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Your Life or Your Job: What Workers Risk in the Pandemic

Mike Solomon | May 5, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Mike Solomon | May 5, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

How can we approach characterizing a change as unprecedented as the one instigated by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic?   

Certainly, as all-encompassing as it is, it calls for a carefully circumspect response. But, we must take the opportunity from what has been made plain by this world-shaking event and reshape our thinking and our world with the sharp awareness we have gained from this major convulsion.

“The truth has come out that the hoarding of wealth by the few does not and will not ensure their survival, nor of course, the survival of everyone else”

The weak points in the structure upon which contemporary life is based have been uniquely exposed by the particulars of this biological crisis. 

Subway commuters on their way to work in New York (March 19, 2020)
Subway commuters on their way to work in New York (March 19, 2020)

The almost incalculable disparity between extreme wealth and the remaining assets spread so thin throughout the population has shown up as a major fault line. Our lopsided economic structure having had its weakness exposed by the storm of the pandemic should disabuse all of us of the illusion that neoliberalism forms a viable structure for an economy. Groomed on the steroid-like diet of a strictly proprietary and vicious competition without any alternating or moderating principles, it has become all muscle with no flexibility. The truth has come out that the hoarding of wealth by the few does not and will not ensure their survival, nor of course, the survival of everyone else. 

This memorable quote from 1 Corinthians 12:21 in the Bible seems to speak more to us now about this truth and the reality of humankind than when it was first revealed a few thousand years ago: 

… And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it …” – 1 Corinthians 12:21.

Let us remember that just a very short while ago the privileged few were in effect saying, “I have no need of you” to the unprivileged many – at least up until the pandemic struck. Now it has become very clear that the little guy; the grocery store worker, the delivery worker, the food worker, the trucker, the warehouse worker, the sanitation worker, the first responder, and of course the healthcare workers, the nurses and doctors – have become the most important people in the world. We are porous creatures made equal by and through the body, as well as in other ways. The virus knows no “other.”

Supermarket cashier wearing mask on a supermarket on Aclimação neighborhood in São Paulo, Brazil during coronavirus quarantine.
Supermarket cashier wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) in São Paulo, Brazil.

Now that we plainly see the commoner as equally essential to the survival of civilization as the wealthy, shouldn’t we immediately set out to balance our economic model, so that every person’s life, upon whose existence we all depend, does not itself fail so short a time into a crisis or downturn? Most of us live a paycheck or two away from financial ruin. This is simply ridiculous, given the resources, the inventions, and the wealth that exists in the world today. 

This is not to coyly imply that we ought to adopt socialism or communism any other ism for that matter, nor any particular government or party. It is not to say that there isn’t diversity or different degrees of motivation, talent, or temperament among humankind. But with all of our diversity, there is a larger and much more fundamental reality that exists. Just a bit before 1900 Baha’u’llah wrote, “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”  

Emphasizing the interdependence of all on Earth, this statement is a contemporary reiteration of the Corinthians quote. If the pandemic proves to us nothing else, it proves that we are all one.

So now we have arrived at the crucial juncture, the adult moment when we simply know too much to go on the way we have. It is precisely this inescapable knowledge, brought on by the pandemic, which leaves us no excuse to try to resume exactly as we did before. Recognizing more clearly than ever that it is the generality of the people of the world that actually hold it all together, who are both the consumers and the workers upon whom the Amazons and Walmarts depend, shouldn’t these people who’ve actually demonstrated their great value to all of us be protected instead of being treated as expendable? Is it moral to accept that the worker receives less than .01 percent of the salary than the owner of a big business does? This form of modern-day slavery is all around us — and needs to end.

Obviously, culture is like a huge freighter loaded with billions of diverse entities and also powerful interests, so it’s not going to stop on a dime or change direction quickly — but neither can we allow this disaster-course we are on to continue. Right now we have a very precious opportunity. The degree to which this world-shaking crisis has slowed the forward momentum of the world’s economy affords us the chance to enact a sea-change in which a more cooperative, shared and balanced economy could be initiated and implemented. 

In that new economy’s essential feature it should guarantee a basic quality and security of life for everyone — for all the essential people who hold the world together.  

The people must have secured to them their eternal human rights to healthcare, housing, sustenance, education, and income. The top and the bottom have to be brought closer together. The bottom has made their gesture by facing a death-plague to keep going to their jobs. When will the top make theirs?

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Comments

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  • Hooshang S. Afshar
    May 6, 2020
    -
    Mr. Solomon, support from on high for your excellent essay. O Ye Rich Ones On Earth! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease. (Baha'u'llah, the Hidden Words, no.54)
  • Manav Dutta
    May 6, 2020
    -
    At the same time, the very idea of essential vs nonessential workers is wrong as well. Those who pay taxes to support society should be allowed to work or not work, depending on their comfort with risk. Instead, there is a system where ppl who want to work have been put under house arrest despite not testing positive and those who don't feel its safe for them to keep working due to real concerns about being vulnerable have to keep working. Let us oppose what is arbitrary and unjust and find a way to keep society stable, happy, and safe.
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