Pandemic: why should workers pay a triple ransom?

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
November 16, 2020

In the name of the health war, the government is imposing heavy sacrifices on the population. It has regimented all aspects of social life. It has limited family contact thereby forbidding any convivial moments and is raining down fines – 90,000 in the last two weeks.

And yet, we have to go to work, even if the metro and buses are crowded and quite a few workplaces have developed into Covid-19 clusters.

At least 101 workers at the Toyota plant in Onnaing (north of France) were contaminated in October. This caused the Regional Health Agency (ARS) of Hauts-de-France to classify the plant as a Covid-19 cluster. Management refused to recognize the ARS classification explaining that they have their own rules for defining a cluster! After trying to make the workers feel guilty, management then asked them to come in on more Saturdays and Sundays than planned and to work a night shift (1,500 workers) on November 11 (a bank holiday). They did roll out the Vigipirate measuresi again, putting security guards at the gates, because we all know that’s going stop the virus from entering the plant!

Every media criticized the house party attended by 300 people in the Paris region last Saturday. But no one’s talking about the manufacturing plants that are a breeding ground for Covid-19 and show just how irresponsible the bosses are.

In many companies, the disparity between the safety protocol on the notice board and the real conditions has been getting bigger since June. At the Renault factory in Flins (on the outskirts of Paris), tens of cases are catalogued by workers every week. It’s hardly surprising: on the production lines, physical distancing is not respected because there are operations that require workers to be together simultaneously or consecutively in every car. But have more people been taken on to disinfect the work stations? Has production throughput been reduced to make the situation more manageable? Are there more breaks so that workers who are obliged to wear a mask can get some relief? Of course not!

The government keeps repeating that if you test positive you must self-isolate and be tested when you’re a close contact. But how many plant directors minimize the number or hide confirmed Covid-19 cases so that work can continue, despite permanent under-staffing? How many put pressure on vulnerable workers, even those who have tested positive, so that they don’t take sick leave? The law today allows for rapid testing in on-site occupational health services. The tests are voluntary and anonymous. But how many companies actually do those tests?

There are employees present in offices who could or would like to work from home. What is the labor minister doing? She keeps saying that “working from home is not an option” and then she frowns. All the lessons we’re given about healthy behavior, the limits, checks and fines stop at the door to the workplace. Once you’re at work, the bosses decide and the only protocol that they follow is the law of profit. Any health regulations that might slow down the rate of production are disregarded.

Employer dictatorship is an important vector for the spread of the virus. Both government and health authorities are well aware of this but won’t do anything about it. Macron, as always, is managing the health crisis in the interests of big business and only the biggest businesses at that. By closing “non-essential” shops, he’s making it clear that he’s ready to feed tens of thousands of small shop owners to the jaws of profit for the big ones. And the big ones haven’t finished making the most of it!

Mass retailing was one of the major winners in the first lockdown and probably will be in the second. They’re using a few closed aislesii as an excuse to make 100,000 workers unemployed. Double whammy! They’ll make employees who are in the workplace work even harder and what’s more, they’re going to have the state pay part of their wages. For just one chain of supermarkets, Casino, that’s a saving of 6 million euros!

Mass retailing symbolizes big business, financiers and the big bourgeoisie. They’re using Covid-19 to increase their profitability by laying workers off, cutting jobs and increasing workloads. Big business is having its cake and eating it too! With fear for their health, their job and their wages, workers are being held to ransom three times! (I would love to write ‘thrice’ - never mind, forget it!)

Incapable of managing the crisis efficiently, the government and big business are using it to make us toe the line. The epidemic, whatever conspiracy theories say, is to be taken seriously – but that doesn’t mean we should keep our mouths shut or that we should trust politicians and bosses. Quite the opposite. It means making it clear that we know we have to struggle both against the coronavirus and against capitalist greed.

i The Vigipirate plan is France’s “essential instrument of vigilance, prevention, and protection against the terrorist threat”.

ii In supermarkets all “non-essential” goods such as books and toys have been cordoned off.