Getting Paid in Kisses and Hugs

A rainbow tribute to the National Health Service (NHS) outside Bury Town Hall in Manchester, United Kingdom
Cover Photo: David Dixon, 2020

2nd-year Student in the Middle East-Mediterranean Campus of MENTON

Travailler plus pour gagner plus” 
(“Work more to win more”).

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy on 12th October 2006

Scrolling through endless social media feeds, I often stumble upon a lot of deeply ridiculous content. From Wish suggested cat face masks to videos of random people’s microblading transformations, during 5 months of quarantine in London, United Kingdom this spring, I truly thought I had seen it all. But on the 3rd of July, I was proven wrong. The London Evening Standard had once again risen to the challenge, for never in my 5 months of internet scrolling had I ever seen something so profoundly, entirely, and fundamentally ridiculous:

The Johns and Marthas were quick to retweet.

Although I explained this news, action, or gesture as ridiculous—and I still stand by this—I believe that, above all, it was offensive. It was offensive to me as a daughter of a hard-working physicist who, although having worked for the National Health Service (NHS) for 30 years, has been subject to a triple wage freeze for the past 10 years. It was offensive to me as a patient who, having grown up in and out of London’s hospitals, has always seen the doctors, nurses, and cleaners who took care of me as role models for how I should live my life. But most of all, it was offensive to me as a human being, facing the uncertainty of life, or its lack thereof, during a global pandemic. I simply couldn’t understand how my health, and possibly my life, could be in the hands of NHS workers who are under-rested, overworked, and underpaid. It made me afraid, but still, and most of all, offended.

My offense, I have come to believe, was not caused by this single news report. Nor was it by the jubilant face of the St. James’ Park manager, announcing the new flowerbed in a 2 minute video, as if it were a £2 million fund for NHS salary bonuses. My offense was at the government’s encouragement and backing of gestures and citizen initiatives. My offense was an accumulation of having to watch a 99 year old veteran carry his tired body up and down his driveway to raise money for an underfunded NHS. My offense was at watching news reports of children, 10 and 12 year olds, creating cycling marathons to raise money for the NHS, a state institution. My offense was at seeing all this, but not a government policy to provide material improvement to the dire situation in which our ‘frontline workers’ are made to work.

I say the phrase “frontline workers” with a similar tone of ridicule and disgust because of what it is making our people (people of the United Kingdom) do to themselves. It is making those who always have stuck their necks out for the government, by continuing to carry out their key contributions to society through a vocation which is underpaid, seem as if it is only now, during a pandemic, where they are needed in extra measure. This is not an exceptional situation of sacrifice for junior doctors, road cleaners, or teachers. Furthermore, and most dangerously, this phrase is creating the narrative that we are at war. And worse of all, a narrative of vocational martyrdom. We are not at war with a virus, as much as French President Emmanuel Macron liked to explicitly emphasise in his address to the French people earlier this year. We do not need people on the front line to resist the bombing and shelling of an external, microscopic threat. We are, as we love to think, a developed country which should have the resources for protecting its most valuable workers. To be a doctor ought not be a sacrifice of one’s mental and physical wellbeing. So, I refuse to call them frontline workers, for this is not a war being fought against the coronavirus. This is a crisis created by inadequate institutions.

Thus, essentially, I came to find after 30 minutes of staring blankly at the jubilant park manager’s face, my offense was only triggered by this flowerbed. Though it was, in fact, an accumulation of a lifelong evolution. An evolution from believing in, being confused by, and, finally, being disenfranchised with the economic, social, and political systems of capitalism.

We are, as we love to think, a developed country which should have the resources for protecting its most valuable workers. To be a doctor ought not be a sacrifice of one’s mental and physical wellbeing. So, I refuse to call them frontline workers, for this is not a war being fought against the coronavirus. This is a crisis created by inadequate institutions.

Founded in materialism and founder of colonialism, capitalism requires for labour to be rewarded and incentivised by money. But not just money—more specifically, the competition for money. Although, this system, logic, or game, even from the viewpoint of Adam Smith himself, seems to contradict with the most inherent nature of man. A nature which is defined by a “mutual sympathy of sentiments“. A nature so profoundly egalitarian that, “without intending it, without knowing it, advances the interest of the society”. Therefore, in order to offer a more humanely acceptable doctrine, capitalism conceived with morality, birthing meritocracy, the child star still touring worldwide, and making some of its greatest appearances in the United States and the United Kingdom. This caveat provides capitalism with a new and improved image. An image which defines capitalism by the proportionality between labour and the amount of money by which it is incentivised and rewarded. 

Logically, this raises the following questions: Are the highest incomes received by those who apply the most labour? And are the lowest incomes received by those who apply the least labour? If, after observing a given society, both of these questions cannot be answered as ‘yes’, then meritocracy does not reign supreme there, thus, rendering its system of capitalism immoral. 

In 2006, when Nicolas Sarkozy addressed an audience of 4,000 people at his campaign rally in Périgueux, France, he shone a red light on what we now know to be the contradiction of capitalism, between its reality and its ideals. According to the doctrine of capitalism, as we have seen in its fundamental definition and its sanctification by Western democracies, si tu travailler plus, then for sure it also the case que tu vas ganger plus. But as we have seen throughout history, this has never been the case. As, even for those who worked the hardest, they did not earn the most. So now more than ever, during the pandemic, the public health crisis, and the era of ‘frontline workers’, it is sure that si tu travailles plus, then for sure it is also the case que tu ne vas pas ganger plus.

Commencing this same speech on 12th October 2006, Sarkozy announced that “The Republic must turn its back on egalitarianism”. A republic defined by Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. So ultimately, it may well be the case that the moral sentiments of some men are different to those of others. ▣

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