Last Sunday, France’s Prime Minister began his long “well done everybody” speech with “We have managed lockdown together and we’re going to manage coming out of lockdown together”. Who’s he kidding?
Healthcare workers were sent to the front line for weeks with no weapons and no munitions. Home helpers and personnel in nursing homes are still pretty much having to cope on their own. Employees who have continued to work throughout are still often left without even the most basic protection.
For millions of working-class families, lockdown means terrible difficulties – material, financial and psychological. Lockdown doesn’t just mirror social inequality, it makes it worse. The workers with the most insecure jobs have quite simply lost their livelihood. For others, temporary unemployment has knocked 200-300 euros a month off their wages even though they’re having to spend more, particularly if they have children since school meals are no longer available. The government is boasting about helping the poorest and yet queues outside charity food outlets have never been longer.
Inequality really is getting worse, even in education where many children have dropped off the radar. President Macron and Education Minister Blanquer claim that opening schools on May 11 will make up for the differences. But they’re lying: the decision to open schools again was forced on them by the capital owners so that workers would be free to go back to being exploited.
Prime Minister Philippe calls lockdown a well-thought-out “strategy”. But he’s been stumbling around in the dark since the crisis began. The erratic management of the crisis isn’t just due to all the unknowns about this new virus. It’s also due to pressure by big business to restart production as soon as possible. And it’s made worse by decades of drastic cuts to hospital budgets in the name of profitability and financialization.
If lockdown continues, it’s because the state is incapable of testing massively to isolate those who are ill and break the chain of infection. Just as it’s incapable, after three months of a health emergency, of supplying masks, gowns and gloves in sufficient quantities.
This health emergency is making it clear that the organization of our society is a failure and that it’s run by a totally irresponsible class, the bourgeoisie. Big businesses own the industrial means and the skills it would take to produce everything that is lacking. They employ engineers who are used to solving far more complicated problems than making masks and nasal swabs for the tests! They know where to find suppliers and raw materials. If they wanted to, they could speed things up.
But they don’t! Workers, exploited people, “those who are nothing” (as Macron once said), have shown daily just how dedicated they are to the community. The bourgeoisie has shown that it isn’t. Even in the middle of an epidemic, the bourgeoisie is blinded by its selfish interests, by its obsession with market shares and speculation.
This health crisis has set off an unprecedented economic crisis. As with all crises, the bourgeoisie will try to make the workers pay for it. It’s been putting the pressure on workers to go back to the factories, no matter the cost to their health and that of their families.
Our money is being used so that the state can substitute for companies by paying for part-time unemployment. But that hasn’t stopped quite a few of them from stealing work-time reduction days[i], even a week or two of paid vacation! And the longer the crisis lasts, the tougher the attacks will be.
Some of those who speak for the bosses are already anticipating massive layoffs and calculating the number of “economic deaths” to come, as if they were as inevitable as Covid deaths. What they see as inevitable is really no more than class struggle. And even if a remedy or a vaccine against the virus hasn’t been found yet, the workers have a solution against the bosses’ attacks: collective struggles.
Workers need to look at the bigger picture of the way society is organized and not just at the day-to-day struggles to defend their lives. Humanity will find the answer to the challenge of this unknown virus. But, where capitalism is concerned, there is no cure for the time-old ills – misery and poverty, the lack of housing, the abandoning of services vital to the population, not to mention the crises and under-development in poor countries.
Only the workers can take up the challenge. And they’ll succeed if they re-engage in the struggles that previous generations fought to oppose the capitalist organization of society, based on class exploitation and domination.
[i] Work-time reduction days - réduction du temps de travail (RTT): when the 35-hour week was introduced in France in 1998, RTT days were accorded to workers thus offering more flexibility to bosses. Workers can legally work up to 39 hours a week in which case their overtime hours are banked and redistributed as time off. The number of days differs from company to company – as it does in the public sector depending on what authority you work for.