Wed 25 Mar 2020

Coronavirus, capitalism, co-operativism

general discussion - capitalists are cashing in on coronavirus, should co-op economy activists try to do the same/ seize this opportunity to help shape a better society?


Received this email from Corporate Watch (workers co-op) this morning and feel it merits some dissemination and possibly discussion
-------- Forwarded Message --------




Wed, 25 Mar 2020 11:42:41 +0000


Corporate Watch <contact@corporatewatch.org>

How are companies and capitalism responding to the corona crisis? How have they contributed to it? How are they affected by it? And how are people supporting each other and fighting for a different future as it continues?

Capitalism helped create this crisis. The risk of increased deaths from the disease is a direct result of shortages of ventilators, tests, beds, and healthcare professionals, consequences of an economic system that prioritises profit over our health.

And as with every crisis, capitalism looks for ways to cash in. Companies like Amazon put workers at risk to pump out deliveries, hedge funds make millions short-selling the stock markets, everyone from banks to landlords push for government handouts even as they lay off staff. Governments take advantage of the panic to ramp up authoritarian powers.

People are organising against this, in their communities and workplaces. Responding to increased isolation, mutual aid groups have sprung up across the UK (see https://covidmutualaid.org/). Fear can turn into anger — not against each other, but against the system that has brought us here — and radical change can happen.

Keep us informed of #CoronaCapitalism

To help us stay informed and think through these important questions, we are trying to compile some of the most useful and interesting articles, news and resources on the corona virus and capitalism that we come across and will publish a page on our website this week.

If you see some yourselves:

  • email us at contact[AT]corporatewatch.org 

  • or tweet @corpwatchuk with the #coronacapitalism hashtag.

And get in touch too if you want us to look into a company exploiting its workers or profiting from the corona crisis.

Meanwhile, we have published a quick compilation of some of the companies and investors cashing in on the crisis….

Cashing in on corona

Big Pharma; Crispin Odey; Amazon; Deliveroo; Britannia Hotels; Marshall Wace; Richard Branson

The corona crisis may have smashed stock markets and halted economic growth but for some it’s a great business opportunity.

While small-time spivs make a quick buck selling tissues or face masks at inflated prices, the big money is in the race for vaccines. One of the drugs being tested as a possible Covid 19 medicine is chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug produced by (among others) the US company Rising Pharmaceuticals.

According to a report in the Financial Times, Rising massively hiked the price of its chloraquine as the corona scare began: “On January 23, according to data from research firm Elsevier […] the drug price rose 97.86 per cent to $7.66 per 250mg pill and $19.88 per 500mg pill”.

In response, Rising said the price rise was “coincidental” and that it restored the old price once it realised that the drug might be in demand because of the outbreak. Just three months ago, Rising had admitted price fixing in a case in Pennsylvania and agreed to pay $3 million in fines and restitution.

There is a major issue brewing behind this story. In capitalism, choices about what drugs are developed and produced are driven by their profit potential. As a result, public health resources are drained by the high prices charged for patented medicines, which corporations justify as the rewards they need to incentivise research. But also, research into less profitable medicines is underfunded – and this includes the kind of antiviral drugs needed to fight coronavirus.

So in the US, as reported by Bloomberg, venture capitalists have poured $42 billion into drug development in the last three years. Nearly half of that has flooded into potentially lucrative treatments for cancer and rare diseases. Only 5% went into drugs that prevent infections.

If the corona crisis pushes up relevant drug prices that might encourage more corporate research. But it would also mean further haemorrhaging of health service funds into investors’ pockets.

Click here to read about more companies and investors cashing in on corona.

Corporate Watch c/o Freedom Press, Angel Alley, 84b Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX


Dave Hollings Wed 25 Mar 2020

It depends what you mean. Clearly co-ops should not 'cash in' on this crisis in the sense of profiteering. But continuing to provide employment, goods and services to the communities we serve in their time of crisis should be what we do. If in doing so we can show that co-ops are a better, more ethical form of business then we should do so.

This week Tim Martin, CEO of Wetherspoons has told his 43000 staff that they will not be paid until the government gives the company 80% of their wages because Wetherspoons 'can't afford it'. Meanwhile our small independent co-operatively owned pub has guaranteed full wages to all our staff. That's the co-operative difference in action and I have no problem 'cashing in' on this by telling other people working in the licensed trade what our co-operative has done.


Kayleigh Walsh Outlandish Wed 25 Mar 2020

I've been coordinating my local Mutual Aid group, we divvied up our local care and set up smaller Whatsapp groups to make sure we're being efficient and spreading the load. It's self-organised, community-led and we've done some training to make sure that we're safeguarding properly.

The Government's announcement of the NHSvolunteers looks really dubious to me. They've underfunded the NHS for 10 years and now want people to volunteer and prop up the people that they've intentionally put in a really precarious situation. I don't think this is exactly what you're looking for, but I think it's worth acknowledging that the reason the Mutual Aid groups were set up was lack of Government leadership and organisation. Now they've exploited people further under the guise that they're looking after the health service.


Matt Nicholson Wed 25 Mar 2020

At York Collective (yorkcollective.co.uk) we're working to support local businesses and mutual aid organisations. I fear though as the local council moves in to coordinate a response, self organised groups will be sidelined, and corporate charities will take agency away from local people.


Jim Wild Thu 26 Mar 2020

Hello everyone. Likewise we will be guaranteeing wages - whilst we can. The result of being prudent and keeping sensible reserves. I think high lighting this is important point about coops - that they are for the people, and highlighting that instead of paying companies to furlough staff I think the money could be better directed. Perhaps it should be going directly to the people obvious choice would be a universal wage. even just for three months. So if they have to take unpaid eave they can. It feels like it could be quite profitable for some companies to furlough staff, but It's very complicated and I'm not thinking about the wider issues much at present, just trying to do the work in a slightly disrupted life. Out local authority seem a little quiet at present.


Cait Tue 31 Mar 2020

Hi everyone. Cait here from the Bristol Cable.

There might be the opportunity to make some kind of collective public statement at this time. I'm thinking it could be good to get our collective, worker's co-op voices heard in order to:

- Highlight the positive response that worker co-ops across the country have taken - examples of radical decisions that look after people, in contrast to what some business and even public sector top down institutions are doing. We could connect this to our structure, why this allows us to put values first as well as make big decisions that protect workers. We could explain why this works so much better than tyrannical private businesses (wetherspoons) or heirarchical public institutions where workers aren't given control (e.g. lack of protective gear in the NHS - although maybe it's the funding that's the issue here, more than the structure so might not be the best example).

I think that would be the easiest thing to co-ordinate, and is quite specific.

But I'm also interested in the following two areas - just adding them here as food for thought:

- The opportunities at this time to rethink what work and workplaces we value - and make the case of co-operative ways of working. "Disaster studies" (academic research into human responses to disaster) shows time and time again that in the face of disruption people very quickly organise themselves into collaborative groups to get stuff done. They often do this far better than established elites / government.

So there is an opportunity at this time to emphasise the basic, very natural human need to have ownership over your work and do work that is meaningful and helps people. This is such a basic need that people do it without any pay - as we've seen in all the voluntary groups springing up! And workers co-ops are key to providing this - ownership matters.

- Secondly, just thinking that all these neighbourhood groups are potentially fledgling co-ops. They don't need any legal structure necessarily at the moment, but they might at some point. And even if they don't need support with legal structure stuff, collaborative working basics apply regardless. It would be great to provide support to help them with collaborative working and co-op set up stuff if needed. I think there is a thread already started about this on NEON, but workers co-ops bring a really useful perspective.


Kayleigh Walsh Outlandish Fri 3 Apr 2020

I am with you on this @Cait! I was really heartened to hear Naomi Klein mention worker co-ops and hone in on workers in her Majority Rising talk with Angela Davis last night (look it up if you didn't see it, it was amazing). I think it would be a really good move to publicly release something to try and show that there is an alternative to workers being treated as disposable/put after their shareholders.

I've been thinking a lot about worker ownership and control and how we can play a role in trying to get the right infrastructure together so that if workers are in a position to take over failing businesses, it is not too much of a clunky process. That might be a different convo though...

Anyway, do you wanna have a chat/have an idea about how to push this out to the wider world?