THE PANDEMIC, CAPITALIST OFFENSIVE AND THE WORKING CLASS: Input from Greece
Kostas Skordoulis & Gianna Katsiampoura
National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece
The corona-virous crisis came to underline the contradictions and filth of capitalism. COVID-19 is not the first virus to be transmitted from animals to humans, nor is it the first pandemic in recent years. Previous pandemics (SARS, swine flu), although of concern to the global community, have not had a catalytic effect on people’s lives such as the one induced by the corona-virus.
The exploitation of the natural environment, which destroys the ecosystems, leads to the transmission of viruses from animals to humans, and the modern way of life under capitalism intensifies the spread. It is no coincidence that the highest rates of infection are in modern urban centers where people live in cramped conditions, use insufficient transport services and work in workplaces like cages.
The reaction of the ruling class worldwide was to take care primarily of safeguarding its profits. This became more apparent in countries such as Belgium and Italy, with the strong industrial and economic centers of Brussels and Lombardy (Bergamo, Brescia, Milan) still operating even as the virus was on the rise. Practically, a small difference from the "herd immunity" plan followed by the USA and England. In particular, the case of USA is the most tragic, with more than 100,000 dead, most of them from the poorest strata, African Americans, Latinos, etc., who were thrown into the abyss due to the US health system to which only those who can afford it have access. The denominator in all cases is the same: the extreme doctrine of neoliberalism, the survival of the fittest.
It seemed, however, that as long as the health systems worldwide are not free, the effects on the entire population are tragic. Underfunded health systems cannot cope with the pandemic, while the glorified private sector has proven to be extremely incapable of providing decent health services if it does not make a profit.
Economies around the world have been hit hard, putting the global economy in a new recession. A decade and a half after the historic capitalist crisis of 2008, capitalism is once again facing the same and even worse problems. The corona-virus pandemic accelerates the problems that were already evident in the world economy. It is not unlikely that inter-imperialist competition will intensify.
At the same time, uprisings and workers struggles are accelerating everywhere. George Floyd's assassination by the police in the United States, has sparked an unprecedented uprising that has been going on for weeks. State racism overflowed the glass of black anger, but the uprising transcended racial lines and brought together black, Hispanic, and white working-class people. All those who paid the 2008 crisis, who paid the heaviest price in the pandemic, who pay with their sweat and blood the profits of the capitalists and the violence and racism of the state, rise up and shout: we can take no more!
The uprising in the United States did not fell from the sky. It was preceded by a two-month strike in France, which lasted longer than the May 1968 strike and showed to all those preaching that the strike as a means of labor struggle has finished that this is just another hollow desire of the bosses. The uprisings in Chile, Ecuador, Lebanon, Hong Kong and Algeria, as well as the large mobilizations in Iraq and Iran are still fresh in our memories. In short, the spectre of insurrection and general strike is reawakening in all the continents of the world.
But, if at the one end of social polarization there are uprisings, strikes, anti-fascist mobilizations, the global feminist movement and environmental struggles that have erupted everywhere, at the other end is the rise of the far right, the Trump-type governments in the US and Bolsonaro in Brazil, the European Union's racist policy towards refugees and migrants, the neoliberal reforms that are imposing more and more flexible working conditions.
There is no doubt that the pandemic and the crisis it is signaling are also being used to increase exploitation and oppression by the capitalists. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the bosses are once again trying to "make the crisis an opportunity."
In other words, we could say that labor exploitation has no end. The already large number of unemployed is increasing exponentially, since companies in all sectors of the economy started personnel dismissals from the very first days of the pandemic. A large number of unemployed and uninsured people are at the mercy of the state's "sensitivity" for their health, ready to submit to any working condition for a living wage. Every day we read dozens of complaints from the workplaces, we hear dozens of screams of anxiety from workers whose rights are being constantly violated.
We are very well aware that the beast is still there and that the only way forward for humanity as a whole is for the working class to organize and fight.
In Greece, having the geographically close example of Italy and being aware of the situation in which the NHS has fallen due to the memoranda, the people accepted the quarantine measures because of fear of an uncontrolled spread of the virus. This is the reason for the low death rates in Greece and not the neo-conservative government's narrative for its own success story. It is a fact, that the time period in which the epidemic broke out in Greece favored the non-spread, since it was a period of low tourist traffic and the country is not a stopover for transit travelers. For its part, the government refused to effectively support the NHS, hiring permanent staff of all specialties. On the contrary, from the very beginning, its main concern was to serve the interests of private medical clinics instead of ordering new medical equipment and opening more intensive care units. Contrary to WHO guidelines, it did not conduct a mass virus test in the population during the lockdown period to make the statistics appear low.
With the outbreak of the pandemic, an attempt was made to activate racist reflexes in the population. A serious effort has been made to accuse marginal social groups (immigrants, Roma) of being virus carriers, certainly ignoring the fact that many infection cases originate from abroad.
In these difficult and unprecedented conditions, the anti-capitalist left stood at its height. The choice to abide by the measures of self-restraint was not made by submission to the government but by respect for human life and solidarity, especially in the most vulnerable parts of society. However, the struggles were not suspended. We stood by anyone in need, next to the refugee camps, next to the health workers strikes and participating in the May Day strike and demonstration
(while the quarantine measures had not yet been lifted).
The future, globally and locally, looks bleak. Dismissals, arbitrariness, blackmail are the rule of everyday life:
- "Business as usual" says the communications enterprise “Teleperformance” and what it means is monitoring the homes of its employees with a camera during working hours.
- 2,000,000 € were donated by the Telecommunications OTE Group to hospitals, to supposedly show how much they care about public health, and at the same time the Group "does not have" laptops to give to the employees of the Group and forces them to either go to work in situ or get a fake sick leave
- With a message on their mobile phones, 400 employees at the airport were informed that are being fired.
-Through his personal LinkedIn account, the CEO of “Blueground” Real Estate Group informs that 130 employees have been fired (1/4 of the staff as he says), but he is acquitted because he suggests to other employers to hire them, because, as he says, they are good employees and otherwise he would do anything to keep them.
-The employees of ELTA Courier see one by one their colleagues getting sick and there are no protection measures on the part of the employer.
-Teachers are struggling to connect to Distant Education classes without all children even having access to computers and the Internet, while in private schools there are unjustified salary reductions.
And the list goes on and on…
For the majority of the working class, "staying at home" means absolutely nothing. To serve a colossal number of human needs, from manufacturing, storing and transporting food, to generating energy, health care or garbage collection, hundreds of thousands of workers are needed, unable to work from home or from the computer. The working class does not stay at home, it is the one that, with the risk of its life, sustains a society in crisis. It is the working class that does not allow society to collapse, not the capitalist government.
The capitalist state cannot meet the basic needs of society, because its purpose is not that, but to ensure private profit. It is not incompetent, it is simply made to serve another purpose.
And that is what we have to fight. We have not shared their profits, we are not going to share their loss. We are not "all together" in a "common struggle". Without the movement of the working class, even in these conditions, we will see our rights lost under the pretext of preventing and treating the pandemic of COVID-19.
In order to protect our class, of course, we are adopting the recommendations of front-line health workers, but at the same time, unions and working class organizations must organize new actions with every opportunity to resist the bosses. So that no salary, no pension, no job is lost. To ensure and expand workers' protecting measures against both the risk of corona and the employer greed and vengeance.
We have to keep the working class standing because the working class keeps the whole society standing…until the working class quarantine its bosses!