Revolutionary socialist organizations from the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Peru, members and sympathizers of the Trotskyist Fraction for the Fourth International, are publishing the following statement at a time when the crisis of the Coronavirus pandemic is developing rapidly. The disastrous situation of healthcare systems in the great majority of countries is preventing adequate responses (such as massive testing), causing thousands of avoidable deaths, and providing confusing information about the reality of the pandemic in each country. The economic and financial effects of the crisis will likely be unloaded onto the shoulders of the workers and the poor, who in turn are the most vulnerable to the danger of infection. We propose urgent measures so that large companies pay the costs of this crisis. They are the ones who have always profited from the degradation of public health and precarious working conditions, the measures carried out by the governments, states, and parties in their service. These are banners of struggle for the organization of workers and youth. Great crises require great solutions.
- The crisis of the coronavirus first hit China, and from there the world economy. Then it spread to Italy, Iran, South Korea, and many other countries. At the same time, the crisis led to a price war in the oil sector due to a disagreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia about limiting production and containing the fall in prices. The crisis deepened on “Black Monday,” March 9, and stock markets continued to fall all week, particularly on Thursday, March 12. Far from being a limited health crisis, it became an economic crisis (with the paralysis of production in China and its consequence on the globalized production chains, which accentuated tendencies toward recession and devaluation throughout the world) and then a financial crisis (which is now in full swing). All the while, the health crisis itself continued to develop, with the WHO declaring the coronavirus a “pandemic” (on Wednesday, March 11) and governments of hard-hit countries such as Italy calling for extraordinary measures (like putting the entire country under quarantine). In the United States, this included a travel ban for foreign nationals coming from Europe and Trump’s eventual declaration of a “national emergency.” Just as China seems to be overcoming the crisis, other governments are predicting a worsening of the pandemic in their countries. The consequences of the virus are unpredictable as it reaches the poorest countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
- What kind of health crisis is developing? What kind of disease is COVID-19? According to the data that is available so far (taking into account the possibility of mutations of the virus and resulting changes in its behavior) there seems to be a consensus among “specialists” that, in comparison to the seasonal flu (a viral disease that causes between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths per year), the coronavirus has a higher rate of infection and also a higher mortality rate (especially in older adults, although lower than SARS and similar viruses, and much lower than Ebola and other diseases). The limit of this estimate is that the coronavirus has not yet reached the same proportion of the world’s population as the seasonal flu (influenza), which is estimated to be 10-20% of the total population (but even this is difficult to determine because many people have the flu without seeking medical care and therefore without being registered). In addition to the lack of vaccines against COVID-19, the most concerning aspect seems to be the high rate of contagion, as it makes the disease spread quicker and can rapidly exacerbate existing health crises. At “peak times,” there are not enough hospital beds, nor are there enough ICUs and respirators for the most critical cases. Italian doctors reported that 10% of those infected who arrived at the hospitals required respiratory assistance. In addition, according to the experience of healthcare professionals in China, mechanical respirators help but also increase the danger of contagion in hospitals. Consequently, the most effective treatment option is intubation, which is much less readily available. In addition, treatment for the coronavirus requires relatively long periods of hospitalization (15-20 days). The current mortality rate is uncertain as the numbers of infected people in each country are not reliable (especially in Italy and China, where mortality rates were close to 4%, compared to 0.8% in South Korea). The big difference is that in South Korea almost 200,000 tests were performed, compared to the few thousand that have been given in countries like Italy and the U.S. This is key when we consider the measures that we must demand. In the United States, tests are only carried out on people exhibiting all the disease’s symptoms or on specific medical orders, and they cost upwards of $3,000. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve decided to allocate $1.5 trillion to rescue financial speculators, the U.S. military continues to spend billions, and economic blockades hit countries like Iran who are in dire situations because of the pandemic.
- The governments that have been negligent from the beginning (the U.S., Iran, Italy, and so many others) are reacting with measures that are limited to banning flights and strengthening quarantines and isolation, without more profound responses that would reduce deaths as much as possible. They are afraid of demonstrating their ineptitude in the face of such a health crisis. At the last minute, Trump declared a “national emergency” and agreed with the Democrats in Congress on a special package for sick leave and rapid testing. If he appears incompetent in the face of a crisis and thousands of people die, he could lose the U.S. presidency, even to Biden. The same applies to any other government. In the meantime, measures of police control are imposed on the population. The Chinese government currently appears “successful” in its response, but in the first weeks that the new coronavirus appeared, the government offered the denialism typical of restorationist capitalist bureaucracy, ignoring the warnings that could have reduced the number of deaths (including that of Li Wenliang, a doctor who warned about the epidemic and was consequently accused by the authorities of “spreading rumors” before he died from COVID-19). China is the most extreme example of authoritarianism around the world, with its tight bureaucratic control that prevents vital news from leaving Wuhan and other affected areas.
- The crisis of public healthcare systems has long been a widespread demand in several countries, particularly in the U.S. Surveys showed that even before this crisis, healthcare was among the main concerns of the U.S. population because of the debt it generates for families and because 27.5 million people do not have any kind of coverage. Bernie Sanders has been attacked, not only by Trump but also by the Democrats and Biden, because he calls for Medicare for All. All healthcare systems are organized around the profits of big corporations. The decline in public healthcare is not just caused by right-wing forces, but also by forces claiming to be “progressive” or center-left, as can be seen in Latin America where “progressive” governments have failed to change the structure of “first-rate” and private healthcare for the rich while public healthcare for the poor is absolutely backward. State-sponsored scientific research is significantly degraded. Since the elderly suffer the most from the lack of medical and health care, the attacks on pensions that are sweeping across all continents and governments are especially outrageous. They transform the increase in people’s life expectancy into a “problem” for the budgets of capitalist states. These states make jobs more precarious while reducing taxes for the rich.
- In different countries, especially where there is more class struggle, governments will seek to make political use of the COVID-19 health crisis, with the aim of restricting democratic freedoms and preventing demonstrations of discontent and struggle. The case of Chile is illustrative: the government of Sebastián Piñera went from complete idleness to a discourse about the enormous consequences of the virus, demanding measures like the cancellation of massive events while refusing to discuss the fact that working people still will not have access to free testing and the Chilean public health system remains enormously unfunded and in crisis. Thus, the government is creating a climate that discourages the mobilizations that take place every week in the country’s main cities. Piñera will attempt to use the health argument to pass repressive laws such as one that would authorize the president to decree the militarization of “critical infrastructure” (hospitals, ports, etc.). We reject any repressive measure that is disguised as health policy and is directed against the masses and their mobilizations (whether organized or spontaneous). It should not be the government that decides whether or not to hold a demonstration, but the organizations in struggle with the advice of healthcare professionals and researchers.
- The dynamics of the economic and financial crisis will strengthen the tendencies toward recession, aggravating the effects of the health crisis. This relationship means that the duration and depth will be dependent on the combination of both crises. The drops in the stock market are bursting a bubble that helped maintain weak economic growth (particularly in the U.S.), without having resolved any of the structural problems that burst forth with the 2008 crisis (low productivity, low investment). Companies today are more indebted than in 2008, so a series of bankruptcies (in airlines, shale oil companies in the U.S., tourism, etc.) could hit the banks. Unlike 2008, the banks appear to be in a better position, but this all depends on the depth of the recession. There are other significant differences compared to the last recession: instead of coordination between the governments of the main powers that was seen in 2009 (when they were obviously terrified by the depth of the crisis), today confrontations are prevailing due to geopolitical tensions and ruthless competition not only between the United States and China, but also between the U.S. and Germany (with strong economic ties to China), and even between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
- For all these reasons, we call on working people and youth to take the struggle for measures against the crisis into our own hands. In Italy we have already seen workers rebelling against the lack of protection measures and for paid leave in factories and companies. We are presenting measures that will have their concrete expression in each country:
- Governments and states must guarantee the free distribution of everything necessary for the early detection of the infection: from basic necessities (alcohol gel, soap, masks, gloves, etc.) to the necessary test kits, to be carried out free of charge for everyone who has symptoms. This includes taking control of large private laboratories. Depending on the country, this may involve local production or guaranteeing funds for emergency imports, together with the confiscation of companies that produce these items and putting them under the control of their workers and technicians. Production, under state control, of all drugs that are effective in dealing with the pandemic (as tested by control agencies).
- Centralization of the entire healthcare system, including all private healthcare (from large laboratories to private clinics and hospitals), under public management and control by workers and specialists. We must guarantee the distribution of tests and medical necessities. and ensure that there are the necessary facilities to treat infected people who need to be hospitalized: this will mean appropriating all necessary rooms (hotels, etc.) and providing respirators (through emergency production, importation, etc.).
- 100% paid leave (at the expense of employers and the state) for all persons who are infected or in danger of infection, as well as for all persons over 65 years of age and parents who cannot send their children to school. Paid leave for informal, “gig,” or undocumented workers in the affected areas so that they are not forced to work at risk of infection in order to receive their wages. Prohibition of layoffs. Rent freeze at the level of December 2019 and a moratorium on collecting rents in those countries where layoffs are leaving hundreds of thousands in the streets. Suspension of all eviction proceedings, as all families will see their income reduced.
- Emergency expansion of the entire public healthcare system, starting with hospitals and clinics. Immediate training and salary increases. Reinstatement of all medical and nursing staff who have been dismissed in recent years or made redundant.
- Independent commissions made up of experts and members of workers’ and people’s organizations to control all information handled by the state without any kind of censorship: data on the evolution of the epidemic, comparison with other epidemics, preventive measures for the population, etc. Public health information cannot be left in the hands of the state, which is always subservient to the lobbies of big business. The WHO must also be independently controlled (let us not forget the bribery scandal of the big laboratories involving their management of the H1N1 flu crisis).
- Health and Safety Commissions in all workplaces, with full power to investigate, consult, and question measures relevant to the safety of workers and patients.
- Increase health and social assistance budgets, stop the payment of the foreign debt, and impose progressive and extraordinary taxes on big capitalists. Lift U.S. sanctions on Iran (one of the countries most affected by the pandemic), Venezuela, and Cuba.
We encourage the organizations of the working class to intervene in the crisis with a program independent of the different capitalist factions, and at the same time we point out the need to confront the power of the capitalists and put an end to their exploitation of the workers of the whole world and of the planet itself. We are fighting for workers’ governments and socialist revolution to transform society root and branch, because capitalist society protects profits, not the lives of the working classes.
The Trotskyist Faction is made up of the following organizations: Argentina: Party of Socialist Workers (PTS), Brazil: Revolutionary Workers Movement (MRT), Chile: Revolutionary Workers Party (PTR), Mexico: Socialist Workers Movement (MTS), Bolivia: Revolutionary Workers League (LOR-CI), Spanish State: Revolutionary Workers Current (CRT), France: Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR), which is part of the NPA (New Anticapitalist Party), Germany: Revolutionary Internationalist Organization (RIO), United States: comrades from Left Voice, Venezuela: Workers League for Socialism (LTS), Uruguay: Socialist Workers Current (CTS)
Sympathetic organizations have also signed this document: Italy: Revolutionary Internationalist Fraction (FIR), Peru: Socialist Workers Current (CST), and Costa Rica: Socialist Organization.