The Historic Struggle of Workers for Their Rights And Safe Working Conditions Continues in the Age of COVID 19
This year, as we remember the heroic struggles of workers in Chicago, in May 1886 when demanding an 8-hour working day in their quest for a quality life, at the same time, we celebrate the WFTU’s 75 years of unbroken struggles for workers’ rights and against capitalism and imperialism. Today, the world is confronted by complex and difficult challenges that affirms the inability of capitalism to respond to the same crisis it created. It is important to bear in mind that the social, political, economic and financial crisis including the sense of hopelessness engulfing the world at the present moment precedes the COVID 19.
Just as in the case of the 2008 financial crisis that was caused by financial speculation in the bonds markets when millions of workers lost their jobs and houses and sunk deeper into poverty while the financial institutions that caused the crisis were rewarded with favourable bailout packages at the expense of tax payers. Once again, we see today governments announcing billions worth of “stimulus” packages while big private companies and private financial institutions sit on huge profits accumulated over many years.
Today, the fight against the virus is being impeded by the artificially inflated costs of healthcare, health equipment and protective gear. There is now a gold rush in the private sector to manufacture the equipment and protective clothing needed for the fight against the COVID-19. However, this rush is not informed by any good intentions but speculative hoarding and a dramatic rise in the prices of these health supplies. This has led to a situation where only the highest bidders can afford the vital supplies needed to fight the pandemic. As a result many poor countries are now poorly equipped for the fight against the COVID-19.
If anything, what the COVID-19 has revealed is the folly of running a healthcare system on a commercial (for profit) basis. The dog eat dog ethos of capital has been laid bare for all to see. All over the world, following years of austerity and cuts in public spending, healthcare workers are risking their lives in the fight against the virus as personal protective equipment (PPE) they are supplied with is inadequate and they are understaffed. There is a massive shortage of beds and ICU (Intensive Care Units) capacity in hospitals both in rich and poor countries. Governments and the public health sector are single headedly carrying the load in the fight against the COVID-19 because private healthcare companies and insurance companies are not oriented nor equipped to deal with the challenge.
It is not only in private healthcare that the neoliberal capitalist approach to public and social services has proven inadequate. The poorly regulated private welfare industry has also demonstrated its shortcomings in this period of this deadly virus COVID 19. In countries such as Spain and the United States of America old people were simply abandoned and left on their own to die in their beds in some private old age homes as the staff was either not equipped to provide the necessary care or was sent home during the lock down period. These private welfare providers were not prepared to spend the profits they made through providing shelter to pensioners to ensure the quality of life and good health of the people in their care, hence the criminal neglect of the old.
The impact of the COVID-19 is so devastating precisely because neoliberalism has been laying the foundations for such a pandemic to flourish in the event that it occurs. For years now neoliberal policy advocates and governments have been urging the privatization of public services such as health, the reduction in public spending and staff compliment in the public service while also bashing unions in the sector. The world is today confronting the COVID-19 with a crippled health system thanks to such anti-social pro-business neoliberal policies implemented by many governments.
Private health care companies that were flourishing before the virus, as a result of the excessive medical rates they charge, are now doing even better and will be raking in even more profits from the pandemic after it has passed as they further inflate the costs of medical care and supplies. Hundreds of thousands of people have died from the Covid 19 in the world due to human (market) induced hoarding and artificial price inflation of health supplies. Capitalism has the productive capacity to produce the necessary quantities of materials needed to combat the Covid 19, but is incapable of doing so, its logic of putting profits before people renders it ill-suited for effectively combating catastrophes such as the one brought about by the Covid 19
As the TUI-PS&A, we condemn governments and employers that have used shutdowns during this period to prevent trade unions from engaging in legitimate trade union activity in the interest of their members. This has left many workers providing essential services vulnerable to abuse through being forced to work in dangerous conditions without proper personal protective equipment (PPEs) and the necessary training in infection prevention and control. The rights to health and safety of workers providing essential services are sacrosanct and must be defended even during the period of the lockdown, so it is important that trade unions demand the right to represent and act on behalf of their members now and not wait for lockdowns to pass before doing so.
As we remember May Day today, we must recognise and applaud the frontline workers for their high-esteemed contribution in the fight against COVID-19, as a dark cloud hangs over the future of millions of workers throughout the world. Many workers across many branches of industry stand to lose their jobs and livelihoods due to financial difficulties brought about by the economic shutdowns in many parts of the world in the fight against the pandemic. At the same time, in many other parts of the world, workers in “non-essential” sectors risk being infected with this virus by being forced to work to satisfy the greed of company owners whose preoccupation is the maximization of profits amidst COVID-19.
As TUI-PS&A, we stand in solidarity with all workers in the “non-essential sectors” in defence of their rights, jobs and livelihoods. The “non-essential” sectors in the context of COVID-19 refers to sectors that are not integral part to the direct fight against the spread of the COVID-19 during the lockdowns. All productive sectors of the economy are essential for the maintenance and reproduction of society. In this regard, we pay tribute to all workers, in all sectors and industries of the world who are in engaged in the humane struggle to remove capitalist barbarism from the face of the face.
The challenges we faced are not going to disappear when the COVID-19 is finally brought under control. All indications points to one thing; that the world economy is going into a recession due to pre-existing in-build capitalist shortcomings exacerbated by the effects of the measures taken to combat COVID-19. This means that the existing problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality in the world are going to worsen immediately after COVID-19 crisis.
Marginalised social groups such as women, unemployed youth, marginalised racial minorities and immigrants who were already facing social and economic hardships before the Coronavirus are now going to face even more marginalisation and discrimination as the world economy shrinks, and poverty and unemployment becomes even more widespread. The labour movement must therefore guard against and oppose any attempt to blame the failures of governments to effectively deal with the spread of COVID-19 on marginalised social minorities.
As TUI-PS&A, we echo the call made by our mother body, the WFTU, in its May Day statement to our “brothers and sisters, employed and unemployed, retirees, immigrants and refugees, young scientists, indigenous people, women and men” to stand together in the forefront of the struggle against the complex difficulties we faced by combining our ability to fight for the abolition of social exploitation and urgently demand for:
- The States and Governments to allocate the necessary funds for the support of the Public Healthcare Sector, so that all peoples have access to full, free and decent health coverage.
- Prohibition of privatizations in the strategic health sector.
- The International Organizations should stop good wishes and descriptions and live up to their founding principles.
- Safe and free vaccine for all.
- Prohibition of dismissals.
- Respect of all salary, insurance and employment rights of the employees.
- Defending democratic and trade union freedoms.
- Defending the right to strike.
- Strengthening of the internationalism and solidarity between workers and peoples.
- Stop speculation and high prices.
- Repel racist and neo-fascist phenomena
The TUI-PS&A takes the opportunity of May Day to salute the heroic and selfless contributions of the people of Cuba in the fight against COVID 19 through their invaluable support they provided to many countries in the world by availing their medical brigades and medical innovation. We further condemn the destabilising and instigated imperialist wars in Yemen, Syria and Libya, and the unjust US sanctions against the people of Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. Our solidarity with people of Palestine remains resolute against the Zionist Israeli state. Indeed, all these crimes of capitalism and imperialism impedes the fight against COVID-19 and the struggle for socialism.
NO ONE SHOULD BE ALONE!!
Long live proletarian internationalism!!
Long live May Day!!
The struggle continues!!