A sanitary and economic crisis we must refuse to pay for!

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
November 23, 2020

As contaminations decrease and there’s a vaccine on the horizon, Macron is scheduled to speak on Tuesday evening. He has promised to give us “clarity”, “consistency” and “the course to follow” in the fight against the epidemic – things he is quite incapable of giving!

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been paying for the absence of a true prevention policy, an absence symbolized by the lack of masks. We’ve been paying for the lack of resources in hospitals and state-run nursing homes. And we’ve been paying for the existence of medical deserts.

How dare Macron speak of “clarity” and “consistency” when everything is improvised and done in haste? What he calls health management is nothing but the day-to-day management of shortages. The lifting of the first lockdown soon turned into a fiasco. “Test, trace, isolate” didn’t work then and it isn’t working now. And the planning of the coming vaccination campaign is so vague that we can fear the worst.

But it’s not just a question of political incompetence. These shortcomings, these contradictions and these inconsistencies are also the result of a class choice: the choice to impose as few constraints as possible on the capitalists so as to ensure that business goes on as usual, and that profits can keep climbing.

The government is tracking down the virus in every nook and cranny of our private lives, but allows it to circulate in public transport and schools, and of course workplaces. The government produces never-ending constraints, prohibitions and sanctions for the population. But it’s turning a blind eye to what’s happening in workplaces. As if Covid-19 didn’t circulate there! And as if there were no big clusters in occupational settings!

The contrast is immense between the authorities’ war on small businesses—they will only be allowed to reopen if they provide 8m2 (approx. 85 sq ft) per customer—and their attitude towards large companies. And that contrast shows just how much the government despises all workers. If 8m2 are needed for a customer who only stays in a store for a few minutes, how is it that workers can sweat for eight hours shoulder to shoulder on auto assembly lines, in agrifood and logistics, without even slowing down, without additional breaks, without any staff in charge of disinfecting workstations?

Big business has a free hand. It can employ shifts of hundreds or even thousands of workers. It can impose overtime hours and extra Saturdays. Yet there are no police patrols to check whether the bosses are applying the health protocol, keeping workstations disinfected or providing hand sanitizer in sufficient quantities.

The government is now considering making the isolation of patients compulsory and punishing those who do not respect it. But how many bosses underestimate or cover up the cases of Covid-19 in their factories and offices? How many employees didn’t find out right away that they were contact cases? How many are under pressure from their hierarchy to come to work, even if they are sick? Continuing to work while being positive for Covid-19 is the norm in many hospitals. So why should company directors behave any differently?

Yes, contradictions and inefficiency are everywhere in the tackling of this pandemic – because this is how things work in a society that puts the interests of the capitalist minority above all else. It’s the norm in this class society where workers slave away and sacrifice themselves while the big bosses cash in.

Macron promises “a clear course to follow” because, he claims, “nothing is worse than uncertainty and the impression of endless gloom”. But there is no uncertainty for the bourgeoisie: its business and its profits are assured and the government guarantees them. Uncertainty is only for the workers, who are well aware that, if there are sacrifices to be made in a business, they’ll be the only ones to be sacrificed.

Workers bear the brunt of the current crisis by sacrificing their freedom and their health. They are also the ones paying for the economic crisis with deteriorated working conditions – if not with wage and job cuts, like the workers employed by Bridgestone or Danone.

But this is not inevitable. This class society, where the happy few can only prosper through the misfortune of others, is not inevitable either. Sure, the bourgeoisie is in command and making the most of the situation. But that will end when the working class decides that enough is enough, and that all this suffering has to stop.