In Italy, “coronavirus strikes” are spreading while evidence is being released showing that the epidemic got out of hand because in quite a few countries – including Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the US – governments prioritized different goals rather than halting the spread at all costs to reduce fatalities.
The “coronavirus strikes” and trade unions
While the first wave of layoffs due to the epidemic begins in the United States, in Italy, as we were saying yesterday, “coronavirus strikes” are multiplying: Asti, Vercelli, Cuneo, Brescia… The Genoa port dockers, a dozen plants in Piedmont, the Electrolux factory… In the metallurgical industry the unions themselves have joined the movement and are threatening a strike if the factories don’t close until March 22nd.
In Spain, however, trade unions are calling off strikes and asking together with the bosses for cheaper temporary employment adjustments in the middle of the first wave of layoffs caused by the epidemic. In France, workers being forced to keep working in a PSA-Peugeot-Citroen factory where cases of Wuhan pneumonia have already emerged, have begun to cause protests still restrained by the unions.
Failure to close factories and workplaces, even when they become hotbeds for the spread of the coronavirus, is tantamount to sending workers to be infected with a serious disease. To give temporary or total dismissal as the only alternative is criminal blackmail. Physical integrity and life are basic human needs. We have reached the point of having to fight, in the middle of a global health crisis, to impose them upon the needs of capital – that we work, no matter what, in order to generate profits – and to fight against trade unions that are happy to have us sent home – without pay.
It could have been contained
The graph above, published by the Financial Times, shows that the countries that did not take countermeasures promptly follow the same saturation trajectory as that suffered by Korea. Those that took quick action suffer far fewer cases. If we compare the “reassuring” information disseminated for weeks with the scientific results and descriptions, the deliberateness is evident. The reality is not only that of a virus that is very easy to spread but with a very low mortality rate. The reality is that in 17.5% of the cases pneumonia will become serious and intensive care will be needed. Hence the need for ventilators, intensive treatment and the pressure on hospitals which, in Italy, are already on the verge of collapse. The danger today is that hospital overcrowding will become a major cause of death.
Avoiding this, however, was a matter of priority. Just today we saw a new example of the thinking of states and their governments. At a televised press conference held by the Catalan government, Vice-President Pere Aragonès launched pearls such as “people’s health comes first because without healthcare there is no demand for companies” and that “workers reaching their workplace” was a goal. It could not have been made any clearer. People and their needs – their physical integrity – are not goals in themselves but means to an end: to keep exploiting, producing and billing until the last possible minute. This is the logic that prevailed in most governments… and that has produced the current situation.
The hospital overcrowding that today poses a danger to thousands of people would have been avoidable if health systems had not been systematically eroded and if current governments had taken action against disease propagation in the early stages.