and just over two weeks after the first recorded Covid-19 case educational authorities throughout the country announced the closure of schools and universities. On February 14th these closures were extended until February 23rd. This has been extended until the present and at present a date for them to re-open has yet to be announced.

On Thursday 13th of February, provincial authorities in Vinh Phuc Province quarantined Son Loi Commune after seven people tested positive for the virus, including a 3 month old child. A total of 311 people were quarantined, with a total of 10 eventually testing positive for COVID-19. Provincial authorities established disease checkpoints, distributed free face masks, established mobile food shops and provided a daily monetary food allowance for those in quarantine.

As of Tuesday 25th of February there had been 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vietnam, and just over a month after the first case the Deputy Prime Minister announced in an online meeting that “With all modesty and eagerness to learn, Vietnam has so far controlled the Covid-19 epidemic well”. Vietnam went through a period of 20 days without seeing any new infections until March 6th, when an Englishman returning to the country tested positive. This was the start of a second wave of infections, which Vietnam had hoped to prevent with its use of targeted travel bans. By this point however the epidemic was turning into a pandemic, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to prevent new arrivals carrying the illness coming into the nation as the virus has already spread over most of the globe.

On the 18th of March Vietnam stopped issuing visas to foreigners trying to enter the country. Those with visa exemption status were required to submit documentation proving they had tested negative for COVID-19. People arriving from the U.S., European countries, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were also required to stay in quarantine camps for 14 days. These precautions again proved justified when it was found that of the 68 new COVID-19 patients, 59 had returned from abroad.

By March 27th, the number of cases increased to 163. In response to this the Prime Minister rolled out new measures to strengthen COVID-19 prevention and control. These measures include: cancellation of events attended by more than 20 people, and the banning of gatherings of more than 10 people in public places. Religious ceremonies and cultural, sporting and entertainment events were suspended. All non-essential businesses and services were also ordered to close. Four days later on March 31st the government announced yet further measures to limit the spread of the virus. They demanded the implementation of social distancing throughout the entire country. Public gatherings of more than 2 people are banned, with citizens being required to keep a minimum distance of 2 metres in social interactions. Everyone is requested to stay at home and only go out when absolutely necessary, such as trips for food, medicine, emergency care or for working at essential businesses, factories, and services that have been allowed to continue operating.

“Households are advised to keep a distance from households, villages from villages, communes from communes, districts from districts, and provinces from provinces,” according to the directive.

In addition to these measures, the Ministry of Health (Bộ Y tế) has been sending regular texts to everyone in the country with updates on the situation, advice on how to prevent the spread of the disease and with messages of encouragement to help fight the pandemic. To give you an idea of the content, here is the first message, sent on February 4th.

For those of us not fluent in Vietnamese, Google Translate provides this:

Another Ministry of Health text(translated using Google), also sent on February 4th, reads:

In Vietnam we see a national government treating the virus seriously from the very first case, coordinating with the WHO and designing a quarantine that would provide support, both financial and material, to those affected.

Although an extensive array of measures have been employed, Vietnam’s success in fighting coronavirus lies not only in the government’s response, but in the communist nation’s culture. Simply put, Vietnam is a collectivistic society which manifests in a close long-term commitment to the “member” group, such as a family, extended family or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount and informs most other societal rules and norms. Such a society fosters strong relationships, where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group, whether it’s your family or your neighbourhood. The coronavirus crisis seems to have reignited the collectivism that still exists at the heart of Vietnamese society, which seemed to be diminishing as a result of Westernisation and the rise of Neoliberal individualism that follows on the coattails of Westernisation. Vietnamese citizens from all walks of life have united and are determined to beat the disease. Put simply, Vietnamese people have a greater tendency to care not only about their own health, but the health of the wider community.

In addition to being collectivist, Vietnamese society also prides itself on its pragmatism. In pragmatic societies, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions and a strong propensity to persevere to achieve desired results. Vietnam’s measures to control the spread of COVID-19 have been criticised by several Western media outlets as being “aggressive” or even “authoritarian” but despite this criticism, the pragmatism of Vietnamese society has contributed to Vietnam’s citizens ability to adapt their behaviour and lifestyles so swiftly to cooperate with the governments’ directives, and has certainly been a major factor in what has been an incredible effort from government employees and officials, healthcare workers and ordinary citizens in combating a potentially devastating pandemic.

I would like to end the article by sharing a personal anecdote which I believe reflects the pride that the Vietnamese people feel for their nations’ collective effort in inhibiting the spread of COVID-19. At the end of my online class on April 4th, one of my students, 12 year old Justin (his chosen name), asked me not to leave the class yet- he had some good news he wanted to share with me. He then told me that various media outlets had reported that Vietnam had recorded zero new cases of coronavirus. I said that was incredible news and I asked how he felt about this. He said, “I’m very happy for everyone in Vietnam that we can stop coronavirus together”. I believe his attitude is reflective of the majority of vietnamese in this difficult time, and is one of many factors which has led to Vietnam being so triumphant in its approach to the fight against the disease which is currently ravaging nations across the globe. Vietnam is a nation where people take pride in their community, a nation born from a long 20 year struggle, and despite the onslaught of westernisation and neoliberal individualism, has managed to preserve and stoke the communal fire in this time of crisis.

Coronavirus And The Neoliberal Agenda

Not gonna lie, it’s been a pretty bad few weeks.

The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated rapidly, and we’ve all watched as world leaders and scientists frantically scramble to get a foothold on the management of this global crisis. From the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, to Europe being declared the epicentre of the pandemic by The WHO, the response by governments world-wide has been varied in both strategy and (with some speculation) effectiveness. While China and South Korea continue to report fewer cases day by day as their focussed efforts take effect, European countries have been seemingly paralyzed into inaction, with much less drastic measures being taken, often much later than health experts are recommending. 

But what exactly are the actions that countries like China and South Korea have taken in response to this crisis, and why are we in Europe- and particularly the UK- not following their example?

In this article we won’t recap the details of how COVID-19 developed, or speculate on how it may develop, or tell you to wash your hands again (seriously though, do it); we’re looking instead at the varied response strategies by governments and what they tell us about the western hegemony, which for the last forty-odd years has been characterised by its own disease of the soul- neoliberalism.

The term neoliberalism refers to a set of economic principles which- to varying degrees in different countries- serve as the fundamental characteristics of a capitalist economy; the freer the market, the freer the people; governments should not interfere with markets; a free market is the best mechanism for the distribution of resources; public life should largely mimic the private sector, and often should subsidise its operations- i.e. markets are better equipped to deal with the operation and functioning of everyday life, including travel, infrastructure and healthcare. Under neoliberalism, all of the above are privatised. Under neoliberalism, the market is God.

In the UK, the rise of neoliberalism as the dominant ideology is most associated with the Thatcher era of British politics, which was characterised by the deregulation and privatisation of industry on a massive scale, widening economic disparity and the hollowing out of the public sphere as a result of major tax reductions. While Labour opposed these policies, by the time Tony Blair’s New Labour came to power in 1997 this battle was largely conceded, and little has been done to reverse the havoc wreaked ever since.

In fact, so thoroughly has the ideology of neoliberalism taken root in our society that its callous machinations, for many, appear simply as the result of unavoidable material shortcomings and a Wheel of Fortune without prejudice: there just isn’t enough to go around and that’s life.

The truth of the matter is that scarcity is often artificial, and is a political choice. Economic saving in the short term comes at the expense of improving lives in the long term; conscious efforts are made to “balance the books” instead of preparing for an eventual crisis, which works well enough when things are ticking along as normal- but there is always, always a coming crisis. Around every ten years our global economic system collapses in on itself and neoliberalism is left trying to maintain an economic system that booms and busts like clockwork, all the while imposing a social system where people are left to fend for themselves whenever the music stops.

The UK’s approach to Covid is a stunning and shocking example of this policy put into practice. Despite being able to look into our own future by simply watching events unfolding in the rest of Europe and Asia, we have instead frittered away precious time hand-wringing over tax-avoiding multinationals going under and delaying lockdown measures. The UK lockdown- such that it is- began on the 23rd of March, a full two weeks after Italy went into full lockdown following their failed partial lockdown strategy which had begun on the 21st February. The lockdown in Wuhan had come on 23rd January, and at the end of that month the first two cases of coronavirus were reported in the UK. Warnings by nations ahead of us in the outbreak cycle continued to fall on deaf ears.

While it might seem that this inaction is only the result of some misplaced sense of British exceptionalism (and no doubt these delusions were at play), the truth of it is that modelling and data gathering about an eventual pandemic has been underway a lot longer than the Covid-19 outbreak. In 2016 the government carried out “Exercise Cygnus”- essentially a practice run to see how the UK would cope if a flu epidemic hit- and the results were terrifying. Within the NHS, local authorities and every government department taking part in the drill, massive service failures were found to exist. The exercise showed that the NHS was already stretched to breaking point, and would not be able to properly supply protective gear to its staff, never mind dealing with any surge in service use. 

What is the neoliberal answer to such a report? Suppression. The report, until very recently did not see the light of day. Deeming its contents “too terrifying” for the general public, the government instead chose informed inaction. When actually hit with this nightmare scenario- of which the government wilfully and knowingly left the UK underprepared- the official government policy was to seek out “Herd immunity”, where the disease would “burn through the population all in one go”, as the PM had put it, and infect 60% of the population. A policy that would have left hundreds of thousands dead, even with low fatality estimates of 1.5%.

Neoliberalism is the pursuit of profit over people, and hundred of thousands dead is acceptable collateral to people so committed in preserving the status quo that they would rather you die than risk business interests being put down the priority list. 

Why is it then that China and South Korea have coped better? At the start of this China and South Korea were respectively the first and second worst hit nations by this pandemic. South Korea, for its part, didn’t even enforce a lock down; instead they made testing easy, accessible and available on a massive scale. Anyone who tested positive had their contacts traced, were asked what venues they had gone to and who they met. Anyone they had met was tested as well and anywhere they went was closed for two weeks and sanitised. Testing was also made quick and simple, with tests in the hospital quickly being replaced and moved to drive ins and single person booths. An app was also released nationwide that let people volunteer information about where they had visited if they tested positive for Covid-19, this let people make informed decisions about where to go, and what venues to keep open, limiting the impact this had on day to day life in South Korea. 

In China the policy instead embraced self isolation, social distancing and a focus on hand and respiratory hygiene. Transport services were limited, schools were moved online and local services such as food delivery services were supported. The Chinese government, supported by the World Health Organisation also made an effort to provide education on infection prevention and controls, and is looking into ways to integrate these practices into day to day life, with a long term aim of preventing something like this happening again. The Chinese government also took a very direct role in encouraging people to focus on their own health in the coming days, and to put it in the words of Dr Gauden Galea, the WHO representative to China “Staying healthy over the next phase of COVID-19 is everybody’s business.” 

One difficulty however in discussing China’s response to the outbreak is that, funnily enough, there isn’t one Chinese response. Despite often being accused of authoritarianism and over centralisation, the Chinese government’s approach has been one of deferring to local authorities on policy; the more stringent lockdown in Wuhan has been in contrast to the response in Shanghai or Chengdu, where the local authorities have focused on the availability of health education and hygiene products. The WHO have also provided a big support to people in China, with their educational materials on social media, according to their own numbers, reaching 1 billion people. 

In summary, the response in South Korea has been one of an active government making testing available, as well as helping people coordinate around the pandemic without requiring a complete lockdown and China has instead focused on deferring local responses, supported by social distancing, moving services online when able, making education on the matter easily available and taking advice from international organisations like the WHO. The UK’s response was ignoring reports of service failures and until very recently, inaction.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has had praise heaped upon him across the media and public discourse for lending just a shred of credibility to the Tories despite their cruel ineptitude, and for producing a budget which, at least in theory, will support the vast swathes of people now finding themselves in precarious economic circumstances, although there remains questions about whether these measures go far enough. With increased spending and support being announced and with the crisis itself being such an overwhelming situation, it can be tempting to absolve leaders of past actions and instead focus on the positive steps being taken in the here and now. But we would all do well to remember that these are the same people who, through their negligence have cost hundreds, if not thousands of lives, and have left us without the social infrastructure to deal with the present crisis as a consequence of years of austerity. 

This new found generosity will not last. Dominic Cummings deflecting questions around NHS pay rises is evidence enough for any who need it that this sudden change in values is on a strictly temporary basis, unless we demand manifest change.

(Collaboration by Ryan Wilson and Alex Osbourne)

Pandemic Perspective: The Cuban Healthcare Effort

It has been interesting to see how the different governing bodies across the world have responded to the outbreak of a global pandemic. Some have handled it better than others, and despite what your government has been telling you, the worst responses have come from some of the most “developed” countries in the world. So concerned with maintaining capital that measures have been slow and relaxed, and when compared to more socialised countries such as Cuba and Vietnam it really highlights some of the glaring issues with the structure of countries like the U.S and the U.K regardless of some of the helpful policies that have been introduced.

If the only information you have about Cuba has come from a mainstream western media perspective, it wouldn’t be surprising if you thought of them as a country ruined by a brutal communist dictator in Fidel Castro, a nation that can’t look after its people. Western reporting on Cuba has been very selective since the success of the revolution on January 1st 1959. Castro and his revolutionaries overthrew the President (Dictator) Fulgencio Batista, a man backed by the United States, who had turned Cuba in to a police state, stripping the people of all of their rights and causing the death of around 20,000 Cubans over the course of 7 years. A higher percentage of the Cuban population than what was lost by the United States in both World Wars.

There has also been a lot of criticism of the new government in Cuba. They have shown a propensity for violence in maintaining control and within the country the people that oppose them call themselves ‘Dissidents’, advocating for capitalist systems to return to the country and pointing to the governments own restriction on civil liberties. Many outside news sources do point to facts but very rarely give any context (such as Cuba being constantly under attack by a large aggressive power in the United States, who has shown it will go to extreme lengths to overthrow unfriendly regimes.) They also give Dissidents more of a voice than they seem to hold with average Cuban civilians. This is evident in one of the many U.S cables released by Wikileaks that stated “We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organisations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans.” This seems evident in this really interesting article from Al Jazeera reporter Ed Augustin written just after the death of Castro, he writes, “Even Cubans who hate the Castros joke that the first thing the Ladies in White (Dissident human rights protesters) do after their weekly protest is go to the shopping mall to spend the money they’ve been sent from Miami.”

Indeed coverage of Cuba has always been through a political lens but lets bring it back to the modern day, the pandemic we face, and lets simply look at the facts of the situation. You may be wondering why Cuba seems so well equipped to help with this global outbreak. It all started after a bad outbreak of the dengue virus in 1981 on the island. In spite of the trade embargo placed on Cuba by the United States they were still able to send doctors out to other countries to do medical research and soon started developing in the biotech industry. More specifically they began producing Interferons. Interferons are ‘signalling’ proteins released by cells in response to infection to warn other cells to heighten their anti-viral defenses. Through the years a lot of research has been done on these proteins and they have been shown to drastically reduce the effects of viruses and even attack tumours in mice.

So after successfully minimising the dengue outbreak and decades of top quality research and practice, the Cuban medical sector is most likely the best equipped in the world to deal with a pandemic. They have not only looked after their own people but have a policy of wanting to unite the people of the world, especially in the face of this crisis. They have been working closely with China and Italy has been one of the first countries to accept their help in trying to stem the spread of Covid-19 and the small Caribbean nation have offered many more countries aid in battling the virus. They even allowed a British cruise ship to dock on their shores after the U.S refused it sanctuary. There was no Cubans on board and allowing the ship to dock put the Cuban people at risk but they acted selflessly in an effort to help those that need it. They continue to be world leaders in battling the spread of the virus and now have doctors in many countries along with China and Russia to do whatever they can to help the world.

It is clear that the capital obsessed super powers of this world are trying to downplay the severity of the virus and, in the case of America, are even trying to convince their workers to put themselves at risk for the sake of the man made construct known as the “economy”. We should instead look to countries such as Cuba that have been a guiding light in dark times, to show us that as the human race we are capable of denying the ‘dog eat dog’ mentality of capitalist society and should put more importance on the value of every life over the unrealistic necessity of capitalism of constant economic growth and profit motives of the few that own the means of production.

The World is on Fire and You’re Being Lied To

So… the planet is on fire. We’ve finally come to the point where the effects of climate change are glaringly obvious in a real, physical sense, but for some reason we still see fit to argue about it instead of actually trying to do something to fix it.

What chance do we have?

We have elected politicians who are only concerned with holding on to power for the next few years and as a result aren’t interested in actually dealing with the problem. It’s like setting fire to your kitchen and then going for a lie down in your bed upstairs, while saying something like:

 “It’s not really a problem, I’ll deal with it later, maybe when the fire climbs the stairs. We have more important things to worry about right now. Like keeping those damn neighbours off our grass!”

And outside of the cluster fuck that is capitalist politics we have right wing trolls so obsessed with “owning the libs” that they are doubling down on outright denying that climate change is real and are even trying to bring violence to people by spreading false rumours that environmental activists are actually setting fires around the world, as if in some idiotic attempt to accelerate the very cataclysm which- in reality– they are trying to prevent. I guess so that they can have the pleasure of saying “I told you so” on twitter as the world turns to ash around them? Is that what these trolls think? I don’t know but the constant lies being spread have muddied the waters and have ordinary people talking about the wrong things.

The latest misinformation campaign launched online has been the concerted effort by trolls and bots to misrepresent New South Wales crime stats, making it seem as though the wildfires- that have killed around 25 people, countless animals and destroyed more than 2000 homes- were in fact started by arsonists. This comes from a report by the New South Wales police force titled ‘Police take action against more than 180 people so far during 2019/2020 bushfire season’. Admittedly, it sounds bad, and if you never read past the headline this would be a very worrying statistic. However, as is often the case with warped stats from the right, actually reading the source material gives an altogether different impression than the one being peddled. On reading the New South Wales crime report, it becomes clear that only 24 people were arrested for deliberately starting bushfires. Still unacceptable, but not enough to engulf a large portion of the continent in flames and all reported incidents were responded to and dealt with by emergency services. The rest of the people arrested were simply violating the rules of the fire ban or for carelessly discarding cigarettes. A spokesperson for police in the state of Victoria said in an interview:

 “Police are aware of a number of posts circulating in relation to the current bushfire situation, however currently there is no intelligence to indicate that the fires in east Gippsland and north-east Victoria have been caused by arson or any other suspicious behaviour.”

Misrepresenting stats and using them to argue against the validity of climate change is careless and dangerous. This has been Australia’s hottest and driest year on record. Prolonged droughts and bushfire seasons have meant that things like lightning strikes are enough to set off large fires. The wildfires have been so widespread that they are creating their own weather systems which is causing more likelihood of adverse weather, causing even more fires.

The point I’m trying to make is simply this: be careful about who and what you believe online. Even as you read this article, I implore you to look for yourself and make sure that you keep yourself right. Don’t let people manipulate you. Don’t trust YouTube documentaries. And don’t let anyone convince you that climate change isn’t a real and present threat. Around the world huge areas of land are either on fire or flooding. People lose their lives every year in abnormal, horrific weather events. Just because things aren’t happening to you here doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist.

Make up your own mind, don’t let anyone else make it up for you.

Check out the link below to see the police report for yourself

https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/news/news_article?sq_content_src=%2BdXJsPWh0dHBzJTNBJTJGJTJGZWJpenByZC5wb2xpY2UubnN3Lmdvdi5hdSUyRm1lZGlhJTJGODIyNjQuaHRtbCZhbGw9MQ%3D%3D