This post first appeared in the newsletter of the Sensible Centre.
Covid lockdowns have had many predictable impacts. But they have also had one surprising impact. Many ordinary Australians have discovered that the old talk of ‘class war’ is not dead at all. It is very much alive and they’ve experienced it firsthand.
Lockdowns have revealed two economic classes in society – those in salaried employment in the corporate and public sectors, and the rest of us. The self-employed, creatives, small businesses and casual workers have been deprived of earning a livelihood. They have been robbed of their economic and social vocations.
They’ve been robbed of the means of life by the salaried managerial class. The latter have made all the decisions, set all the rules, enforced their implementation, and imposed fines or jail terms for non-compliance.
Haven’t ruling classes always behaved like this? Yes, they have.
What are the numbers in this new class war? We think it runs something like this: about 60 per cent of society are quite comfortable with lockdowns. Their salaries in the corporate and public sectors are continuing without interruption. Life is calmer. Working from home has reduced the stress of commuting.
Home-schooling is a pain without any paid help, but those who’ve been in the habit of employing home tutors, au pairs, or nannies are still able to do it. Life goes on. The Olympic Games and Netflix have never been more available. For many retired people and pensioners, life has continued on without financial interruption.
For the other 40 per cent of society, lockdowns have been a financial and social disaster. Single-parent families with young kids, usually women, relying on casual work in hospitality or entertainment industries and thrust into home-schooling, have been the big casualties.
Their despair has been unspeakable, but their voices are never heard. Small businesses have been decimated. Perhaps half will not continue. One million family businesses in neighbourhoods and small towns will disappear. Creatives have been erased as if they never existed.
When Australian Governments considered lockdowns, they could have decided, as Sweden, Switzerland, Latvia and Bulgaria did, that decimating this 40 per cent of society was too great a cost to accept. But the decision-makers in government are not in this 40 per cent themselves. They are in the salaried 60 per cent. Financial insecurity is not something they know or have experienced.
Can the 40 per cent assert themselves, find a voice, and get organised for political representation? One thing is certain – had small businesses, the self-employed, creatives, and casual workers been represented in our parliaments, lockdowns would never have been imposed so recklessly upon this 40 per cent by the salaried 60 per cent.
In 2017, Angela Vithoulkas established The Small Business Party to create a voice for this 40 per cent. It wasn’t easy. But a critical start has been made in enabling the ‘engine room of the economy’ – as politicians patronising refer to the 40 per cent – to create its own voice.
In 2019, Angela took The Small Business Party into The Sensible Centre, to broaden the base and the agenda. Covid lockdowns have made this task more essential than any of us could have imagined in 2019.
Can small businesses, the self-employed, creatives and casual workers get organised and send our own representatives to Canberra next year? The case for doing it no longer needs to be explained to anyone. It is now self-evident – it must be done as a matter of survival.