This May Day workers around the world are struggling against a double threat. The deepest economic crisis since the “Dirty ’30s” is causing huge lay-offs, lost incomes and savings, and waves of evictions, foreclosures, and bankruptcies for small businesses and farms, triggered by a global pandemic Covid-19 virus for which there is as yet no vaccine, and a vast under-supply of medical equipment, supplies, staff, and hospitals to stave off sickness and death. The pandemic has compounded the growing menace of unchecked climate change, global inequality, and imperialist wars.
Corporations are using the crisis to jack up prices and profits on scarce medical equipment and supplies, while also re-organizing production to make permanent reductions in the labour force when the pandemic has passed.
For capitalists, everything is a commodity. Every crisis is an opportunity to make a profit, to cut costs, to beat or eat the competition, to expand. Today’s victims are the front-line healthcare workers who are dying because PPE is not available, the elderly locked into under-staffed and under-funded private for-profit long-term care homes, and workers on the job in unsafe conditions; or laid off without EI, sick pay, or even a job.
The role of capitalist governments is to bail out the corporations ‘in need’, to keep a firm hand on the unemployed and the dispossessed, and to save capitalism through this crisis, and the next crisis and the one after that.
The experience of the 2008-09 financial meltdown suggests that today’s corporate cries of lost profits are unfounded and opportunistic. Data from Statistics Canada indicate that within 15 months of that collapse, corporate profits in Canada had recovered and passed pre-crisis levels. By 2018, just ten years later, quarterly corporate profit had jumped nearly 100%, reaching historic highs. Over that same decade, average hourly wages increased by only 8% when adjusted for inflation.
And yet during the Covid-19 crisis, government support payments are mostly going to corporate bailouts, with only piecemeal and short-term supports for the over one-third of the workforce now unemployed in Canada, 60% of whom don’t qualify for EI.
The Trump administration in the US is the grossest example, with its decisions to ignore the pandemic’s deadly impact on the American people and push to maintain profits and production at any cost; to maintain the illegal and inhuman economic sanctions which prevent the delivery of medical supplies, drugs and equipment to over 40 countries including Cuba, Venezuela, DPRK, and Iran. Trump has now cut $400 million in funding to the World Health Organization, after launching an unfounded political attack on that organization in the midst of a pandemic that may kill millions without stronger international action.
These are crimes against humanity.
In sharp contrast, the socialist countries have mobilized their capacities to protect the population with social distancing, mass testing and follow-up with contacted people, transforming plants and factories to production of medical supplies, drugs, ventilators, personal protective equipment, building hospitals in a matter of days. They have developed treatments like the anti-viral Interferon Alfa-2B, jointly developed by Chinese and Cuban scientists, and produced in mass quantities in China and distributed around the world on the basis of need. They have sent teams of doctors and nurses, medical equipment and supplies to help in the fight against COVID-19 and to save lives in Europe, Africa, and Latin America.
Shockingly, the Trudeau government has refused to issue visas to the Cuban medical team that was invited to help contain the virus on reserves and Indigenous communities in Canada. This must be reversed. The escalation of Cold War rhetoric and anti-Chinese racism are blatant attempts to shift blame from the failures of capitalist governments.
Not governed by the drive for private profits, the socialist countries put protection of the public as the top priority, along with internationalism and the moral obligation to prevent the pandemic’s global spread. The contrast between capitalism and socialism is stark – people or profits.
Capitalism is all about profits and competition. Dog eat dog. The big fish eat the smaller fish. Corporate power rules.
Socialism is about cooperation, for the health and well-being of the people. For global action against the pandemic, for universal health and healthcare, for science and education, for global security, peace, and environmental justice.
Capitalism is for corporations and the wealthy. Socialism is for workers, the unemployed, youth, women, Indigenous and racialized people, immigrants, farmers, fishers, and all those who work by hand and brain. Socialism is working class power. Capitalism is corporate power – the power of few over the many, of the exploiters over the exploited.
Mass Struggle for A People’s Recovery
The labour and people’s movements must not accept the corporate prescription for recovery, which will include permanent mass unemployment, falling wages and living standards and more austerity to pay for the corporate bailouts today. The corporate prescription could also very well include militarism and war as a way for corporations to recover their profits. This was how the capitalist countries pulled themselves out previous depressions – and the Great Depression, with massive profits in war production. We are seeing a further rise of ultra-right and fascist ideologies, nationalism, and chauvinism, which were on the march even before this crisis. This has happened before, when capitalist countries pulled themselves out of the Great Depression with massive profits in war production.
The labour and people’s movements must build a powerful united struggle for a people’s recovery based on full employment policies, rising wages and living standards, and expanded social programs and public services. Spending on NATO and militarism should be redirected to civilian spending, to fight the pandemic with all of the resources we can muster, and to build a strong and expanded healthcare system that includes long-term care, pharmacare, dental, vision and mental health care. These funds should be used for free quality post-secondary education, for free quality public childcare, for good jobs and higher wages, pension and living standards for all. We need to build an economy based on sustainable manufacturing and renewable energy, action on climate change and environmental justice. We need peace and an end to racism, exploitation, and oppression. We need to unite for fundamental social change. For socialism.
The coming depression, and the pandemic that triggered it, changes everything. Seven million unemployed and counting changes everything.
The labour and peoples’ movements are at a crossroads: people before profit. Or profit before people.
We’re all in this together, but we won’t all get through this, without a mass struggle led by labour and its allies for a people’s recovery.
This May Day, it’s the unity of the labour movement in the fight to defend workers’ jobs and living standards, and oppose imperialist wars and catastrophic climate change, that will make all the difference.