This article was originally written for socialistworld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International.
In this unprecedented time of the Covid-19 pandemic and rapid economic collapse, the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) believes that capitalism and the ruling classes cannot be trusted to defend and provide for the vast majority on the planet.
Whatever measures capitalist governments take now their ultimate aim will be to secure the continuation of their system. And, sooner or later, they will attempt to make the working class, poor and many of the middle class carry the burden of this crisis. The CWI says it is essential that there is a socialist response. We presenting a programme to defeat this pandemic and defend living standards, for discussion and action. This is an international programme based around broad demands which the workers’ movement, community organisations, and health and medical organisations in different countries can discuss and fill out to meet the needs of local conditions.
Defend working people – not the capitalist profit system!
Covid-19 has triggered a worldwide medical, economic and social crisis. Hundreds of millions face the threat of both the pandemic and a rapidly developing economic crisis.
Ecuador’s Guayas province – home to Guayaquil, the country’s largest city – gives a horrific picture of what could happen. In the first two weeks of April, 6,700 people died in Guayas, six times the usual 1,000 deaths expected there in the same period. So many are dying that people are forced to keep bodies in their homes in Guayaquil for up to five days, while some corpses have been left in the streets.
Urgent action is needed immediately to defeat the covid-19 pandemic and threatened plunge into poverty. But concretely what can be done?
In most countries, the pandemic’s impact has been worsened by a combination of the non-existence of a well-financed national health care system available to all and, in Europe and elsewhere, the effect of years of government spending cuts in hospitals and the wider health care system. The situation in the world’s richest country, the US, is a testament to the inability of the so-called “free market” to provide health care for the whole population.
In most of the world, it is the poor, the old and those with long term medical conditions who suffer most. While in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America this pandemic is threatening a new disaster, in some countries it is creating a barbaric situation where already many live in grim conditions caused by poverty and illnesses like malaria, tuberculous and typhoid.
Due to their record and as they defend the capitalist profit system, working people cannot trust either the ability or willingness of the world’s ruling classes and capitalist governments to deal with this medical and increasingly economic crisis in the interests of the working class, the poor and even most of the middle class.
In this crisis, the CWI fights to help build independent workers’ action in support of a socialist programme to answer the crisis brought on by covid -19. This means resisting claims by capitalist governments that “we are all in this together” and “everyone has to make sacrifices”. The CWI argues that it is the ruling classes, those that run societies – who have not prepared for pandemics and have especially profited from the recent years of increased exploitation – who should pay.
The CWI supports every measure that acts to treat the sick and genuinely deal with the many-sided effects of the covid-19 pandemic. But as capitalist governments cannot be trusted by working people, we demand workers’ control, involving health professionals and genuine representatives of working people, over the measures that are taken.
The CWI believes that there is a principled difference between a situation where trade unions or ‘left’ political parties negotiate with governments and employers on specific demands, and joining with them as they attempt to save their system.
In this urgent situation, it is the organisations of working people, particularly the trade unions, and left parties, where they exist, that need to take up the fight for free medical treatment, a concerted drive to find treatments and a vaccine against covid-19, and emergency defence of living standards.
In lockdowns, the CWI demands action to immediately safeguard living standards for those unable to work, to maintain necessary food and medical supplies and to protect the poorest in society. While calling on national trade union leaders to take independent action to mobilise to win the demands that are necessary, socialists will also endeavour to build movements from below – from the workplaces and communities – that can initiate wider action, and begin to establish democratic checks and control over what is happening. This would be a basis for the reinvigoration of the workers’ movement as a dynamic force fighting for working people and socialism worldwide.
The CWI believes that the main points of a socialist programme to defeat this pandemic and the unfolding economic crisis would be based around the following broad demands:
Treatment and medical care
- Free and prompt treatment for all who need it. Free provision of protective equipment, like face masks, where it is needed or their use is ordered.
- Emergency increase in funding for health services and social care. Take over private medical facilities and plan a rapid expansion of publicly run healthcare facilities, including care homes, and staff.
- Adequate protection for all front-line medical, care and ancillary health workers, along with emergency workers.
- Nationalise the big pharmaceutical and other related companies to guarantee an emergency plan of research, production and rapid supply of medicines, vaccines, treatments, medical and protective equipment that is needed to meet peoples’ needs.
- As in war-time, outbreaks of pandemics must be met with the urgent emergency reorganisation and requisitioning, under workers’ control and management, of production facilities, nationally and internationally, to produce the necessary medicines, medical equipment and protective clothing for need and not profit.
- If developed, anti-Covid-19 medicines and vaccine must be freely available on a worldwide basis.
- Full safety protection and employment rights for all workers, irrespective of whether or not they are working.
- No worker to pay the price for helping control the spread of the virus. Any worker affected by lockdowns, who has to self-isolate, care for vulnerable dependants or is unable to work because of childcare or transport closures, should receive full pay from day one and for as long as it is needed, and should not be forced to take annual or unpaid leave.
- Self-employed, agency, zero-hour-contract and gig economy workers who are required to self-isolate or are affected by lockdowns should be granted emergency benefits that they can live on.
- Where regular benefits cannot be immediately arranged, special grants must be rapidly paid to households to ensure that workers, the unemployed and poor are able to stock up in order to survive lockdown periods.
- No redundancies, lay-offs with loss of pay or imposed changes in working conditions in manufacturing, logistics, public or private service industries because of the crisis. Open the books of any company threatening redundancies or closure, to inspection by elected representatives of the workforce and trade unions.
- To defend workers’ jobs and incomes, companies threatening job losses or closure should be nationalised under democratic workers’ control and management, with compensation to owners only on the basis of proven need. Funding should be provided to such companies to fully pay staff while a longer-term plan is discussed and implemented.
- Government funding, possibly via local authorities, to help struggling small local and community businesses – such hardship funds to be democratically controlled by committees involving workers and community groups.
- Nationalisation of the major logistics companies, like Amazon, UPS, DHL etc., to provide an integrated distribution service that acts in the interests of the majority of the population, with a non-casualised and non-gig permanent workforce that has good pay and conditions and provides a service which works in cooperation with postal services and small businesses.
- No erosion of workers’ right to organise, including the democratic functioning of trade unions and political parties.
- Trade unions to ensure that an all-union health and safety committee exists in every workplace to agree on joint actions required to guarantee safety.
- Where necessary, the trade unions should take the lead in encouraging democratic self-organisation to organise supplies and their fair distribution and pricing – including action against profiteering and black marketeering.
- Where necessary, set up public kitchens and relief centres at community levels for distribution of foodstuff, drugs and other essential supplies. Emergency action to provide adequate supplies of cheap drinking water and safe sanitation. Control and distribution of such supplies to be in the hands of democratic committees set up at community level and comprising elected representatives of trade unions, community/neighbourhood associations and grassroots groups etc., in order to prevent fraud, price gouging and other sharp practises.
- Where schools close, quality childcare for vulnerable families and the children of essential workers must be organised under the democratic control of education and care workers, with adequate protection, for all. Emergency continuation of local authority provision of meals to children normally fed in school under community and trade union control.
- Given that lockdowns affect commuter travel, transport must be provided to convey essential workers from home to work and back, while maintaining social distancing in the means of transport, and full testing and protection for transport workers.
- Nobody should lose their home because of coronavirus; no evictions or repossessions during this crisis.
- For those facing job losses or cuts in income, mortgage, rent and service charge payments should be either waived for the duration of the covid-19 crisis or suspended and later reviewed by democratically-controlled local bodies to ensure they are really affordable.
- Governments must ensure housing welfare benefits are readily available and fully cover income losses and all rent costs.
- Government financing for democratically controlled local authority hardship funds to aid any small private owners found to be in genuine need.
- Local authorities should take over empty homes to house the homeless and those in inadequate housing. Hotels to be used to provide emergency accommodation.
- For years, private landlords, building developers and many rapacious ‘social landlords’ have made enormous fortunes from the working class. To end overcrowding in housing, as well as atrocious living conditions and unaffordable rents, we need state-run mass housing building programmes, genuinely affordable rents and security of tenancies.
- No to police and state repression under the guise of fighting covid-19. No attacks on democratic rights and no rule by decree.
- For freedom of the press and media and the right to free expression and association. Defend all fundamental democratic rights while battling the virus.
- Democratic trade union oversight over any government or private sector emergency measures taken to contain the virus and its effects, such as restrictions on public assemblies or strikes and supermarket supply rationing.
Capitalism runs on profit, not people’s needs
There should be no trust that pro-capitalist politicians who are responsible for the crisis in the health and other public services can deal with the coronavirus crisis. They support and defend the system that has meant that hundreds of millions around the world have no adequate health care. In most countries, including developed capitalist states, there are repeated austerity drives and attempts, through privatisation, to give capitalists opportunities to profit from health care.
Even during lock-down, in some countries, non-essential industries were allowed to work even where “social distancing” could not be maintained. This was the case at building sites in Britain.
- Along with fighting for full pay, for all those laid-off from employment, trade unions must lead national coordinated protests and strike action to protect people should necessary health and safety measures not be taken in workplaces and/or communities.
- Emergency plans have to be drawn up to restart the economies that have been in shutdown and overcome the threatened economic crash, but this has to be done to meet peoples’ needs not the profits of the capitalists. The drive by President Trump and other world leaders for a quick restart are driven by profit and politics. Trump is looking to the November US election. For those bosses not involved in finance and speculation their profits come from the labour of the working class and selling their products. Many capitalists want economies restarted as quickly as possible, in order to start making profits again despite the risk to their workers and the wider population of new waves of the pandemic, as long as no anti covid-19 vaccine is available.
- Restart plans are needed both on a national and international level, which are in the interests of working people. They should be democratically drawn up by the trade unions and the broader working population, to agree on priorities not just to resume production and trade etc. The aim would be to maintain, and improve living standards while meeting the dire social and environmental needs which are being brutally exposed even more than before.
- To learn lessons from this pandemic, full democratically-run investigations, led by representatives of medical staff, medical experts and the wider working population, are urgently necessary into what happened, to prepare proposals to deal with any future pandemics, and to bring to account those responsible for lack of preparation, austerity policies and political decisions that worsened the effects of Covid-19’s impact.
Capitalism cannot defend working people – Build a workers’ alternative
This crisis is showing again that the capitalist market system that prioritises profit and which is based on competition, cannot keep society safe and is regularly hit by crises. That is why the state is being forced to intervene around the whole world, often giving most of the grants, subsidies and tax breaks to the biggest corporations and richest individuals.
But for the mass of the population, this intervention needs to be in the interest of working people and not the profits of the big companies. However, the only way to achieve this, is by implementing a democratic socialist plan of production and distribution that meets the needs of the majority in society.
The CWI believes this is the answer to the question that capitalist governments are already starting to raise about who will pay for getting out of this crisis, as they try to prepare the way for cutting living standards. The workers’ movement has to say, very clearly, that it should not be the working class, the poor, pensioners etc., who pay, but the capitalists who have made, and often hidden, fortunes both individually and in corporations. Furthermore, the increased role of the state reveals the inability of capitalism to deal with the crisis. What is needed are workers’ governments that, with support of broader layers of society, will take into public ownership the banks, financial institutions and the large companies that dominate economies and run them under the democratic control and management of working-class people, so that we can make the decisions about what is needed. Compensation should only be paid on the basis of proven need.
To achieve this, it is necessary to build mass workers’ parties, drawing together workers, young people, socialists and activists from workplaces and communities, as well as environmental, anti-racist and anti-cuts campaigns, to provide a fighting political alternative to the pro-big business parties.
This crisis is also a test for governments, as they will be judged by what they do, their record and in whose interests they act. The inevitable questioning of why the crisis happened and how governments reacted needs to be highlighted by socialists; it is an opportunity to explain the exploitative and brutal character of capitalism and to build support for the goal of bringing to power governments representing and involving working people that will carry through the socialist transformation of society.
The rapid spread of the social and economic crisis is a world issue that poses sharply the need for an international solution. It will raise widespread questioning about the planet’s future not just economically but also socially and environmentally. It has shown, again, how capitalism cannot deal with social crises, let alone provide a secure life for the vast majority. The idea of a workers’ international alternative, a socialist world where the planet’s resources are utilised for the vast majority and not exploited and ruined in the interests of the bosses and super-rich, is now even more relevant and vital than before. The building of dynamic, combative movements that fight for and implement this socialist transformation, in individual countries and internationally, is the overriding task of the day and to which the CWI is committed to.