The pandemic as a public calamity

Image: Markus Spike


The coronavirus pandemic is also marked by class, gender and race, so without public policies there are no concrete protection conditions

On March 20, 2020, the Senate approved Decree nº 6/2020 that recognizes the occurrence of the state of public calamity due to the pandemic of the new coronavirus (COVID-19). As a concept, public calamity means catastrophe, public disgrace, scourge. The construction of the word through Latin is calamitate, but the concept, according to the National Civil Defense and Protection Policy (Law No. 12.608/12), goes further.

It is for this concept that it is necessary to consider the situations that bring to the State of Public Calamity an abnormal situation, caused by disasters (or not), causing damages and losses to the community, which imply a substantial impairment of the response capacity of the public power of the affected entity.

Since the first case of the disease was detected in December 2019 (Wuhan - China), COVID-19 has posed incalculable challenges to world society. Because it is something that affects all spheres of social life, the pandemic caused by COVID-19 or Coronavirus needs to have governments and other state entities, such as Parliament and the Judiciary, the necessary support for a great joint action that takes into account considering that in situations like the one experienced today, there is no room for fragmented or partial attitudes. Joint articulation is what guarantees precise action, especially in the present tense.

However, what we are witnessing, especially in Brazil, is still closer to a vain dispute between rulers than to an effort to unite in the face of the complexity of the situation. A good part of the recommendations for protection against the proliferation of the virus remain far from the reality experienced by a large part of the working classes, insofar as they are not accompanied by substantial economic measures. So far, more than 600 deaths that balance between covid and hunger in 2021.

In times when uberization becomes the tonic of the world of work, attributing to workers in an increasingly intense and perverse way the responsibility for their own reproduction, staying at home is not an option for many. Either because this decision is in the hands of third parties, or because they cannot take even one day off from their occupations, however precarious they may be, without running out of food to eat the next day, a significant portion of workers do not have the minimum conditions for their protection. In this sense, however convenient it is to believe that infectious diseases are democratic, the coronavirus pandemic is also marked by class, gender and race, as British geographer David Harvey recently stated.

In this context, the debate on the role of the State in guaranteeing life becomes paramount. Without public policies, there are no concrete protection conditions. But the clumsy speech of the country's president, Jair Bolsonaro, seems to be composed of a mixture of denial and irresponsibility and, in the face of an inability to present concrete economic measures for workers, even the quarantine, even if taken individually, has already begins to suffer strong pressure and threatens to be suspended at any time.

What should not be understood as a novelty nor be received with surprise. Profit at the service of the rich, the basic principle of the capitalist economy, prevents a more concentrated effort on the importance of social isolation around the world. For the Capitalist System and in most government actions in the world, the Economy is above human lives.

But is it at this moment that we should reflect, when the capitalist system was thinking or acting differently? The defense of property has been explicit since the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, enacted in 1789 in the context of the French Revolution, and continues to be the main banner of neoliberal governments today. In this way, this is not a superficial analysis, but for this text to have its structure thought from the Public Calamity, considering the Pandemic as a preponderant factor and the role of the State as primordial for this moment, we must organize the thought from the current mode of production and the crisis in which it finds itself, with the environmental issue being an integral part of this global arrangement and the integrated articulation of the Public Power for such confrontations and the importance of the integrated articulation of the Public Power for such confrontations.

Neoliberalism is not able to guarantee effective actions in the face of the Pandemic, the minimal State is unable to bring collective responses beyond economic protectionism to capital itself.

It is safe to say that the process of constant expansion and limitless consumerism necessary for the survival of capital is based on the intensification of the exploitation of male and female workers, on the disorderly extraction of raw materials, on extensive agrarian production, making the relationship between power and labor and raw materials succumb to the production of commodities every day.

In addition to the disruption of the subjects' lives at a more immediate level, both objectively and subjectively, other enormous and serious consequences become more acute day after day. The effect of this is garbage, which will not leave the planet and in its wake solar heating, the ozone layer, El Niño e La niña, mining, its waste and all the environmental crime that accompanies it. The planet is worn out with the acceleration of capital over all existing forms of life.

If it is time to think of social isolation as necessary to reduce the number of people infected and killed by COVID-19, it is worth reflecting on why it is so difficult to stop.

This reality goes far beyond the public calamity generated by the virus. It takes us to the logic of production and reproduction of life in the capitalist system and the urgent need to rethink the path that is being followed in this sociability. Profit cannot be above human life, determining the conditions in which we live. Whether because of the pressure of the act of not stopping, but also how to stop, it is necessary to think about how to live. How are the self-employed, unemployed, homeless people? What is the dialogue about access to food as a right, the size of our houses and the weakened social relations in everyday life being established?

As part of the workforce, social workers are not immune to this reality. Fragile working conditions, including precarious employment, lack of autonomy and scarce resources, have been the subject of concern and debate within the category in recent decades. At the same time, recognizing the importance of the work of Social Work to guarantee rights is paramount, especially in times of heightened expressions of the social question.

More than ever, it is time for the uncompromising defense of the rule of law, universal public policies, a health system, education, work and also the right not to come or go, in times of a pandemic.

To the world, what this period makes us reflect on: the minimal State is unable to guarantee citizenship due to its fragile mediation between the interests of the population and the capitalist economy. The ineffectiveness of the Neoliberal State is deliberate, in the face of bad weather, pandemics and major environmental issues. Proof that this model needs to be defeated in countries that apply such political organization.

In Brazil, more than before, the urgency of fighting not only for the defense of Public Health but against the daily dismantling of social policies is reborn. The Federal Constitution cannot have in its legal framework, amendments such as EC95 that removes public spending for social rights for 20 years.

This duality undoes what is described in terms of Articles 6 and 7 of the Constitution, which guarantee the entire population various rights that have already been instituted, but are currently deeply affected. What is taken for granted by the community cannot be commodified. Life is not a business to be balanced with the balance of what is acceptable loss as analysts of the current federal government suggest.

The recognition of class identity, the commitment to those who are in vulnerable processes and the appreciation of life must guide the defense of the strike of the working class, as well as the guarantee, by the State, of conditions for it to occur. These are elements that can contribute to the rescue of unity in social struggles, in the face of a Brazil that unfolds in the Coup against its own people.

*Adriana Soares Dutra, social worker, is a professor at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). author of the book Disaster management and social service (Appris).

*Leonardo Koury Martins He is a professor of the Social Service course at Centro Universitário Unihorizontes.


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