Millions will return to work on April 13 in nonessential sectors — just to guarantee the profits of the capitalists. Health and safety committees must be established in all workplaces with full powers, including to shut down activity if necessary! For a quarantine income for all those who have been left without wages! To confront the pandemic, convert the economy, and put it under workers’ control!
On April 9, the Congress of Deputies is expected to renew the extension of the State of Alarm until April 26. At the same time, the government has been announcing for days that we will soon enter a “de-escalation” phase. We are told that measures suspending nonessential activities and general confinement will be gradually lifted. But the date remains a secret, just like everything else in this crisis.
The government is giving out completely skewed information, and only on a piecemeal basis. We are told nothing about the actual evolution of the infections, or about the lack of tests and There is no real information on the evolution of the infections, or about the lack of tests, or about primary immunodeficiency patients, or about what private resources have been tapped into and mobilized, or about how much public money is being used owners of those resources that continue to do business. We’re not even told genuine numbers of deaths, which many experts and even institutions think might be as high as double the official numbers.
That is why it is urgent that all the information on this crisis be prepared by committees, independent of the government, that are made up of experts, health unions, and public health associations, so the people knows the truth about the pandemic.
From the little we do know about the government’s plan, the only thing that’s clear is that its priorities put corporate profits ahead of our lives and rights.
Return to Work in Nonessential Sectors for What? And Under What Conditions?
The first element of the plan is for millions of workers in nonessential sectors to go back to work. The government has scheduled that for April 13. On that day, sectors such as construction, industry, and large services will be back in business. But why are people returning to work in these sectors? Has the number of deaths per day already dropped significantly? No. In fact, there are still horrifying numbers of deaths every day.
With less than a week to go, issues as basic as the lack of masks and other personal protective equipment required to prevent a new peak in infections remain unresolved. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez appeared in public a few days ago wearing a mask, and the government has suggested that it will promote their widespread use, but they are not yet doing that because there are still not enough masks to take that step!
The millions who return to work on Monday in nonessential sectors will do so under the same conditions employers have been imposing on a large number of workplaces: hyper-exploitation, overcrowding, and a lack of basic safety conditions. In Italy and France, large groups of workers have risen up against similar conditions of exploitation and insecurity, going on strike to demand the closure of nonessential sectors that had become clusters of infection. In Italy, it was even revealed that contagion was higher in the industrial areas of the north. How many workers must become infected, putting themselves and their families at risk, before our lives come before their profits?
The “progressive” government, at the request of employers and their partners in the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the right-wing parties, is taking this measure only to prevent profits for the big companies from falling, not to meet some minimally serious health criteria. It’s more of the same that will return these last two weeks of “recoverable paid leave” to the bosses in the form of a huge cache of hours they can use to extend working days or vacation pay.
This business greed — and the government that allows it — must be stopped. We must demand the withdrawal of all ERTEs,1 the cancellation of all layoffs, and that not a single hour of worker quarantine be given back to the very employers who last year alone failed to pay for 10 million hours of overtime.
In addition, the trade unions must fight in all workplaces to impose safety and hygiene committees, composed solely of Prevention Delegates2 and representatives elected from the workforce in the different factories, sectors, and categories. These committees must be given full power to draw up rigorous Prevention Plans that include not only basic safety measures, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) or tests for those who work, but also for those who must remain at home — paid 100 percent of their wages — because they are in high-risk groups or are caring for minors or other dependents. These committees must be empowered to reduce work hours, reorganize schedules and shifts, and hire unemployed people as needed. These committees must have the power to halt activity completely at the sign of even the slightest risk or lack of PPE, based on Article 21.2 of the Law on the Prevention of Occupational Risks.
We demand that the leaderships of CCOO and UGT,3 which have endorsed each and every government measure that has unloaded the crisis on the workers, to establish these committees in all workplaces. The trade union Left, which has been opposing the main government measures, also has must take responsibility for establishing these committees in companies and sectors where it has a significant presence.
We Demand Work That Meets the Great Social Needs, Not Fatten Profits
Reactivating the economy cannot be used to keep filling the coffers of the big companies. Even if the most terrible weeks of the coronavirus are behind us, the social and health crisis will continue. The experts are indicating a 12 to 18 month period before effective vaccines or treatments are available, but information on research is still in the hands of governments and pharmaceutical companies, in a competitive race — rather than cooperation — that can only mean delays.
That is why these demands remain fundamental: nationalization of all private healthcare — including pharmaceutical laboratories — under the control of healthcare workers; that research on treatments and vaccines be public, and what is developed be free to all patents; hiring of all unemployed healthcare workers and all students who are in their final years of healthcare training; an investment plan of at least 20 billion euros to match the amount of cuts over the past decade.
Furthermore, over all those months, Spain and the rest of the world will need enormous quantities of masks, gowns, protective glasses, sanitary gel, disinfectants, respirators, and tests. It is urgent that we convert all industries and services to deal with this emergency. Many entrepreneurs are right now trying to take advantage of the “business” opportunities this presents, either on their own or through contracts with the government. But that is a slow and torturous process, guided by competition and the quest for maximum profit. It is part of the dynamic that has already led to soaring prices for health products on the world market, condemning millions in the semi-colonial countries to death. Our health and our lives cannot be subjected to such a sinister auction.
It is necessary to fight for the conversion of all the major industries and services, for the state confiscation of machinery and facilities, and for workers’ control of production so all these products can be supplied to satisfy social needs. We need to meet not only domestic needs but also contribute to strengthening the health systems of those countries systematically plundered for decades by Spanish multinationals and our governments.
Lifting the Quarantine Cannot Be an Excuse for Strengthening the Police State
As the government seems to be scaling up the lifting of the quarantine, it still fails to clarify what the procedures will be for detecting scientifically the asymptomatic cases that are the main vehicle of transmission and could generate a new outbreak. The truth is that, so far, tests are not available even to health workers or nursing homes.
That is why there must be no delay in ensuring that all industries and laboratories capable of manufacturing tests are doing so, along with the universities that have remained mostly closed over the past few weeks. This is the way massive testing will be possible. The same applies to the hiring and training, under fair conditions, of students in healthcare degree programs and training programs so they can assist already overloaded healthcare personnel.
It has also been leaked that there is an idea floating around to continue the isolation of all mild or asymptomatic positive cases. The figures could be stratospheric — several hundreds of thousands or even millions of people could be in that clinical state. How will this be carried out? In the government leaks and media accounts, there is the rumble of authoritarian and repressive efforts to do so. These include compulsory confinement outside the home in sports arenas or other facilities where tens of thousands of people would be held under appalling conditions, which according to several jurists would require the declaration of a State of Siege allowing for the suspension of fundamental rights. These also include measures that already been authorized, such as geolocation tracking of the entire population through their mobile devices.
The “progressive” government is taking advantage of the “shock” climate created by the pandemic to impose, once again, authoritarian measures that strengthen the state, its repressive apparatus, and its control mechanisms over fundamental democratic rights. We see this in the use of the army and police forces, during this quarantine, to impose confinement abusively and by doing work that could be done by construction, cleaning, or education workers.
All this aims at strengthening the executive branch and government by decree as never before in the history of the Regime of ’78,4 without any parliamentary control. The renewal of the current State of Alarm is a renewal of this authoritarian and Bonapartist course that will quickly be used against the working class and the most marginalized sectors when we rebel against the serious economic and social consequences of this crisis. Only the CUP5 has stood in opposition, from its position of rejecting the economic measures aimed at rescuing corporations.
Against this drift toward repression we demand the withdrawal of the army and state police that have been deployed, an independent investigation by human rights organizations of all police abuses, and the repeal of the decrees that allow the state to maintain electronic surveillance and control of our movements, communications, and activities in social networks.
For Voluntary isolation, Under Decent Conditions and Run by Workers and Patient
According to most experts, isolation of positive cases is a necessary measure to prevent the further spread of the pandemic. But it must be voluntary, without the intervention of the repressive and judicial apparatus. That challenges the interests of the big capitalists.
First of all, we must fight to ensure that all those who must remain in quarantine receive 100 percent of their wages. We must demand a quarantine income that at least corresponds to the SMI6 for all self-employed workers, those working in the gig economy who have been left without resources, precarious workers that have furloughed, and the millions of unemployed whose ranks have already swelled by thousands of ERTEs and individual layoffs. This must be paid for taxing the wealthiest fortunes. It is the only way to ensure that the precarious and most vulnerable among us can remain in isolation for another 15 days.
For those who lack the housing required for safe confinement, the state should provide decent spaces—and not in sports arenas or exhibition centers such as Fira de Barcelona. All hotel rooms — more than 1.5 million across the country — must be commandeered, without compensation, and placed under the control of hotel staff for this very purpose. Let the tourism boards, which have been earning billions for years, use their profits to pay for this housing emergency. The same goes for all the empty apartments being held by speculators or set aside for rental to tourists.
It is health workers, social educators, community managers, psychologists, and social workers, together with the patients themselves, who must organize the entire system of voluntary confinement. In no case should the police, the military, or the intelligence services carry it out — as the government intends.
An Emergency Program to Make the Capitalists Pay for the Crisis
Finally, lifting the confinement measures must be accompanied by emergency measures to address the serious consequences of the social and economic crisis. Thousands of families have seen their precarious incomes evaporate, without any reduction in their expenses. Many expenses have risen, such as groceries. Other fundamental demands must be met to avoid the ruin and impoverishment of thousands of families: cancellation of rent and mortgage payments — and not their conversion into debts that the most vulnerable families will have to pay off in the coming years; a halt to evictions; seizure of the large food distribution companies and retailers that are sellers or the intervention of the large food distribution and marketing companies that are manipulating prices.
Meanwhile, the “progressive” government continues to dispense euros to big business and the wealthy, putting at their disposal 100 billion euros in guarantees and increasing the public debt, which they will make us pay for tomorrow. Against this latest bailout of the capitalists and to recover those funds, we must fight for a 20 percent tax on the big fortunes, 50 percent on the 2019 profits of the IBEX35 companies,7 nonpayment of the debt, and a tax on the banks. These measures alone would make 130 billion euros available to deal with the health and social crisis and rescue the workers and most marginalized sectors rather than the bankers and businessmen.
This is the only “social shield” against the crisis worthy of the name.8 The measures approved thus far are not a genuine “social shield,” nor are the proposals for some new kinds of “Moncloa Pacts”9 as both the Sánchez government and Unidas Podemos10 have both proposed, which echo the agreements between the reformist leaderships and the old Francoists, in the early days of the Regime of ’78, to make the working class pay for the inflation and unemployment crises of the time.
The “progressive” government and the right-wing opposition are steering us into this likely situation: new outbreaks of the virus, combined with all these measures aimed at protecting profits, lead to a reaction by the working class and the poor that is met with increasing authoritarianism. The trade union Left, groups within the major unions that oppose their leaders’ support for the government, and the anti-capitalist Left throughout the entire state face a challenge. We must put all our forces and our militancy at the service of taking this program to the working class, the youth, and the most marginalized to defend our health and our lives, and to confront the social cutbacks and attacks on our democratic rights that lie ahead.
First published on April 9 in Spanish in La Izquierda Diario.
Translation: Scott Cooper
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Translator’s note: In the labor code, a “Temporary Employment Regulation Procedure” (ERTE) allows an employer in the Spanish State to layoff workers or reduce working hours.|
|2.||↑||Translator’s notes: Workers’ representatives with specific functions in the areas of occupational risk prevention as part of the labor code.|
|3.||↑||Translator’s note: Comisiones Obreras (CCOO, Workers’ Commissions) and the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT, General Union of Workers) are the Spanish State’s two major trade union confederations.|
|4.||↑||Translator’s note: This is the common way to refer to the transformation from the Francoist dictatorship to the current constitutional monarchy.|
|5.||↑||Translator’s note: The Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP, Popular Unity Candidacy) is a left-wing pro-Catalonia political party.|
|6.||↑||Translator’s note: The government-mandated minimum wage in the Spanish State.|
|7.||↑||Translator’s note: The IBEX 35 is the group of companies used as the benchmark index on the Madrid Stock Market, the main stock exchange in the Spanish State. It functions like the three main indices in the United States: the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the NASDAQ Composite.|
|8.||↑||Translator’s note: The government’s quarantine measures, when announced, were referred to as a “social shield.|
|9.||↑||Translator’s note: The Pactos de la Moncloa (Moncloa Pacts) was a series of steps the post-Franco government took in the late 1970s to address unemployment and inflation.|
|10.||↑||Translator’s note: Unidad Podemos (United We Can) is a left-leaning electoral alliance in the Spanish State.|