The Spark

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

No Oxygen for India Hospitals

May 10, 2021

COVID-19 patients in ICUs need oxygen and lots of it, 2 to 3 gallons per minute, to help their sick lungs. Hospitals in India, crushed by the overload of COVID patients, are running out of oxygen, the same way the U.S. first ran out of ventilators and N95 masks. Patients can’t breathe on their own, and they die.

It’s not as if India lacks oxygen. Linde India is a branch of Linde Group, biggest supplier of liquefied atmospheric gases in the world. But with this enormous social resource being privately owned and operated for the capitalist owners’ profit, Linde India concentrates on supplying liquid oxygen to industry, particularly basic steel.

Linde is one of the big fish that has eaten the other fish. First buying up British Oxygen Corporation (BOC) in 2006, and then Praxair in 2018, as well as smaller fish along the way, Linde now commands half of the India market.

Operating on capitalist principles, Linde used its mergers not to improve social supplies, but to maximize profits. It cut costs by closing plants and cutting jobs, known as “wringing out excess capacity.” It restricted production to keep supplies tight and prices up, aiming at high profit margins, which were 25.5% in 2020. This is known as “maintaining price discipline.”

Hospitals are left gasping for life-saving oxygen. Air is now a commodity, available only to those who can pay. Most have been unable to afford the modern high-capacity liquid oxygen supply systems that could use Linde products. They are left dependent on truckloads of single compressed-gas cylinders, like the ones we see in stores filling up helium balloons. At 2 to 3 gallons per minute per patient, the cylinders don’t last long. The trucks can’t keep up. Patients die.

Every problem faced by society is made into a catastrophe by the way private owners of capital operate. The catastrophes will continue for as long as this system of capitalism is allowed to continue.