The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Coronavirus in Workplaces:
Exploitation Is Unhealthy

Aug 24, 2020

Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

Almost one in four coronavirus outbreaks happens in workplaces. The government decided to sit bosses down with unions to draw up new policies.

So starting September 1, it will be mandatory for workers to wear a facemask in hallways, conference rooms, and tight spaces. Even before they knew all the details, the bosses moaned about the cost. The bosses’ association, Medef warned that enforcement might make some workers not want to return to work. As if workers have any choice! These bosses’ so-called concern for their workers doesn’t hide their desire to lord over them—or their desire for higher productivity.

Many big companies and some others provide antiseptic hand cleaner and facemasks. But they don’t schedule the time needed for workers to stay the necessary distance from each other.

Washing your hands often requires taking more breaks. Cleaning equipment and rooms thoroughly requires hiring more people.

On the assembly line, what matters is the line speed the bosses set. If you fail to finish a task on time, you will bump into the next worker. In an auto factory like Renault at Flins near Paris, the bosses didn’t take long before imposing the same line speed as before the lockdown, and even faster. At slaughterhouses, workers work almost shoulder to shoulder.

Space out the positions. Slow down the line. Stop the line if necessary to finish each operation. This is what real social distancing requires. And workers are very capable of figuring out the time that is needed to work safely.

Working less frantically and for fewer hours, without reducing anyone’s wages—this requires forcing the bosses to hire more people. This is essential to withstand the workload in a workshop or office.

It is impossible to preserve both the profits of the companies and the health of the workers who create the profits. To protect their health, workers will have to insist on their safety.