Corona and the Crisis

Apr 30, 20200 comments

The emergence of the coronavirus has set off many discussions about our modes of living and where we want to go from here. This crisis is one that has hit us promptly — so will we learn from it and do better during crises that we will experience in the long run, such as the climate crisis? One month after the 2020 women’s day, it is time to figure out what we can draw from this crisis to ensure that the most vulnerable populations, and women in particular, will no longer have to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden.

Writing this during the coronavirus-crisis, acknowledging the global extent of this event, while the climate crisis has become more present than ever with rising temperatures and increasing greenhouse gases, one cannot but see the parallels between these two global crises and their repercussions. These circumstances show how very up-to-date the 1996 statement by Félix Guattari on the ecological crisis and its connection to the political temperature, is:

“The only true response to the ecological crisis is on a global scale, provided that it brings about an authentic political, social and cultural revolution” [1]

This is highly topical today as we experience a global crisis in the form of the coronavirus. For safety reasons we are leaving the organisation and decision-making to our governments — for the time being. However, citizens around the world are questioning and discussing which measures are reasonable over the long term. The what and the how are also part of the debate: what will or won’t change after this crisis and how will our modes of life be impacted?

We should be very cautious about letting our political systems — ruled by profit economy — take on the role of sole decision maker during a situation like this. As we speak, countries are pondering how profitable it is to just wait and see how many people will get infected, get sick and/or die versus how much GDPs will drop. This is a serious ongoing debate — precisely because our healthcare systems have been weakened for years and hit hard by austerity measures (notably impacting the health services in Greece, Spain and Italy), that were a follow-up of austerity politics by the European Union after the banking crisis in 2008. This condition has caused the privatisation of hospitals and insurances — leading the way to widening the gap between poor and rich and making the class system increasingly apparent.

The progresses in artificial intelligence (AI) and big data are part of the discussion, too. With tracking apps already being used during this crisis and the anticipated increase of such functionalities in the wake of coronavirus, we can’t leave this development to private corporations. It is just as important to question who owns the data and how it is being used. Our data should belong to us — not private companies — and benefit the general public. The public sector has to find its role in this process and could take the lead while including women as well as people of colour in this process.

As Guattari explores the marginalisation of “the young, the old, ‘part-time’ workers, the undervalued”, with young people being “crushed by the dominant economic relations which make their position increasingly precarious” and the “exploitation of female labour”, the connection between these groups and the link to exploitative capitalistic measures become very clear.

Due to recent developments, ‘the young’ often find it difficult to imagine their future. After the global financial crisis in 2008, that turned into a social crisis in countries such as Greece and Spain, the unemployment rate among young Spaniards rose above 50% (2012 – 2014) [2] and remains over 30% today [3]. What has become very common is so-called “freelance” work, which puts one in a position without job-safety, insurance or pension.

As Maurizio Lazzarato notes in “Immaterial Labour” [4], “behind the label of the independent ‘self-employed’ worker, what we actually find is an intellectual proletarian”.
‘The old’ are frequently impacted by low pensions: old-age poverty is common and women are particularly strongly affected. This is partly due to the gender pay gap that remains at 15.7% in Europe [5].

‘Part-time work’ primarily includes women: in Europe for example, 30.8% of women and only 8% of men (2018) [6] work part-time. 45% of women do so to look after family members or take other family related responsibilities [7]. This disables them to be financially independent and makes it difficult or impossible to pay (rising) rents.

‘The undervalued’ are (again) mostly women, as low-wage jobs such as cleaning or paid/unpaid care-work (reproductive and productive work) are mostly performed by women. On a global scale 75% of unpaid work is done by women [8] and without this work, our society — our system — would not function.
Note how these different forms of marginalisation all have one thing in common: they exist within a patriarchal capitalist system.

The argument that capitalism has helped fight poverty and enrich many people, is often used. This might be true to some extent but a major aspect that is missing from this argument, is the fact that it applies only to a fraction of the world’s population and that it thrived in systems of oppression and on the back of colonised people. [9] Many power relations continue to be indivisibly linked to the history of colonialism [10] which makes the necessity to change the narrative only more pressing.

We must free ourselves from the mindset that capitalism is the only system that works or works best. Unlimited growth is not possible in a world with limited resources. We need a new power of imagination and actively rethink a desirable future in order to work towards the best possible world and organise it collectively.

Important changes and ideas emerge from crises, be they of a financial or social nature. That’s why it is ever so important to discuss existing and new ideas. This includes topics such as the universal basic income (UBI), equal pay for equal work, reducing work-time while assuring same incomes and a fair distribution of wealth, the development of affordable qualitative housing and measures to tackle domestic violence. It gives us the opportunity to address and discuss the concept of degrowth, and meeting climate goals. Let’s take this chance to build a more equal and sustainable future for everyone.

Mona Steinmetzer

This text was first written as an analysis of ‘The Three Ecologies’ by Félix Guattari (1996) in accordance to its relevance for today and then adjusted for the website of JIF Luxembourg.

[1] Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (original: Les trois écologies), (Paris: Editions Galilée, 1989)

[2] Joan Miquel Verd, Oriol Barranco and Mireia Bolíbar, “Youth unemployment and employment trajectories in Spain during the Great Recession: what are the determinants?”, J Labour Market Res, March 2019

[3] Statista, Youth unemployment rate in EU member states as of January 2020,, 2020

[4] Maurizio Lazzarato, “Immaterial Labour”, 1996

[5] Gender Pay Gap, European Union, Statistik Austria,, 2020

[6] Eurostat, Employment statistics,, May 2019 de#Besch.C3.A4ftigungsquoten_nach_Geschlecht.2C_Alter_und_Bildungsstand

[7] Eurostat, Why do people work part-time?,, September 2019

[8] Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women, (New York: Chatto & Windus, 2019)

[9] Matthew Desmond, “In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation”, New York Times Magazine, August 2019

[10] Daron Acemoğlu and James Robinson, “The economic impact of colonialism” in The Long Economic and Political Shadow of History, Volume 1, Vox e-book, 2017