The coronavirus has turned the world upside down. The neoliberal project of deregulating the movement of capital and commodities while managing human mobility has made way for a restrictive crisis management organised along nation-state lines with strict border controls. At this stage, it appears difficult to gauge whether the current crisis will result in major shifts in the global political agenda or rather into an acceleration of the existing power balances. Similarly, it remains to be seen whether the measures taken by the national decision-makers will herald a new governmental regime or if they stand in continuity with the neoliberal project.
While we can’t tell today if and how social and working class movements will be able to act and intervene in this crisis, we can clearly see how the prevailing management strategies reinforce old inequalities and establish new social boundaries within and between societies:
- boundaries between permanent residents covered by a national social security system on the one hand and the non-insured day laborers and self-employed, the migrant workers and undocumented migrants with no residence status on the other,
- boundaries between the vulnerable high-risk group of elderly or ill people deprived of their social contacts (and personal caregivers from abroad), between the potentially infected others, reorganised in small unities of the nuclear family or the single household, and those who live in crowded conditions with no possibility for social distancing,
- boundaries between those who are allowed to work from home, between those who are considered indispensable for the critical infrastructure or obliged to ply their work for the sake of the national GDP despite potential health risks and those who lose their jobs,
- boundaries between those who are able to survive the crisis – be it thanks to a social security system, governmental aid funds or personal savings – and those who are left to die.
For a scientific network that is funded by the European Union to connect people and ideas around the globe through meetings and conferences and to reflect on the relation between labour and coercion in a long-term and global perspective, this is a moment to pause.
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