Announcing the Covid-19 Response Working Group

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Progressive International (PI) has criticised the global failure to put people first in government and corporate responses to the Coronavirus pandemic, as it launches a new policy working group to develop a “people first” alternative.

The Covid-19 Response Working Group is made up of academics, activists, and organisers from across the world. Their mission is to develop just and equitable policies that put “people first”. The Group will produce a blueprint for movements, parties and peoples to respond to the pandemic and its overlapping crises.

The Working Group will consider three broad areas: health and safety; trade and finance; and labor rights and social policy. In all areas, it will develop policies that put “people first”.

Almost a year after the first cases of Covid-19, the global response fails to put people first and focus on collective wellbeing. Instead, the rich and powerful propose to hoard any vaccine, stoke divisions, fail to support livelihoods and seize more power by rolling back democratic protections. Instead of a new shock doctrine, we need a progressive blueprint that puts people first for peoples, parties and movements right across the world to unite, mobilise and organise around to win.” — Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla, PI’s Blueprint Coordinator

“No Country Can End the Pandemic Alone”

The coronavirus has revealed the urgent and enduring need for international coordination, cooperation, and solidarity: no country can end the pandemic alone.

Yet the dominant response by governments around the world has been to introduce ‘sicken-thy-neighbor’ policies, hoarding supplies, blocking aid, advancing deals with pharmaceutical companies to purchase any eventual vaccine, and blaming “foreigners” for their own failures to protect and provide for their residents.

International institutions, meanwhile, were not only incapable of coordinating an effective response to the health and economic emergencies that resulted from the Covid-19 outbreak. The entire architecture of the international system — from trade agreements and intellectual property monopolies to debt payments and the dollar system — is designed to disable internationalist ambitions wherever they emerge.

To ensure an equitable response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to design and advance a radical transformation of the international system so that we are prepared to fight the next one.

Re-imagining Global Public Health

The Covid-19 Response Working Group aims to develop such a blueprint.

The Working Group will consider three broad areas in need of radical reinvention beyond a narrow consideration of the medical implications of the coronavirus: health and safety; trade and finance; and labor rights and social policy. In all areas, we will develop policies that will address the precise ways in which the pandemic has harmed people already left out of the gains of our capitalist system, and advance a comprehensive picture of the necessary solutions.

The mission of the Working Group is to build a collaborative international community that brings very different kinds of knowledge and experience to bear on burning questions raised by the pandemic; to build from this knowledge and experience to develop a concrete set of solutions to the overlapping crises set off by the pandemic; and to mobilize these solutions by collaborating with social movements and planning concrete actions that can change the politics and policy of the pandemic in real time.

Scope and Membership

The Covid-19 Response Working Group connects activists and thinkers across geographies and areas of expertise, from organizations like the People’s Health Movement and Focus on the Global South to activists like Burcu Kilic (Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program) and Ranja Sengupta (Third World Network), and leading scholars like Nancy Krieger (Harvard University) and Tithi Bhattacharya (Purdue University).

On health and safety, the Working Group will chart a Blueprint for the decolonization of Global Health as a discipline and will consider access to healthcare for all, including rural, tribal, and other populations and distribution of a people’s vaccine unencumbered by profit motives. Institutions at all levels were tragically unprepared to provide for the health and safety of their populations — and have made only limited progress since the arrival of the pandemic in late 2019.

On trade and finance, the Working Group will propose a radical change to the trade, intellectual property, and finance regimes to enable a truly just transition out of the pandemic. The development and distribution of a vaccine for the virus is entirely contingent on how this regime allocates money and grants or denies access to the fruits of its investment. The prosperity or bankruptcy of countries around the world, too, currently hinges on their access to emergency financing. This Working Group will engage international institutions — from the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund to the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization — that must be reclaimed, transformed, or dismantled in order to ensure a just transition out of the Covid-19 crisis

On labor rights and social policy, the Working Group will focus on how to end this crisis of precarity, build worker power, and share the lessons of social protections that emerged from the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many months into the pandemic, the crisis of precarity has only intensified and millions continue to be forced into dangerous working conditions just to keep their jobs — while their CEOs sat at home accruing wealth from exploitation.

It took the coronavirus pandemic to bring this home: a vast, punishing global pandemic requires a vast, enabling global response. Unfortunately, for all the noise in the last few months, this is exactly what we do not have. Countries are not working together; problems of the immediate present, like access to test kits, PPE and drugs, are being prolonged even as immediate solutions exist; vaccines for the coronavirus are being abandoned to corporations and institutions who do not have our best interests at heart; and the system that produced the colossal catastrophe that is the global response to the pandemic is being left untouched, as if it is somehow the solution, rather than the problem. It’s time to take the fight from genteel seminar rooms and court chambers into the streets to bend the will of the world to give us what we deserve: the drugs and vaccines we need to live.” — Achal Prabhala, Working Group member and coordinator of the AccessIBSA project which campaigns for access to medicines in India, Brazil and South Africa

By definition pandemics are international, and so too must be our response to them. Moreover, this pandemic is overlaid onto an international economic order that has fostered multiple long standing crises of inequality, ecological destruction, racism, and anti-democratic politics. As we plan for a process of rebuilding our society and restarting our economies post-COVID-19, we must try to make this the starting point for a profound transformation of our economic system to one that--by design--fosters community, democracy, sustainability, health and wellbeing. The actions we take now (or fail to take) could have profound long term consequences. We must not allow this crisis to further entrench a political-economic world order fed by the destruction of people and planet.” — Dana Brown, Working Group member and Director of the Next System Project at The Democracy Collaborative

In both the ‘north’ and the ‘south,’ it is the poorest communities who are on the losing end of the pro-private turn, a turn that is championed and lubricated by philanthropic disbursements. As a result, people across the world are seeing a decline in the quality of the provision of public goodswhich in turn can leads to the entrenchment of race-baiting and racialized forms of stigma and scapegoating, a pattern of division exploited by wealthy groups. To point out this pattern of health drain and wealth drain is the opposite of ‘extremist’ thinking; rather, it aims to enlarge the ‘overton window’ of possible alternatives by pointing out that the philanthrocapitalist rationale for increased public-private partnerships in health rests on a very flimsy evidence base. What does work for public health is primary health care strengthening; pro-public patent regimes, and affordable access to medicines. Those goals are what I hope to work towards as part of this important working group.” — Linsey McGoey, Working Group member and Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex

COVID-19 has amplified the social and economic faultlines in society in an unprecedented manner. Unprecedented unemployment is met with unprecedented profits of corporations such as Amazon: in our current moment, misery and affluence are intimately tied. One of the greatest barriers for any transformation is the ideological milieu in which words such as “planning” and “socialism” have been associated with totalitarianism. Yet, what the pundits fail to tell us is that the “free market” is already working through a close nexus between corporations, financial institutions and state bureaucracies. We urgently need to dismantle this ideological ruse and show why we need more investment and spending from the government if we are to undertake the necessary transition to save humanity from a planetary catastrophe. In other words, we need to immediately start building a counter-hegemonic project that challenges the intellectual hegemony of neoliberalism as well as propose alternatives for a sustainable and people-centered development model.” — Ammar Ali Jan, Working Group member and political organizer with the Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement in Pakistan

The current health, economic and multilateral crises should not be met with the reiteration of the current multilateralism with all its flaws and failure, the same free trade and investment agreements with its granting of more hegemony to corporations and the same neoliberal economic order with all of its inequality and climate crises. Movements around the world, from the feminist and women’s movement to the labour movements have long shown how progressive and autonomous movements can bring about structural and systemic changes. This is a moment to recall that power and re-imagine and re-envision a space for solidarity and cooperation, between states and between peoples’ movements to advance human rights, justice and equality, and address global and systemic structural issues.” — Diyana Yahaya, Member of the Working Group and former Programmer Coordinator at Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development

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Published
07.10.2020

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Announcing the Covid-19 Response Working Group

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