The Crisis: Social Disaster at One End, Loads of Money at the Other

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
October 19, 2020

The virus may be spreading less rapidly than in March, but more and more contaminations are being registered every day. In other words, the epidemic is once again out of control. The ‘test, trace and isolate’ process is not working as it should, and it’s impossible to tell exactly where people are catching the virus. Hospitals will be unable to cope with a new wave of contaminations, even if it’s not as bad as the first one. We have indeed many reasons to be worried. Still the French government claims it’s doing a good job at managing the health crisis!

Things are even worse when we consider the economic situation. There will be no doctors or scientists to help us get through the crisis. There will be no treatment or vaccine to cure it.

The government speaks as if Covid-19 was the only cause of the present collapse of economic activity. This is not true! The epidemic didn’t create the economic crisis, it only accelerated and aggravated it.

Steel workers, car workers, workers in the textile and food-processing industries are well placed to know that closures, layoff plans or blackmail in the name of “competitiveness” are nothing new. But with more sectors like aeronautics, entertainment and tourism rolling into the unknown, the economic crisis is getting worse.

Craftsmen and tradesmen have also been hard hit. Many city-center stores which used to attract crowds of customers have shut down due to factory closures and rising unemployment And again the situation is getting worse. Who can say how many of the bars and restaurants which have been forced to close by the administration or have drawn the curtain for lack of customers will reopen one day?

Through the government’s solidarity fund and the payment of partial unemployment benefits, companies have been able to survive. But they can’t stay in an artificial coma forever.

Sooner or later, the employees of smaller businesses, as well as craftsmen and shopkeepers, will end up jobseekers too. They will increase the total number of temporary, precarious or self-employed workers who lost their job after the outbreak of the epidemic in March. They will be added to the employees of large companies who have seen their workplace come to a standstill or be emptied and closed for good--as was the case recently at Bridgestone, Alinéa, Auchan, Elior, etc.

The safety net that exists in France undoubtedly makes things more bearable than in other countries. But this net has big holes in it and it doesn’t prevent poverty from spreading. The governmental program guaranteeing a minimum revenue of 550 euros is insufficient. As for those who, before the crisis, already found it impossible to make ends meet, they can barely survive on the unemployment benefits they now receive. And many pensioners with miserable pensions continue to fall into poverty.

The government has a map showing the areas where the virus is spreading. A similar map could be produced showing the rise of the number of people now registered with the Restos du Coeur or the Secours Populaire, charities that are clearly overwhelmed. But the government won't do that, because the present rise in unemployment and poverty is also the result of its policy: a policy that gives a blank cheque to big business to lay off workers even when they have received billions in subsidies; a policy entirely devoted to making the overly rich even richer.

For decades, the state has been a crutch used by capitalists when needed. In a context of saturated markets and fierce competition, it comes to their help in every possible way. By breaking the labor code, it has facilitated exploitation, layoffs, flexibility. The state also helps out the bosses with cash on hand. Through tax cuts, subsidies, tax credits... successive governments have transferred hundreds of billions from the people’s pockets to the bank vaults of the bourgeoisie.

Swiss bank UBS has just revealed that the fortunes of French billionaires have been multiplied by five in ten years and now reach 375 billion euros. And a government report has confirmed that the recent reform of the Wealth Tax helped the filthy rich become richer. And the Flat Tax will do the same when it comes into force.

Even in this period of crisis for capitalism, the wealthy are doing very well! The big shareholders have hit record highs. The unbelievable sums of money flowing into finance are proof of this.

The money exists to preserve jobs and salaries. But no one will bring it to workers on a platter. It's up to them to take it, and that's possible provided that we resume collective struggles of such a size that capitalists could fear losing everything.