While the death and infection figures continue to rise, Spanish President Sánchez, who made “social justice” his banner during the last elections, announced last night the closure of non-essential production… although only for eight days and in the form of a “permit” redeemable as overtime from the workers by the company. In Italy, the decree “to close Italy” which promised a week ago to halt non-essential production in order to stop the spread of the epidemic at once, kept 40% of productive activities, which employ 10 million workers, open at the time of its application. In Argentina, the Peronist unions, that is to say “Justicialists”, reveal themselves by exerting pressure, hand in hand with the employers, to “flexibilize” the confinement and resume productive work. How far does “Social Justice” go?
“Social justice” has been a misleading term since its inception: it represented the “social doctrine” of the Catholic Church which attempted, from concepts of feudal theology, to articulate its own version of social “harmony”. This is the idea that measures can be taken to avoid “abolishing the two extremes, capital and wage labor, at the same time, attenuating their antithesis and turning it into harmony”.
The slogan of harmony, “no one loses rights, all parties yield, employers and workers sacrifice themselves for the common good”, is the promise a thousand times repeated first by the “social democratic” petty bourgeoisie of the 19th century, then followed by the yellow unions – named after the color of the papal flag – and finally adopted as a “social program” by fascism, Falangism and Peronism – which is why Peronism calls itself “Justicialist”.
The “common good” does sound good, but when it comes to striking a balance between universal human needs and capital’s interest in sustaining accumulation, what kind of trade-off is possible? The new decree from the Spanish government proposes that workers reduce the risk of contagion for 9 days as long as companies do not have to pay for the hours not worked. That sounds more like sacrificing the salary of an involuntary leave – that is, the way to satisfy the basic needs of working families – in exchange for companies not losing money.
The same deceptive logic applies to the determination of sectors: mining, metallurgy, the chemical industry not related to medical supplies, glass not related to food or health, aerospace production or the defence industry are, among others, considered essential . Is manufacturing airplanes or tanks essential production? Essential for what? It is essential to the maintenance of major national capitals… but not to the fight against the spread. On the contrary, all these sectors are characterized by producing in factories of a certain scale. Factories which, like all concentrations of people, are potential sources of contagion to which hundreds of thousands of people go and return to every day from their homes.
Capitalism is definitely an upside-down world and “social justice” is the most cynical expression of this absurdity. Reducing contagion by closing factories is presented as being in the particular interest of the workers, while avoiding further damage to corporate profits would be the “common good”. The common sacrifice is thus, always and in any case, that of the workers: some “recovering” hours when the health crisis subsides, others going to work because their work is essential… so that the average profitability of national capital does not suffer.
In Italy new strikes break out daily to demand the closure of non-essential production beyond the very broad limits of the Conte government, which also considers essential, for example, arms production… a sector which is on strike right now . These are really strikes against a “social justice” that is as inhuman as it is impossible to harmonize saving investments and saving lives by making confinement more effective and at the same time guaranteeing the satisfaction of everyone’s basic needs. The prime need is to avoid catching a life-threatening disease.