by Barry Weisleder
The sh*t has hit the fan. COVID-19 now afflicts multitudes. World War C. It has triggered the shutdown of all but ‘essential’ production, leaving millions without jobs and income. In Canada, the ‘value’ of stocks plunged more than $1 trillion in a month, severely undermining pensions and retirement funds. A record nearly 1,000,000 workers applied for employment insurance benefits just in the third week of March, compared to the usual 35,000 for that time of year. This is just the tip of a deadly iceberg. Economists predict up to 35 per cent unemployment, far above the peak joblessness rate of 27 per cent in 1933 during the Great Depression. It seems the term Recession just doesn’t cut it anymore.
And let’s be clear: the current economic downturn preceded the virus. It was already underway in December. GDP growth, capital profitability, capacity utilization, volume of working hours, etc., indicated the onset of a recession. In 2019, countries like Germany saw the lowest growth rates since 2009, the peak of the global financial crisis. In addition, mass layoffs in the global automobile industry were no longer simply the result of computerization or the transition to e-mobility, but reflected a slump in economic activity. Capitalism and crisis are inseparable.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has his priorities, which happen to be the priorities of big business. His $82 billion spending plan provides a bail-out for the energy sector (which is beset by an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia), and relief for big banks and giant corporations. Trudeau is not canceling pipeline construction, nor is he cutting a budgetary dime from the military and its operations overseas. There’s only a pittance for new research efforts to find a vaccine to defeat COVID-19.
Which begs the question: Why is the government so slow to ramp up COVID-19 testing? Massive testing, and stepped up manufacture of necessary medical supplies and equipment, should have started weeks ago. Revolutionary Cuba sent thousands of doctors and nurses door to door to check on the health of the population. It even dispatched doctors to aid disease-ravaged Italy. The maniacal right-wing President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, is begging Cuba to resume the service of Cuban doctors he recently ordered to leave. At the same time, he votes with Ottawa, Washington and the European Union to block Venezuela from buying the medicine it needs.
Why such obstructionism, ineptitude and needless suffering? Because we live under capitalism, whose engine is the pursuit of profits rather than the meeting of human needs. Under socialism, a workers’ government would not have to plead with corporate executives to re-tool in order to meet the urgent need for life-saving ventilators, disease testing kits, and protective medical masks and gowns. It would simply consult work leaders, coordinate the necessary resources across a publicly-owned, democratically-planned economy, and calmly implement decisions along the production chain to make it happen.
Have you noticed how suddenly the government discovered the virtue of providing childcare for parents deemed to be ‘essential’ workers? So, what then is the argument against providing permanent, quality, cross-country childcare? The cost? Witness the current cost of recent cuts to public health services. Look at the toll taken by the loss of hospital beds and Intensive Care Unit capacity, the lack of adequate childcare services, the dearth of decent social housing, and the reliance on price-gouging Big Pharma. Shame!
While bourgeois politicians are trying to make a name for themselves as saviours of the public interest, we need to be vigilant against a power grab. The Emergencies Act, the successor to Pierre Trudeau’s War Measures Act, may be invoked in the name of health. But it will likely be used to curtail protest and to step up police surveillance of the population. History is replete with such warning signs, from the WW1 Conscription Crisis, to October 1970 in Quebec, to the Olympics in Montreal, to the G20 summit in Toronto. Under Disaster Capitalism, the ruling class seldom wastes an opportunity to profit from a crisis (politically and economically). Justin Trudeau initially sought special powers for his ministers, for the next 20 months, to raise taxes and spend money without a vote in Parliament. Be certain, this was not to help the working class. Say NO to the elitist schemes of the Liberal government. It’s time to stand up for the majority. ‘Physical distancing’ is a health precaution. It ought not be an appetizer to political passivity. The struggle continues!
Workers should not let our ‘leaders’ off the hook. Press the unions, the labour-based New Democratic Party and other working class mass organizations to seize this opportunity to fix EI and improve social amenities across the board. Now would be a good time for unions to organize ‘essential workers’ who do not yet belong to a union, and to support members who refuse unsafe working conditions. In opposition to government bail outs of big business, labour and the NDP should demand nationalization of key sectors: finance, industry and commerce.
Socialists advance an action programme that includes:
Basic Income for all. Every adult deserves a decent, living wage – without any cuts to special social program entitlements, and without privatization of public services. No one should have to buy their health care or medications. Sick leave, quarantine leave, and parental leave should be at full pay. The same for anyone laid off due to closures.
Put a moratorium on residential rents and mortgage payments. No evictions. No cut-off of heat, electricity, water, or inter net service. Cancel student debt. Make post-secondary education free.
Freedom of communication, especially vital at a time like this, means putting an end to bandwidth limits, long distance phone fees, restricted minutes and exclusionary paywalls. Nationalize the telecoms.
Tax the rich. Expropriate the big banks, the big oil and gas corporations, and seize ‘dead’ capital sitting in offshore and domestic accounts. Use these resources to fund mass testing for COVID-19, to develop a vaccine against it, and to encourage farmers to grow healthy food. Transition energy production towards a break with fossil fuels and nuclear fission. Move rapidly to green, sustainable energy systems, under public ownership and workers’ control.
The Migrant Rights Network advances a number of demands that deserve full support:
It is agricultural, food, domestic, warehouse, delivery, cleaning, gig and app workers, bus and taxi drivers, health care and other workers who are ensuring that we get our basic needs. It is critical that all of them get income supports.
Programs announced by the government will not ensure that we get money before rent day, and the amounts promised are very little. We need decent pay for everyone in the country, including migrants arriving and being placed in quarantine, and we need it immediately.
Many people do not qualify for Employment Insurance or Canada Revenue Agency managed programs including homeless and undocumented people, migrant workers, unemployed, temporary and precarious workers, disabled people, cash work and more. That’s not fair!
Everyone needs full access to healthcare and community supports, including housing. And that a real crisis response must mean an end to detentions and deportations, and permanent status for all.
Under the present mode of production, it is capitalism for the poor, and socialism for the rich. The Corona Virus plague, and the relentless rise of climate catastrophe, show that capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It must be replaced by a cooperative commonwealth, a genuine economic democracy – a goal the rich and powerful will resist tooth and nail. Only a socialist revolution can overcome their lethal obstruction, and release the full potential of a liberated humanity, in harmony with nature.
#Covid19 #cdnpoli #trudeau #willnotdie4wallstreet #GeneralStrike