The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the naked truth about capitalism and produced a catastrophic level of suffering as it deepens the crisis of the global economy. But where workers and oppressed people find ourselves at the end of the pandemic depends on what we forge now in the class struggle.
At the time of writing these lines, four months after the start of the coronavirus outbreak in China, the number of infections exceeds 600,000 confirmed cases and more than 27,000 deaths. The confirmed cases, however, correspond only to those who have been tested, and thus to only a fraction of people actually infected.
As the contagion continues to spread, governments on every continent have implemented policies to reduce the incidence of infection, declaring states of siege, border closures, curfews and widespread quarantine measures.
The pandemic has exposed the deterioration and destruction of public health systems around the world, as well as brutal and undeniable social inequality. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, banks and corporations were bailed out. At the same time, governments escalated budget cuts and structural adjustment policies, which the International Monetary Fund and World Bank had already been imposing on poorer countries for decades. This put a final end to the days, now long gone, when capitalism maintained a welfare state. Of course, Third World countries have borne and continue to bear the brunt of the neoliberal assault.
Most of the world’s health systems are not prepared for a pandemic like the current one. Furthermore, in this crisis, as in others, it is the poorest in every country who suffer the most. It is not true that the pandemic treats all equally! Who will guarantee the livelihood of quarantined families that depend on the money brought in by workers who are self-employed or labor in the informal economy? And among wage workers, how many will not get paid during this period or will lose their jobs permanently? The ruling class, of course, is seeking to protect itself from this crisis by minimizing its losses. In Italy, the country with the most deaths from COVID-19, the government underestimated the pandemic and delayed halting economic activity for fear of affecting the interests of capital. The collapse of one of the world’s best public health systems due to a decade of budget cuts meant Italy faced the pandemic with 70,000 fewer beds for hospitalizations and 46,000 fewer nurses and doctors to treat the sick in the country’s most affected region.
On the other hand, the declarations of states of siege manifest the worst authoritarian tendencies within bourgeois-democratic governments. Some are using force to seize what they see as an opportunity to impose reactionary agendas that include silencing dissent, restricting freedoms, and suppressing the demands of the neediest.
Socialists and workers face the challenge of organizing in creative ways. Unity, solidarity and coordination of diverse struggles are needed now more than ever to defend our interests and to avoid bearing the costs of the capitalist crisis and the pandemic. It will be crucial to create support networks such as those that have emerged from the international mobilization of women during the March 8 and March 9 protests this year in Latin America and around the world.
As CRIR, we call for:
• No bailouts for Wall Street, the banks or multinational corporations.
• Put the resources of the private health system under government control and make them available to the entire population.
• Nationalization, under workers’ control, of all the transnational industries and companies whose products are essential to provide for medical needs during the pandemic.
• Emergency funding for equipment and supplies for public hospitals, with emphasis on the protection of health workers against contagion; we support all organizing efforts among healthcare workers and call for united class solidarity with this sector.
• A moratorium on the foreign debt payments for countries outside the imperialist centers in order to allocate resources to deal with the pandemic.
• Protection to prevent contagion in essential sectors where workers continue to provide services, such as transport workers, delivery people, supermarket staff, teachers and childcare workers, etc.
• A guaranteed salary, paid by employers, for workers in non-essential sectors during the pandemic, such as in most manufacturing, extractive and service industries.
• The right to strike to guarantee that employers provide safe working conditions.
• A universal basic salary for unemployed and self-employed workers who will not be able to work during the crisis.
• Emergency financial assistance for small businesses affected by the pandemic, including subsidies for the continued payment of wages.
• Development of a COVID-19 vaccine that cannot be patented by any pharmaceutical company and whose use and distribution is not for profit.
• Release of all political and non-violent prisoners as well as incarcerated migrants in refugee camps and detention centers.
• No erosion of civil liberties and political freedoms as a result of the pandemic.
Beyond these demands is an even greater objective: the creation of a universal, free, quality, public health system. In countries where one already exists, adequate funding must be provided and necessary improvements made. And only a committed fight can be expected to wrest something as important as healthcare from capitalism’s predatory grip.
Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR)
Partido Socialismo y Libertad – Argentina
Partido Obrero Socialista – México
Freedom Socialist Party – United States and Australia
Contact CRIR at email@example.com.