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Rethinking work during Covid-19 times

At Sparknews, we believe that they can also be great opportunities to adapt and rethink our relations with the world. As a team who wants to ignite new narratives that can accelerate the ecological and social transition, we can’t avoid asking ourselves what will be the shape of the global collective story emerging from the current worldwide sanitary emergency. In this week #SparkMinute, let’s focus on work with local examples of solidarity, of businesses rethinking their models, and of articles and opinions that can nourish our imagination.

Workin’ For a Livin or is it the opposite?

Some are getting applauded every night for doing a job that had been, so far, often overlooked. Some are discovering the loneliness of not having an office to go to anymore, completely dematerialised discussions and digital crutches. Most of those who still need to go to work are left afraid, feeling underprotected against a virusthat can be found on any surface. Some are now sewing masks, making face shields and homeschooling their children — even though their ‘regular-life’ occupation has nothing to do with activities such as these. Many fear unemployment and a lack of job offers might come knocking on their doors in the upcoming months. After an unprecedented health crisis such as the one the world is going through right now, how many of us will be unable to find a job? Or, paradoxically, how many of us won’t even want one?

At a time when unemployment benefits claims exceed 20 million in the United States, activities worldwide are limited to the bare minimum, some workers are being qualified as ‘essentials’ and some companies are getting frowned upon by the authorities for failing to ensure the safety of their staff; what does work mean to us? The massive and abrupt economic halt has uniquely exposed the ever-widening gap between white-collar workers, who can work remotely, and blue-collar ones, who cannot work without having contact with others and are therefore disproportionately exposed to the coronavirus. Ideas on how to remedy this situation are bursting — should we relocate our industries, following Preston’s example in the United Kingdom, train unemployed workers to act as community health care workers like in Liberia, undertake a massive ecological transformation of non-essential jobs, or offer ourselves the right to be lazy?

The question was already there before the crisis: Should we work less, but better? Different options have been on the table for quite a while now, including universal income, a 4-day week and redistributing work to provide everyone access to a dignified job. As markets fall and businesses close, millions of jobs are disappearing — particularly for women working in the informal economy. Meanwhile the care burden on women —already three times higher than the one on men, on a good day— is growing exponentially. The crisis is, however, proving to be a formidable accelerator for these crucial transformations. Here are some companies that are walking the extra mile, States that are taking a leap into the future and solidarity actions undertaken by and for workers. Will this crisis, like the previous ones, only deepen inequalities? Or are we at the dawn of a real revolution of the job market, one in which wages will be directly proportional to social value?

When organizations walk the extra mile

The European Union has announced a Covid-19 ‘Marshall plan’ — a €100 billion relief initiative to save jobs amid the coronavirus crisis. The European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, is proposing to borrow from the international markets and give loans to member states’ governments to allow them to fund short-time employment schemes. Read more in The Guardian.

What if people who usually have a 30-minutes commute to work or longer could get free housing closer to their jobs? Airbnb is putting careers who have to work far from home in touch with individuals whose homes are empty — and close to hospitals.The scheme has so far helped nearly 6,000 healthcare staff across both France and Italy. Learn more in this article by RFI.

While the United States health industry has been under severe criticism due to possible wage cuts during the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of state health care workers in Massachusetts will get a temporary boost in pay now that the state and unions have reached an agreement. About 6,500 frontline health care workers who have a higher risk of contracting the virus due to the nature of their jobs will benefit from these raises. Check out the full report by NBC.

In the wake of the economic distress caused by the health crisis, many countries are thinking about providing a universal basic income as soon as possible — an idea that has the support of Pope Francis. The Italian government is considering an ‘emergency income’ scheme extended to all nonsalaried workers, such as freelancers, while Indiafaces similar interrogations. A similar experiment has already proved its worth in Stockton, in the United States.

Local initiatives against global disorder

Like many European countries, the United Kingdom faces a shortage of fruit and vegetable pickers because of travel restrictions on overseas workers. Fortunately, record numbers of people are looking for farming jobs. These coronavirus career pivots are encouraged by charities like Concordia, which has signed up more than 10,000 people to its Feed the Nation scheme to help with the picking. Learn more on BBC.

Now that work schedules do no longer include spending time in public transports —contagion hot-spots—, some are loaning their bicycles to caregivers until the end of confinement.Transportation Alternative’s #BikeMatch program is a simple Google doc that helps connect New Yorkers who have spare bicycles lying around in their apartments with first responders who need bikes to avoid crowded transit commutes.

Let’s imagine further

In 2016, Nancy Fraser, an acclaimed critical theorist, argued that the United States was facing a “crisis of care.” In this conversation with Vice, she explains how taking care of each other has always been essential work, including everything from raising children and caring for friends and family to maintaining the social bonds that bring communities together. Yet, our capitalist system has been undermining this type of work. Now, the pandemic acts as a “lightning flash,” throwing light on all the failures of capitalism. What we can learn from this historic moment? You can read the full discussion on Vice.

On The Guardian, the writer, historian and activist Rebecca Solnit explains what can the coronavirus teach us about hope. As change is no longer just possible, but inevitable, she offers a new stance on what shapes our economy today. Not only does she take down the injunction to be productive, she also defends that “As we struggled to learn the science and statistics of this terrible scourge, our psyches were doing something equivalent [to a growth spurt]. We were adjusting to the profound social and economic changes, studying the lessons disasters teach, equipping ourselves for an unanticipated world.” Read more on The Guardian.

At Sparknews, are convinced that the coronavirus global outbreak will lead us to draw valuable lessons about our globalized economic system. Whether on matters like education, solidarity, biodiversity or our way of work, it will be up to us to return to the status quo once the health crisis is over, or to reshape everything. Discover our #SparkMinute on educationenergy, and food.

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