The Spark

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

Watch out for the Government and Big Business—and COVID-19!

May 18, 2020

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

The lockdown is being lifted bit by bit, but the chaos and confusion remain! And while the government began the lockdown without time to prepare, it has had two months to organize its relaxation. But did it prepare? Why haven’t medical authorities begun massively testing everyone? Where are the supplies? Where are the quarantine stations for isolating known carriers of the virus? Nobody knows.

In the Paris Metro, instead of running more trains on crowded lines, the authorities were content to put up lots of stickers with warnings. These worked great … for empty trains! On other lines, it was obviously mission impossible. Only the mandatory wearing of facemasks and the carrying of work permits during rush hour are enforced. And the authorities don’t joke around about these!

The government doesn’t distribute free masks. But it did mobilize 20,000 cops to impose fines of 145 dollars for people without masks or permits. Holding people back, repressing working people, and sowing contempt for them: that is all the government can do!

As for schools, the government is improvising everything. After drawing up a quasi-military program, the government pushed it onto mayors and teachers to implement. They have to make do with the supplies on hand by letting fewer children enter the schools. In fact, only one out of six children will go back to school. But “educational continuity” will look like it really happened!

The government’s main goal is to stick to its timeline for lifting the lockdown and ensure that all employees return to work—despite the risks that still remain. And they have achieved this goal.

So it’s all the more true that to protect themselves, workers can’t trust the government. They themselves have to monitor safety conditions at work.

One cluster of infections was identified in Dordogne (near Spain) after a funeral attended by around 30 people. Another popped up in Vienne after a meeting to plan how to reopen a high school. Yet another at a chicken slaughterhouse in Vendée (south of Normandy). It’s hard to believe that supermarkets, warehouses, and factories that throw hundreds of people together have not also experienced infections. Are suspected cases systematically detected there? Are they investigated along with the people they have been in contact with, as should be happening?

No doubt, big businesses don’t want publicity about cases in their workplaces. And since the government is pushing the return to work, it too doesn’t want instances of infection made known. Neither does the media. The media lashed out against employees and unions who exercised control over working conditions and demanded accountability from their bosses, like at Amazon and at Renault in Sandouville (by the English Channel). The bosses’ spokespeople accused these workers of slowing down the economic recovery. They even held them responsible for future bankruptcies. This is shameful intimidation. We come to work to earn a living, not to lose our lives!

Today big business wants us to unquestioningly accept the conditions they impose, even if these conditions put us at risk of death. Tomorrow, bosses will pressure us to work more or sacrifice things like our paid holidays, our wages, or even our jobs—in the name of economic necessity. But what bosses call economic necessity has nothing to do with the future and the well-being of everyone. They’re not motivated by the general welfare, but only by dividends and the fortunes of the capitalist minority. These fortunes are made on the backs of workers, by slashing workers’ jobs, wages, and working conditions.

In this society based on exploitation, business will always put the profits of the capitalists before the lives of workers and the future of society. The capitalist class is as irresponsible as it is parasitic. Its domination has led us to this health disaster. Tomorrow the bosses will want mass layoffs and harsher exploitation. So we have to defend ourselves.

As long as the capitalist class runs things, it will lead us from one disaster to another. We have to take power from the bosses and ensure that workers run society for the benefit of everyone.