Coronavirus: Quarantine Capitalism Now!
WASP EC Statement
At the time of writing, the recorded spread of the Coronavirus spans 157 countries, with 62 known cases in South Africa, figures sure to be outdated by the time this is read. Within its few months of existence, this virus has begun to lay bare every fundamental failure of capitalism.
The spread of the novel Coronavirus (or SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes (COVID-19) has rapidly become a pandemic – a globally spread epidemic. There are still uncertainties about how best to contain and control the spread of corona.
What is clear is that the virus spreads rapidly and that it can and will kill. With mortality estimates for now ranging between 0,7-3,4%, and estimations that 30-70% of populations will be infected, inadequate health care systems risk being overwhelmed, as evident from China to Italy.
Capitalism, its blind chase for profits and its neoliberal austerity are behind the failure to contain and respond to the Coronavirus.
For weeks, Chinese authorities suppressed and covered up, allowing the virus a head start in the interest of “stability” and profits-as-usual for big business. Its global spread has exposed the deadly impact of decades of austerity, deregulation and privatisation of health care in combination with precarious livelihoods.
South Africa is set to be extraordinarily hard-hit. With over 20% of the population aged 15-49 HIV-positive, one of the world’s highest TB infection rates, and widespread malnutrition, it’s fair to assume that the portion of those infected who will need critical care will be higher than in many other countries – which our class-divided, two-tier, understaffed health care system is not fit for.
Both rural and urban areas provide disastrously conducive conditions for the spread of the virus. On top of the unaddressed Apartheid legacy of “bantustan” devastation and massive inequality, ANC’s rule has meant decades of underfunding and mismanagement of water supply, infrastructure, housing, health care, and education. Climate change and the predatory mining industry mean destruction of water resources and rural livelihoods.
The results include mass unemployment, with desperate precarious workers who face the “choice” of going to work sick or going hungry. Overcrowded buses, trains and taxis stand for over 70% of transport. Millions live in packed townships and shacks.
In schools, standard class size is 40 learners, with the poorest schools which also routinely lack water and sanitation often exceeding this. The broken education system makes a mockery of the idea of effective online learning for the vast majority.
Likewise, the basic hygiene recommended to protect from infection is a cruel joke to many. In rural areas, 74% get water from wells and pumps – many of which run dry amid the worst drought in a thousand years. In urban areas, many depend on taps shared by whole communities. Water cut offs hit millions of those lucky enough to have piped water at home.
Workers must take action now to slow the spread and ramp up the capacity of health care.
Capitalists and their governments will put profit before people, just as they are doing with the climate crisis. WASP calls on trade unions, students, communities and other movements of the working classes to organise for the following:
- Allow all who can to work from home, special leave without loss pay for others, except workers essential for provision of health services, food and other necessities.
- Safe working conditions for all: protective gear, anti-transmission training, regular testing, breaks for recovery, full pay and compensation, safe transport and accommodation.
- No restriction of democratic rights like right to strike and organise.
- Shut down schools, universities, colleges and pre-schools immediately to limit the spread; provide special childcare for essential services workers.
- Roll out free testing at temporary stations in all communities; quality medical services and medication for all.
- Free soap, water and sanitisers in every public space, workplace and poor community.
- Stop and reverse all water and electricity cut offs, supply water to all households.
- No profiteering off the pandemic – nationalise all private health institutions, medical aids, labs and pharmaceutical corporations under democratic workers control; to produce test kits, medicine and protective gear according to need.
- Price caps for all necessities – no opportunistic price gouging!
- Avail hotels, guest houses, empty apartments etc to quarantine those in need.
- Basic income grant and supply of free basic food and utilities for precarious workers and others forced to stay home and in need.
- Stop all retrenchments, nationalise any company that defies ban; halt the government’s austerity plan – all hands on deck to to fight the crisis.
- Mass employment and training of health assistants and community healthcare workers to contain the spread and ensure treatment and services at point of need.
- Suspend payments of rent, rates, water and electricity tariffs; emergency loans to small businesses in need.
- A complete end to evictions.
- Set up import-substituting industries to ensure continuous supply of all essential needs for which the country currently depends on imports.
- Permanent, secure and decent-paying jobs and training for all workers including in community health care, home-based care, food production, distribution and retail.
- Build a single, public, national health care service for all.
- Massive public works programme to overcome backlogs in housing, schooling infrastructure, hospitals and clinics, piped water supply, for safe public transport.
- Reorganise the economy on the basis of public ownership of all key resources (eg banks, mines, big businesses) for a democratic plan to put need for health, education, housing, work, water, sustainable food and energy production first.
We risk catastrophic consequences and must organise a general stay-away of workers, communities and young people if the government doesn’t take these and many other measures to mobilise society to combat the pandemic and save lives.