outside of pindostan

Chinese leadership drops economic growth target
Nick Beams, WSWS, May 25 2020

People’s Bank of China HQ, Beijing.

The depth of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Chinese economy and the emerging problems and contradictions besetting Beijing were revealed in the fact that the National People’s Congress (NPC) opened last Friday with no forecast of economic growth for this year. This was a marked departure from the practice over the last quarter-century in which GDP forecasts have been a very prominent feature of Congress events. This was to have been particularly important this year, because Xi set down 2020 as the year GDP would have doubled from 2010. It was to have been the precursor for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP in 1921. In delivering his work report, which opened the NPC, Chinese premier Li Keqiang was anxious to put the best face on the internal economic situation. His report was delivered in the wake of a 6.8% contraction in China’s economy in the first quarter of the year. Many economists forecast that growth rates would be at best half the 6.1% of 2019. However, Li said the government had refrained from setting a GDP target, not as a result of domestic conditions, but because foreign markets were so uncertain. The state of global markets is of particular concern, because it is estimated that almost 200m jobs in China are connected to foreign trade. As the Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan wrote in a recent article cited on Bloomberg, this is more than the entire working population of Pindostan. Li did note the situation within the country and the concerns it has raised within the government, saying:

Pressure on employment has risen significantly. Enterprises, especially micro, small and medium enterprises, face growing difficulties. There are increasing risks in the financial sector and other areas.

A Bloomberg report published last week as the NPC was opening, pointed to the worsening situation facing smaller enterprises in the southern coastal province of Guangdong that has been at the centre of China’s industrial development over the past three decades. The article report gave details of economic conditions in the sprawling city of Dongguan, with a population about the size of NYC, where many small textile manufacturers have either shut down or are struggling to survive. The owner of one small factory said:

You can see around here, nine out of ten textile workshops have already closed down. My ten remaining workers have seen their take-home pay cut in half because of the loss of working hours, reducing their income to the level of a decade ago.

Chinese boxtops have tried to downplay the absence of a GDP forecast and the failure to make the target of doubling the size of the economy over the past decade. He Lifeng, the head of China’s main economic planning body, told reporters on Friday that even with growth of just 1% this year, it would still mean GDP had expanded 1.9 times from 2010. The overriding concern of the Chinese leadership bodies is not falling growth as such, but the effect it has on employment and the threat that rising jobless levels pose to social and political stability. The Chinese regime, representing the country’s capitalist oligarchy, long ago scrapped any commitment to social equality, much less to socialism. It has sought to maintain its position on the basis that the turn to capitalism initiated in the late 1970s under Deng Xiaoping, has ensured rising living standards and made China a powerful economy. But the capitalist path has run now into its greatest obstacle in the past 40 years: a palpable breakdown of the world economy triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. This takes place amid ever increasing daily threats by Pindostan as all sections of its military-political establishment pursue a virulent anti-China campaign. The Pindo anti-China campaign goes across the board, from the efforts to bankrupt the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei by denying it vital supplies, the imposition of tariffs on a range of Chinese goods, an increasing orientation to Taiwan, threatening to abrogate the “one China” policy, to the rising tide of accusations that China is responsible for the virus and “seeding” it in Pindostan. In these conditions, a worsening of the economic situation and a rise in unemployment has major political consequences for the regime. Li pointed to those concerns in March, when he called on economic officials to make employment a priority over GDP numbers. According to a report in the WSJ, the premier said:

As long as employment is stable this year, it’s not that big of a deal whether the economic growth rate is a bit higher or lower.

While China has claimed it has largely stamped out the virus, the economy, already slowing markedly before the pandemic struck and recording its lowest growth rate in 30 years, is very far from returning to even previous levels of activity. According to estimates by BNP Paribas, when accounting for migrant workers who could not travel for work to major industrial centres, there may have been 50m job losses with an unemployment rate of 12% in March. In the early 1990s there were protests over large-scale sackings from state-owned enterprises, but these subsided as the Chinese economy expanded to become the chief manufacturing centre of the global economy. That road is now all but closed amid a rising tide of economic nationalism, not only in the US but around the world, and a process of deglobalisation. The loss of 23m jobs in 2008 as a result of the global financial crisis also sent a shiver of fear through the regime. It responded with a massive stimulus package based on construction and infrastructure spending. But that option is also now closed because of rising debt levels which financial authorities are trying to reduce. This situation points to the significance of the other major development to emerge from the opening of the NPC. The government announced a natsec law covering “sedition” and “subversion” in HK in response to last year’s mass protests, involving up to 2m people, which local authorities proved unable to suppress. The new law is clearly connected to the regime’s deepest fear that the expression of such could spark mass working class protests on the mainland if economic conditions worsen.

South Asian countries ease COVID-19 lockdowns despite sharp rise in infections
WSWS, May 25 2020

People wearing protective gear perform the last rituals as they cremate the body of a patient
who died of COVID-19 in Jammu, May 14, 2020. (Photo: Channi Anand/AP)

Ignoring the rapidly increasing number of coronavirus cases and deaths across South Asia, the region’s governments have begun easing lockdown restrictions in a bid to “reopen” the economy. Collectively, the total number of government-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the region to date stands at 229,000, more than 3.5 times the number on May 1. Official fatalities, as of yesterday, stood at 5,290. Alarming as are these figures, they are a vast underestimate of the true extent of the pandemic. The absence of health care infrastructure across the region means that huge numbers of cases are going undetected, and many are dying due to a lack of basic medical care. One indication of the desperate state of health care infrastructure is the disastrously low levels of testing for COVID-19. India has carried out just 2,135 tests per 1 million residents, compared to 2,149 in Pakistan, 1,481 in Bangladesh, 44,200 in Pindostan, and 59,300 in Russia. All of the region’s governments have failed miserably in providing assistance to the hundreds of millions of impoverished workers and toilers who have lost their jobs and incomes as the result of government anti-COVID-19 lockdowns. Their harrowing plight has been illustrated most graphically in India, where millions of migrant workers who had been left to fend for themselves walked home or attempted to walk home, until they were herded into cramped, makeshift internal refugee camps. Now, the same governments that callously abandoned them are cynically exploiting the masses’ financial destitution and social distress to justify forcing them to return to work under unsafe conditions that will accelerate the spread of the virus in the weeks and months ahead. The social misery confronting the vast majority of the population underscores the incapacity of all factions of South Asia’s reactionary and corrupt bourgeoisie to overcome the legacy of colonialism and imperialist oppression. With 1.93b inhabitants, almost one-fourth of the world’s population, South Asia is the most densely populated region in the world. This, along with widespread poverty and ramshackle public health systems, makes the region especially vulnerable to pandemics like COVID-19. Ominously, the coronavirus appears to have become entrenched in the slums of some of the region’s biggest cities, including Delhi and Mumbai in India, Karachi in Pakistan and Dhaka in Bangladesh.

India: With over 125k COVID-19 cases and more than 3.7k deaths, India accounts for more than half of the official cases and deaths in the region. The Narendra Modi-led BJP government facilitated the spread of the disease with its calamitous lockdown, introduced with just a few hours’ notice on Mar 25. The measures were enforced with no financial assistance for the hundreds of millions employed in the so-called informal sector. As millions of migrant workers sought to return from large urban centres to their home villages, they carried the coronavirus with them. Then on May 3, Modi responded to the demands of big business by relaxing some of the restrictions in “green zones,” areas of the country where infections remained low. This has helped fuel the further spread of the virus, with the daily increase in cases currently ranging between 5% and 7%. Maharashtra, where India’s second-largest city Mumbai is home to almost 20m people, has emerged as an epicentre of the pandemic with 47k cases and 1,577 deaths as of May 23. The surge of cases has already overwhelmed the state’s health-care system, forcing authorities in Mumbai to ask COVID-19 patients to go on “a waiting list” to get a hospital bed. In an order issued Saturday, the Gujarat High Court described conditions at the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the state of Gujarat, as “pathetic” and “as good as a dungeon, maybe even worse.” The facility, referred to as Asia’s largest hospital, had recorded 377 coronavirus deaths by Friday. The opening of large factories is accelerating the spread of the virus. At Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar assembly plant in Haryana on the outskirts of Delhi, one worker tested positive after the first week of operations, and a second potential case was being investigated Saturday. At Hyundai’s assembly plant in Chennai, which reopened May 8, three workers have tested positive. The Modi government has accompanied the reopening of the economy with the unveiling of a new series of pro-investor “reforms,” including an accelerated privatization drive and changes to labour and land laws long demanded by domestic and international capital. The reforms are aimed at intensifying the exploitation of the working class, so India can grab a larger share of global investment, including by attracting Pindo-based companies, under pressure from Washington to develop alternate production chain hubs to China. Last week, the Modi government also amended its “guidelines” on the COVID-19 lockdown measures by allowing “domestic air travel in a calibrated manner” from today.

Pakistan: Despite a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, Pakistan PM Imran Khan last week lifted the half-hearted lockdown measures his government had implemented. The lifting of the lockdown was all the more irresponsible given that it came on the eve of the Islamic festive period at the end of Ramadan, when families and groups usually gather to celebrate. COVID-19 deaths passed 1.1k on Saturday with over 52k confirmed cases. The Khan government ignored the warnings of medical experts and allowed religious gatherings at mosques to continue during Ramadan. According to Waseem Khawaja, a senior doctor in a main Islamabad hospital treating coronavirus patients who spoke to the WaPo, there was a sharp increase of cases since Ramadan. At the same time, millions of workers and toilers are scrambling to find work and put bread on the table, after being pushed to economic desperation during the lockdown. Workers protesting these appalling conditions face ruthless state violence. The National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan reported that one worker was injured after police officers and factory guards in Karachi opened fire on workers demanding unpaid wages from the Denim Clothing Mills, which supplies international clothing brands. The protest was also called to oppose the sacking of colleagues by management. The main concern of Pakistan’s ruling class is that the economic fallout caused by the pandemic may affect their investments and wealth. Khan recommitted his government to savage economic reforms dictated by the IMF at the beginning of the pandemic, when Islamabad sought and received a $1.4b emergency loan to supplement its $6b IMF bailout finalized in 2019. A judgment issued last week by the country’s Supreme Court underlined that the ruling elite is concerned more with staying in the good graces of the IMF and global investors than protecting the health and well-being of its citizens. It warned the government not to interfere with “business activities of private entrepreneurs,” who would move their investments to other countries if they “lost faith in the system.” The ruling also questioned why “so much money is being spent” on combating COVID-19 when Pakistan is “not seriously affected.”

Bangladesh: The lifting of lockdown measures on May 10 has accelerated the spread of the virus in Bangladesh. Shopping malls and markets were allowed to open and private transport was allowed to operate. Factories opened even earlier, from Apr 26. By Saturday morning, total infections passed 32k, with 450 deaths. In a country with a population of 160m, the authorities are barely managing to maintain a testing rate of 10k/day. Patients are also reportedly being turned away from medical facilities due to a lack of equipment. The virus is taking a heavy toll on the working class, especially in the garment sector which has been in the forefront of the government’s back-to-work drive. At least ten garment workers and one manager have died after showing coronavirus symptoms. The ruling elite’s criminal disregard for workers lives is due to the fact that the garment industry accounts for some 84% of Bangladesh’s $40b/yr exports. The industry is in ruthless competition with other low-wage locations, including China, Cambodia and Vietnam. Last Wednesday, baton-wielding police clashed with workers protesting over unpaid wages at 50 factories in Ashulia, Savar, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chattogram. The social and health crisis triggered by the coronavirus was aggravated still further by super cyclone Amphan hitting coastal areas of the country on Wednesday night, killing 16. The authorities had to evacuate 2.4m people to more than 15k storm shelters before the cyclone hit without any precautions against the spread of the virus. One of the world’s largest refugee camps, which hosts 1m Rohingya refugees, has registered three COVID-19 infections.

Afghanistan: The war-torn country, which has suffered under two decades of direct Pindo imperialist occupation and neocolonial rule, has virtually no health and social infrastructure for its 32 million inhabitants. As of Sunday, there were 10k officially recorded infections and 216 deaths. One third of the cases in the country have been reported in the capital, Kabul, which has been under a lockdown of varying intensity since Mar 8. Like all other countries in the region, the COVID-19 restriction measures have exacerbated unemployment and poverty levels. Al Jazeera reported on May 8: “Despite lockdown, many people have returned to the streets, this time to beg.”

Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan authorities have downplayed the threat of the pandemic and infection figures so as to reopen business activities during May. With total confirmed cases standing at 1089, Sri Lanka will lift its curfew on Tuesday except for six hours during the night. Despite the false claims by the government that it has handled the pandemic exceptionally well, Sri Lanka has averaged less than 600 coronavirus tests per day since Feb 18. Health workers are not receiving adequate personal protective equipment. President Gotabhaya Rajapakse is using the pandemic to take definite steps towards autocratic rule. The military has been mobilized in Colombo under the pretext of enforcing social distancing. The government has also seized on the pandemic to move towards far-reaching, regressive labor reforms with the support of the pro-capitalist trade unions. The public health system is crumbling following a decade-long austerity drive and nearly thirty years of civil war. Epidemiologists warn that the crisis could be complicated still further by possible outbreaks of dengue fever and leptospirosis with the start of southeastern monsoon.

Nepal: Although official figures indicate that there are only 548 confirmed cases in Nepal with three deaths by Saturday evening, this is a gross underestimation. Nepal’s extremely limited health care system is in no condition to deal with the pandemic. Workers in the informal sector and the poor in the rural areas are facing a calamity at present because of a government-imposed lockdown. There are thousands of migrant workers stranded at the India-Nepal border in appalling conditions desperately trying to enter the country. In addition, hundreds of thousands of highly-exploited Nepalese migrant workers are confined in terrible conditions in the Middle East. To divert the mass anger over poverty and unemployment and their aggravation by the lockdown into reactionary channels, the Kathmandu government is whipping up Nepalese nationalism, reviving a border dispute with India. Seizing on New Delhi’s recent opening of a road in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, through land claimed by Nepal, to the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, Prime Minister Sharma Oli vowed before Parliament last week that his government will get the disputed areas “back.”

Maldives: There are 1,274 confirmed cases and four deaths in the Indian Ocean archipelago, which has a population of around 450k. The collapse of tourism, which is the main source of its foreign exchange earnings, has plunged the country’s economy into deep crisis.

Gulf States force India and other South Asian states to repatriate impoverished migrant workers
Shuvu Batta, WSWS, May 25 2020

Bowing to pressure from the sheikhs and oligarchs who rule the Arabian Peninsula’s Gulf States, India and other South Asian countries are being forced to repatriate millions of impoverished migrant workers whose labour is no longer needed. All six GCC members (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Toads & UAE) have moved to dramatically slash expenditures and “overhead” after the COVID-19 pandemic triggered global economic distress, including a Toad-initiated oil-price war. The consequent collapse in oil prices has left gaping holes in their state budgets, even as tourism and other sources of revenue dry up. The result has been the mass layoff of millions of migrant workers. Those fortunate enough not to have lost their jobs have often been forced to accept huge wage cuts. A migrant worker in Toad Arabia working as a chef for one of the country’s many princes told the WSWS that his wage was cut in half after the COVID-19 crisis erupted. Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic there were 23m or more migrant workers in the Gulf States, from South Asia, the Philippines, Egypt, Palestine, elsewhere in the Middle East and East Africa. Constituting more than half of the Gulf States’ total workforce, the migrant workers have long filled construction and numerous other menial and low-paid jobs. Millions of women serve as domestics and health-care workers. The migrant workers are ensnared in the kafala system, which ties a worker’s employment contract to their right to be in the country. This has created a super-exploited work-force comprised of people who lack any citizenship rights in countries ruled by absolute monarchs, and who are under constant threaten of being ordered to go home should they be fired or laid off or when their contract expires.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic, the imposition of international travel bans and state-lockdowns, and the sudden loss of their employment mean that the newly jobless migrant workers facing expulsion have lacked the means or right to return home. As the Gulf States oligarchs have refused to provide the disposable migrant workers with financial support, they have become increasingly desperate. This has made the ruling elite, ever fearful of social opposition, all the more determined to expel them. Scapegoating the migrant workers also serves as a mean of deflecting mounting discontent among the officially-recognized “native” population of the Gulf States. The mass layoffs of migrant workers destroyed their ability to pay rent or basic living expenses, leading many to become homeless. Pradip Kumar and his diabetic and pregnant wife Premaltha are examples of such workers. Mr Kumar, who lost his job as a hotel worker in February, has been unable to support his family and was forced to spend a few nights sleeping in a basement car park. He told the BBC:

I have no money to pay for my wife’s delivery, nor do I have the funds to buy a flight ticket. The doctors say that if she travels after she enters her 33rd week of pregnancy then that will be a huge risk for the baby and her health. I just want to save my child.

The Gulf States have responded to the rise in homelessness by arresting workers and sending them to cramped jails and detention centers. AI wrote that Qatar was lying to migrant workers, telling them they would get tested for COVID-19, so it could round them up and throw them in jail. One of the workers, a Nepalese man, said:

The jail was full of people. We were given one piece of bread each day, which was not enough. All the people were fed in a group, with food lying on plastic on the floor. Some were not able to snatch the food because of the crowd.

Facing immense abuse, workers began to resist. On May 3, Egyptian workers, using furniture as weapons, led a riot in a Kuwait detention center. By then, Gulf State governments, well aware of the rising social tensions but unwilling to meet the migrant workers’ basic needs of food, proper housing and health care, had been pressuring countries in South Asia to take back their citizens. Initially India balked at the repatriation demands, citing its own anti-COVID-19 lockdown and concerns about the mounting number of coronavirus cases among the migrant workers. However, with the UAE publicly and other states no doubt privately threatening long-term damage to their bilateral relations, India relented and agreed to speedily organize the repatriation of hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of its citizens. India is massively dependent on oil imports from the Gulf, and that dependence has increased over the past year-and-a-half because Delhi has acquiesced to Faschingstein’s demand it abide by Pindostan’s illegal, punitive sanctions against Iran. India’s far-right BJP government is also eagerly courting investment from the Gulf States and views them as a potential source of lucrative contracts for India’s burgeoning arms-manufacturing sector. On May 4, India announced a mass repatriation plan, and other South Asian states, similarly eager to curry the favour of the Gulf States’ rulers, are now also scrambling to organize the migrant workers’ transit home and to establish testing and quarantine centers to receive them. India has already used its navy and a fleet of planes to bring back over 1m Indian workers from around the world, and over the next two to three weeks plans to evacuate 200k more. Nepali officials said they expected to bring back 400k workers, of which 100k would be shipped back immediately after the expiration of the country’s lockdown on Jun 2. According to the Pakistani embassy, more than 60k Pakistani nationals have registered for repatriation.

The repatriation of the migrant workers constitutes a huge crisis for the states of South Asia. The majority, and more likely the vast majority, of the 160k COVID-19 infections in the Gulf States have been among migrant workers. The workers live in cramped and unhygienic conditions in “normal times.” Now many have lost their housing, either because it was tied to their employment or they could no longer pay rent, and the Gulf States’ governments have responded by herding the homeless into even more cramped prisons and detention centers. The mass repatriation plans threaten to produce a wave of new infections and deaths in their home countries, where COVID-19 cases are already surging and health care systems are dilapidated and in rural areas largely non-existent. Last week Pakistan complained to the UAE that half of those returning from that country had tested positive for COVID-19. Pakistan’s National Security Adviser to the PM told reporters:

We’ve raised this diplomatically. God willing, the problem is being solved.

The loss of tens of billion in dollars in remittances from the migrant workers in the Gulf also constitutes a serious blow to the economies of South Asia’s states, especially smaller states such as Nepal and Sri Lanka, and an even bigger blow to the millions of family members who have depended on the sums they regularly sent home. The migrant laborers, many of them landless peasants, took on predatory loans and worked dangerous jobs in order to get the opportunity to support and create a better life for their families back home. Now they face a very uncertain future, to say the least. They are being repatriated under conditions where the countries they left are being ravaged by the global economic crisis triggered by the pandemic. In India more than 100m day-labourers, many of them internal migrant workers, have lost their jobs and income since mid-March. For decades, migrant workers have performed the backbreaking labour needed to keep the Gulf State oligarchs living in luxury akin to that of the Pharaohs, and to pursue their vision of transforming their desert states into global financial, commercial and tourist hubs with city oases boasting ultra-modern skyscrapers and conveniences. According to a Guardian investigation, hundreds of construction workers die each year in Qatar from heat exhaustion. The oligarchs of the Gulf State and their hangers-on have responded to the plight of migrant workers with venomous rhetoric and demonization, blaming them for the growth of COVID-19 infections. Kuwaiti actress Hayat al-Fahad told a broadcaster:

Aren’t people supposed to leave during crises? I swear by God, put them in the desert. I am not against humane treatment, but we have gotten to a point where we’re fed up already.

These sentiments were repeated by Kuwaiti MP Safaa Al-Hashem, who called for the deportation of migrants to “purify” the country.

97 die in Pakistan International Airline crash
Sampath Perera, WSWS, May 25 2020

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane crashed into a densely settled area near Karachi airport Friday afternoon, killing 97 of the 99 passengers and crew. Two passengers survived. No fatalities were confirmed on the ground, although many have been treated for injuries including burns. At least 19 houses were destroyed by the crashing aircraft. The Airbus A320 aircraft was flying from Lahore to Karachi after flight restrictions imposed as part of PM Imran Khan’s halfhearted lockdown measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic were lifted last week for domestic flights. Reportedly, the flight to Lahore was the second undertaken by this aircraft since the lockdown was lifted. The flight data and cockpit voice recorders of the crashed aircraft were recovered late Friday from the crash site in Model Colony, a residential area just a few kilometers from the Karachi airport. They are being handed over to an inquiry board formed by the government under its Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB). The board is expected to deliver a preliminary report within a month. The aircraft aborted its first attempt to land and crashed on its second attempt. There is no official explanation for the crash or the reasons for the failure of the first landing attempt. PIA CEO Arshad Malik claimed the aircraft was “technically fit for flying” and “there was no obvious reason of accident,” according to Radio Pakistan. The pilots reported a “technical fault” prior to the crash, according to Malik. An unnamed senior civil aviation official who spoke with Reuters suggested the plane had been unable to lower its undercarriage during the first landing attempt.

Reporting in the local media is overshadowed by the accelerating spread of the coronavirus in the country, with deaths surpassing 1,150 during the weekend and over 55k cases. This is under conditions where PM Khan and his Islamic populist government have decided to end all lockdown measures and reopen markets and workplaces. According to a statement by Airbus, the aircraft had recorded 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flight cycles. It entered service in 2004 and had operated under the PIA banner since 2014. The aircraft is fitted with CFM56-5B4/P engines manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture by GE Aviation, a division of General Electric, and Safran Aircraft Engines. A witness told Reuters that the aircraft “first hit a mobile tower and crashed over houses.” Reportedly, the plane came down on a narrow lane, somewhat minimizing the impact on the houses. However, the rescue efforts were made difficult and delayed due to the poor state of infrastructure. Fire trucks and ambulances struggled to get near the crash site, leaving the initial response to nearby residents. Most bodies recovered were charred beyond recognition, and are now being kept in two Karachi hospital for the arrival of DNA records. Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan announced that 1m rupees ($6.2k) would be paid to the families of each person who died in the crash and 500k rupees to each of the two survivors. One survivor had a broken leg and other bruises but was reportedly in good condition. He is believed to have been thrown with his seat from the plane during the crash. The other survivor, Muhammad Zubair, shared his harrowing experience with GeoTV from his hospital bed where he is receiving treatment for burns to his legs and hands. Describing the first landing attempt, Zubair said:

When the pilot announced that we are landing in Karachi and he took the plane a bit down, two or three shocks were felt.

The plane was in the air for 10 to 15 more minutes after its initial aborted landing attempt, according to eyewitnesses, but Flightradar24 data cited by Bloomberg shows it was nearing the ground five and a half minutes later. According to the rescue agency Edhi, some bodies recovered wore oxygen masks, indicating an emergency had been declared. Zubair said there was a “hard crash” minutes after the pilots announced the second landing and he fell unconscious. When he came back to his senses he saw “smoke everywhere” and “could hear screams from all directions.” Zubair said:

I opened my seat belt and saw some light. I went towards the light. I had to jump down about 10 feet to get to safety.

According to him the flight had been smooth until it neared Karachi. Dunya News, citing AAIB investigators, reported Sunday on scratch marks left by the aircraft on the runaway during its initial landing attempt without its landing gear lowered. The right engine touched ground first and then the left engine next. The communication between air traffic controllers and the pilots in the last moments of the flight was reported by Reuters based on a recording released by the tracking website liveatc.net. “We are returning back, sir, we have lost engines,” presumably a pilot is heard in the recording while the controllers clear both runaways for its landing. Moments later the recording ends with the man calling, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” There have been several air disasters in the past decade in Pakistan. In 2016, a PIA flight crashed into a hillside, killing all 47 onboard. In 2012, a Bhoja Air flight crashed, killing all 127 onboard, leading to the shutdown of the privately-owned airline. In 2010, an Airblue flight, also privately owned, crashed, killing all 152 onboard in its attempt to land in dense fog and heavy monsoonal rain. PIA has been a long-standing target of the IMF for privatization, but successive governments failed to sell it due to popular opposition among workers as well as the masses. The present Tehrik-e-Insaaf government hired international auditors to conduct a fresh examination of the “loss-making” utility as part of the country’s IMF bailout package of $6b last year. Bloomberg ranked PIA top of the list of airlines that it predicted will go bankrupt in the next two years. According to Bloomberg, a PIA representative said, “losses and debt have become too much for the company to handle.”

Maquiladora workers expose deadly COVID-19 outbreak in Matamoros, Mexico
Andrea Lobo, WSWS, May 25 2020

A worker at a Schumex-Schumacher maquiladora factory in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, a border town in Mexico across from Brownsville, Texas, has informed the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter that the Illinois-based car battery charger manufacturer is forcing them to work despite a COVID-19 outbreak at the plant, which employs around 300 workers. Workers who refused to work, citing the official decree from the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador that supposedly delayed the reopening of factories until Jun 1, were being fired and blacklisted. Last Thursday, Gilberto Blass Camacho, a union delegate at the plant, died from breathing complications after working during the shutdown for a bonus of 300 pesos ($13). On Friday, a group of workers struck and demonstrated outside of the plant, demanding the release of information about this and other cases of infections and the shutting down of production. The SITPME trade union, which belongs to the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), and management continue to deny that the death was caused by COVID-19, pointing to an early false negative test on May 15. However, the Health Ministry confirmed on Friday that a second test came out positive. According to comments from his wife to EnlaceMX, Blass belonged to the health and safety committee of SITPME. The Schumex worker who requested anonymity explained:

The company wants to cover up the situation at any cost to keep the plant from closing, while killing us, since these companies have the power to blacklist us so that we never find employment again. All of us are actually afraid to speak out, layoffs are on the agenda, or abuses by supervisors and human resources. There have been at least four cases of coronavirus in the company, including a co-worker who has been tested positive on three separate occasions. The company sent her to IMSS [a state insurance and health care agency] since, according to the Schumex contract, sick leaves of three days are unpaid and considered ‘an excused absence’ by the company and after the fourth day the IMSS begins to pay. The IMSS is refusing to provide medical attention, arguing that she should have abided by the stay-at-home orders instead of working. She is being treated like a ping-pong ball because the company refuses to be liable since those who worked during the shutdown were so-called “volunteers,” so no-one does anything about it and the company denied this reality again today [Friday], claiming it has taken all the necessary measures to avoid an outbreak. Workers at Schumex struck on Apr 4 and forced the closing of the plant, but the company and SITPME agreed to pay workers only 80% of their salary and restart production almost immediately by offering workers a bonus. Then Schumex called all employees back to work on May 4, dismissing workers in at-risk groups, including those with high blood-pressure and other ailments common to impoverished workers.

Asked about the conditions at the plant, she said:

At the entrance and exit, they set up a sanitizing tunnel where accidents have occurred from falls due to the liquid chemicals we are sprayed with in the morning and night. There have been workers fainting since we are using face masks and are threatened with being reported if we take them off. At the lines and cafeteria, they put cardboard cartons to separate chairs and tables. We are compelled to work because some co-workers wanted to enforce the decree by not showing up, and they were fired.

Such experiences are common at a growing number of plants in Matamoros, while most maquiladoras are planning on reopening over the coming week. Complaints on social media groups already abound. On Thursday, for instance, a worker at Spellman High Voltage Electronics reported:

We were just informed that a person in Plant 4 tested positive to COVID-19 and that this person left on May 12. They have not informed us until now, while the company hides information.

On another website, a worker at the Álbea-Cepillos cosmetics plant wrote:

COVID-19 infections continue. This time it was a manager, so they sent all the office personnel home. This is not what they do when the infected people are operators, and they keep ignoring health authorities. The hospital is full.

Hugo López Gatell, the Mexican sub-secretary of health and chief coordinator of the COVID-19 response, announced that the social distancing measures and closing of non-essential activities will be lifted on Jun 1, to be replaced by a “semaphore system” in which non-essential activities will only be ordered to close if hospitals are more than 65% full in the municipality or if hospitalizations have increased continuously for two weeks. The manufacturing of transportation equipment (including auto and aeronautical parts and assembly), mining and construction have been classified as “essential” and have been allowed to re-open before Jun 1 if the Health Ministry approved a form on the safety measures being taken at each plant. The government already allowed the lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions in 323 municipalities which were supposedly without cases within or in the neighboring localities. El País reported that 67% of those have not received tests and 6% actually have had positive cases. As of this writing, there have been more than 1.3k confirmed cases in the state of Tamaulipas and 245 deaths, while the toll across Mexico has surpassed 66k cases and 7.2k deaths. Infections in Tamaulipas are growing at an accelerated pace and most new cases are being registered in Reynosa and Matamoros, two maquiladora centers. Earlier this month, the health secretary of Northern Baja California announced that 432 of the 519 people who have officially died from the virus in the state were maquiladora workers. Last month, at least 18 workers at a Lear Corp factory in Ciudad Juárez died, sparking wildcat strikes and other protests.

Hospitals in Matamoros are already overwhelmed, while the lack of adequate protective equipment has led to a broad spread of the disease to nurses and doctors. The saturation of the hospitals in Mexico City, Mexicali, Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez and other locations has resulted in a massive increase of deaths from COVID-19. Infected workers are regularly denied entry into over-filled hospitals or finally let in when it is too late. Others are left to die at home. In many cases, these fatalities are not being counted in official COVID-19 figures, according to several studies looking at death certificates and excess deaths. On Thursday, hours after the death of the Schumex-Schumacher worker Blass Camacho at the Zone 13 Hospital in Matamoros, the nurses and doctors closed down the COVID-19 treatment area to protest the lack of PPE, which has led to the death of three co-workers and the infection of at least 40 other health-care workers. In late April, Infobae reported that the authorities prepared a mass grave in the Matamoros municipality, at the Rusias Ejido cemetary, specifically for bodies currently overwhelming local funeral homes and hospitals.

High COVID-19 infection rates among doctors and nurses in Germany
Markus Salzmann, WSWS, May 25 2020

While measures against the dangerous COVID-19 pathogen are being increasingly relaxed, the numbers infected in hospitals and nursing homes is rising dramatically. According to the public health body Robert Koch Institute (RKI), more than 20k workers in German hospitals, doctors’ practices, nursing homes and care services are now infected. This corresponds to about 11% of all infected persons. In the health sector, 894 workers had to be treated as inpatients and 60 have died from the consequences of the infection. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported:

Every day since mid-April, an average of more than 230 doctors and nurses were infected. At times, this professional group accounts for one in five reported cases. Apparently, it is still not possible to protect those who work for the health of the elderly, the sick and those in need of care.

The situation is similar in other countries. Surveys estimate that at least 200k doctors and nurses have been infected worldwide. The number of unreported cases is enormously high. There are hardly any countries with complete data. As at the beginning of the crisis, the main reason for the rising number of infections is a lack of protective equipment. As reported by the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

According to a recent survey conducted by the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, 38% of those questioned still said that they lacked protective equipment. Respiratory protection masks with fine particle filters (FFP2 and FFP3) are lacking, as are gowns, protective goggles, visors, gloves and even simple surgical masks. Similar experiences are reported by the German Professional Association for Nursing, whose spox Johanna Knüppel said: “Many institutions still report that FFP2 and FFP3 masks are in short supply.”

Another reason for the spread is the continuing lack of testing. According to the RKI, it has no data on the extent to which testing is carried out in hospitals and care homes. Since the beginning of the crisis, doctors’ and patients’ representatives have been demanding comprehensive tests, which are systematically carried out and recorded by professional groups. It is still the order of the day in clinics and nursing homes that potentially infected staff remain on duty until symptoms appear. More and more health workers are outraged by these conditions, which have now been going on for months. In Brandenburg last week, nurses handed in over 3,500 signatures during a video conference with Ursula Nonnenmacher (Green Party), state Minister of Health for Brandenburg. The workers are demanding security and recognition of their work. In Berlin, employees of the Charité university hospital and the state-owned Vivantes Clinics handed over thousands of letters to health senator Dilek Kalayci (SPD) on Wednesday. They demand more protection, protective equipment and disinfectants. The action was organised by the trade union Verdi. However, the union has played a key role in supporting massive cuts in Berlin’s health sector for two decades in close cooperation with the SPD-led senate and is now seeking to cover its tracks by hypocritically expressing outrage at the disastrous consequences of the “savings measures.” Both Nonnenmacher and Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU), who know that they have nothing to fear from Verdi, met the workers’ demands with their usual ignorance. Spahn recently claimed that the situation regarding protective materials had “eased.” Nonnenmacher passed the buck, saying that the procurement of materials was the responsibility of the clinics themselves. The Green Party also made it equally clear that the state government, in which the Left Party is also a member, does not want to change the desolate staffing levels and the far too low wages in the nursing sector. It rejected placing a lower limit on staffing levels, as otherwise, clinics would have to be closed, adding cynically:

We cannot mandate wages agreed by collective bargaining.

All political parties are in favour of lifting the current ban on visiting clinics and nursing homes, although they know that these facilities are still hot spots. While the pandemic continues to spread in clinics, slaughterhouses, parcel centres and other establishments, and a second wave is threatened due to the relaxation of the lockdown, advocates of further cuts to the health system are becoming increasingly open. Reinhard Busse, who teaches health management at Berlin’s Technical University, explains in a guest article for Cicero that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed “the weak points of our hospitals.” By this, he does not mean the lack of protective equipment, respirators, intensive care beds or personnel. Rather, he advocates closing more clinics and reducing the number of beds. He warns against measuring the quality of hospitals almost exclusively by the number of beds, saying:

We must not succumb to the fallacy that the number of beds is a sign of quality. The discussion about hospital quality is in danger of being set back years and even becoming a victim of COVID-19.

Busse is concerned that the pandemic means radical cutbacks in the health care system cannot continue unabated. In fact, it has become clear that the massive reduction in beds, personnel and hospital financing based on the introduction of so-called diagnosis-related flat-rate payments (DRG) has led to a situation that simply makes high-quality, safe care for all impossible. Instead, the profit interests of the large hospital operators are what dominates. It is such interests that Busse also addresses when he complains that the Cartel Office has prohibited mergers between large hospitals. Under the slogan, “Fewer hospitals, more quality,” Busse summarizes the destructive goals of his campaign. Last year, he co-authored a Bertelsmann study calling for the closure of half of all existing hospitals in Germany. The economist Boris Augurzky of the RWI-Leibnitz Institute for Economic Research claimed as early as April that there were not too few, but too many hospitals in Germany. He seeks to exploit the crisis to further reduce the number of hospitals, and said he was “sad” not more clinics had been closed.

The Federal Health Ministry is currently examining the effects of the so-called COVID-19 Hospital Relief Law. It has provided clinics with ridiculously small sums of money compared to the rescue package given to big business. As part of its review, the health ministry has established an advisory board to work out further proposals by the end of next month. In addition to representatives of the health insurance companies and clinics, Busse and Augurzky are also represented on it. The government and its “experts” are trying to use the pandemic to implement their anti-social agenda. In doing so, they are exploiting the fact that many hospitals now face economic difficulties because they are caring for coronavirus patients or are trying to maintain sufficient bed capacities. The University Hospital of Dresden provided care for up to 20 COVID-19 patients and, at the same time, kept 240 beds free. According to its commercial director Marcus Polle, the first wave of the pandemic cost the hospital around €2m. The lump sum of €560 per bed granted by the government was by far not enough to cover the gaps, he said. To limit the economic consequences, many clinics are returning to “normality.” This could have dramatic consequences if the number of coronavirus cases increases again. RKI head Lothar Wieler assumes “with great certainty” that there will be a second wave. The majority of scientists are sure of that, he says. But instead of preparing hospitals for it and investing in the necessary beds, personnel and equipment, those who run the health sector will continue to focus on maximising profits.

Canadian medical experts warn COVID-19 will spike due to back-to-work push
Roger Jordan, WSWS, May 25 2020

All Canada’s provinces, including those where widespread community transmission of COVID-19 continues, are now well on the way to lifting the lockdown measures that helped slow the pandemic’s spread. This despite COVID-19 having already exacted a terrible toll, including 6,424 deaths. The government back-to-work drive is being implemented in flagrant disregard of repeated WHO warnings that mass-testing and contact-tracing capabilities need to be developed and health-care systems significantly strengthened before any relaxation of restrictions on normal economic and social life. In Quebec, the epicentre of the pandemic in Canada, construction and manufacturing activities have been up and running for at least two weeks. Schools and daycares outside of Montreal reopened May 11, along with retail stores. Retail businesses in Montreal are scheduled to reopen today, and daycares on Jun 1.

In neighbouring Ontario, retail stores with a street entrance were allowed to reopen as of May 19, the same day all remaining restrictions on the construction industry were lifted. Many of Ontario’s manufacturing facilities and mines stayed open throughout the lockdown, due to the provincial government’s extremely broad definition of what constitutes an “essential service.” Although Premier Doug Ford had wanted to reopen schools at the end of May, the rapid spread of the virus and public opposition forced the government to announce last week that public schools will not reopen during the current school year. In Alberta, where the United Conservative Party government allowed oil and most other production facilities to remain open during the province’s lockdown, the limit for outdoor gatherings has been increased to 50 people. On May 14, stores, restaurants and hair salons reopened across the province. Premier Jason Kenney has indicated that cinemas and spas will be allowed to open in mid-June. British Columbia’s New Democratic Party government allowed businesses and retail stores to reopen last Tuesday, and has pledged to lift bans on hotels and resorts in June. Parents will also be given the “voluntary” option of sending their children to school as of Jun 1.

The reckless character of the reopening drive is underscored by the continued rapid spread of the pandemic, with more than 1,000 new cases and 100 deaths being reported daily. With more than 84,650 confirmed COVID-19 cases, Canada has now surpassed China, where the virus first emerged, both in terms of total infections and fatalities. Canada, with a population approximately one-tenth that of Pindostan, had one fatality for every 25 total Pindo fatalities in mid-April. But, in a further indication of the virus’ spread across Canada, this ratio has now declined to just one for every 15. Under these conditions, leading Canadian medical experts have spoken out forcefully against the premature lifting of restrictions. Dr Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association, told the Senate Social Affairs Committee last Wednesday:

We’re gambling by reopening. Given the lack of testing and contact-tracing infrastructure, we’re scrambling. In my opinion, we’re not fully prepared for a second wave.

Figures show that Canada is not even using half of its extremely modest test capacity of 60k/day. Roughly 28k COVID-19 tests are being performed each day, far below the targets that the provincial governments have themselves set. Ford vowed that by the end of April the province would be preforming 16k tests, but last Tuesday it managed just 7.3k. Buchman stressed that the failure to carry out widespread testing means that authorities are in the dark as to where and how the virus is spreading. He also took up the chronic shortage of personal protective equipment for health-care workers. In Ontario alone, over 4,000 health care staff are infected, and as of May 19 nine had died. Buchman remarked:

We’d never permit a firefighter to go into a burning building without adequate protection. We can’t expect our front-line health-care workers to put themselves in harm’s way.

Local health officials in Ontario are also sounding the alarm about easing lockdown measures as the virus continues to run rampant. Dr Michael Gardam, a veteran of the 2003 SARS epidemic and an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital told CBC:

It’s scary. There’s a large sense of unknown there. And there’s no way around the fact that this is uncomfortable.

Dr Lawrence Loh, chief medical officer for the Greater Toronto area’s Peel Region, publicly called for a delay to the lifting of lockdown restrictions due to the high number of new infections, saying:

We have seen our new cases starting to plateau, but we have just not seen a decline in line with the province’s own framework for reopening at this point.

These warnings are of no concern to federal and provincial authorities, which are determined to enforce the ruling elite’s criminally irresponsible back-to-work policy. After implementing bailout measures for the big banks, financial markets, and major corporations worth over $650b, the ruling class wants to send workers back to unsafe workplaces to resume extracting profit through the ruthless exploitation of their labour. While PM Justin Trudeau blustered Friday about the need for “strong collaborative action” between the federal government and provinces to “expand testing and contact-tracing,” he provided no details on how these basic measures, which the WHO has been calling for since the early days of the pandemic, would be implemented. The reality is that Trudeau’s Liberals have overseen a calamitous response to COVID-19 in spite of repeated warnings of the threat of a pandemic and Canada’s own experience with SARS in 2003. Moreover, by declaring decisions on reopening the economy a “provincial matter,” Trudeau has already given the green light to Quebec and Ontario’s hard-right governments to send hundreds of thousands of workers back to their jobs without the implementation of basic safety measures. Trudeau and the rest of the political establishment in Canada may choose their words more carefully than Trump, but the reality is that Canadian authorities are embracing the same reactionary “herd immunity” policy. This is shown by the remarks of Bonnie Henry, the chief medical officer for the NDP government in BC. Henry conceded that the “reopening” of the economy likely makes a second wave of infections “inevitable.” She said:

We’ll be looking at what were the measures that worked best to prevent transmission, and if we start to see increases in COVID, those are the things that we can put in place, rather than the blanket shut everything down as we did before.

In Ontario, where Unifor, Canada’s largest industrial union, has worked hand-in-glove with the major automakers to send autoworkers back into unsafe plants to work elbow-to-elbow on assembly lines, the ruling elite is also accepting that large portions of workers and their families will get infected. Kristen Dziczek, vice president for industry, economy and labour at the Centre for Automotive Research, a key industry think-tank that assisted the Big Three in reopening their facilities in Canada, Mexico, and Pindostan, bluntly told CBC:

I think we’re going to see hotspots keep popping up, and that’s going to be one of the disruption factors in auto production.

The opposition in the working class to this policy of placing private profit ahead of human lives is growing. Last Tuesday, Quebec’s largest nurses’ union felt compelled to call a protest outside the office of Premier Francois Legault, who last month openly declared his government’s support for a policy of “herd immunity,” so as to draw attention to the government’s violation of nurses’ rights. These violations have included forcing nurses to work in COVID-19 wards without adequate PPE and a punishing regime of forced overtime. In remarks summing up the contemptuous attitude of the entire ruling class to working people, Legault, who has made a political career out of imposing savage attacks on workers and enforcing austerity, lectured the protesters:

That disappoints me. I don’t think it’s time to be on the street in front of my office.

The indifference towards the lives of working people within the ruling class has also been displayed by its callous disregard for the fate of meatpackers and health-care workers. In Ontario, close to 250 coronavirus-related complaints filed by workers to the province’s Labour Relations Board have produced not one single ruling in the workers’ favour.

Australian government’s JobKeeper fraud starts to unravel
Mike Head, WSWS, May 25 2020

After nearly two months of falsely claiming that its COVID-19 JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme would “save 6m jobs,” the Liberal-National government finally admitted last Friday that less than half that total, 2.9m workers, had received the $750/wk payments. As recently as Thursday, govt boxtops had told a Senate committee that 6.5m workers would be covered, almost exactly in line with the government’s original promise. Now more than 3m have been left unaccounted for, most likely having been sacked, having had their hours and pay slashed, or been forced to drop out of the workforce. The corporate media and the opposition Labor Party depicted the government’s admission as a miscalculation. It was labelled the biggest fiscal “blunder” of all time, slashing the scheme’s budget from $130b to $70b seemingly overnight. This only serves to cover up the reality. Writing in today’s Australian, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg made a revealing comment. He flatly defended the original false claims, boasting that JobKeeper had provided “a vital psychological boost” to the country. From the start, as the WSWS warned, the government’s claims were always patent lies. JobKeeper, the government’s third massive business “rescue package,” was intended to disguise the true levels of mass unemployment triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, shore up the financial elite, and bolster the fragile and discredited Coalition government itself. Opposing the fraudulent promotion of the scheme by the government, the media, the Labor Party and the trade unions, the WSWS pointed out:

Over the next six months, the government will pay much of the wages bills of big business, without any guarantee that any of the millions of jobs already wiped out will be restored. At the same time, JobKeeper is a vehicle to allow employers to cut pay, working hours and other working conditions, fully enforced by the unions. Under changes to the Fair Work Act quickly pushed through parliament with Labor’s help, employers can slash wages to $750/wk, all of which will be paid by the government, and force workers into new “duties” and “flexible” conditions.

JobKeeper formed a central platform of the de facto national unity government formed with Labor and the unions in order to impose on workers the greatest unemployment since the 1930s Great Depression. It was underpinned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, whose secretary Sally McManus pledged to give employers “everything they want.” Many unanswered questions remain about the supposed JobKeeper “miscalculation.” One thing is clear. None of the explanations offered by PM Morrison’s government is any more credible than the original lies. In a statement, issued jointly by the Treasury and the Australian Tax Office, the government blamed alleged reporting “errors” by about 1k of the nearly 1m businesses that applied to use the scheme. But the “most common error” was over 500 businesses with one eligible employee reporting a figure of 1,500. Even if that were true, it would account for some 750,000 over-estimates, not more than 3.5m. The government’s second explanation was just as specious. Frydenberg said the record-breaking “costing error” was mainly due to a fall in coronavirus case numbers and social-distancing rules being relaxed earlier than expected, enabling business activity to resume. He even declared that this “error” was therefore “good news.” That is doubly false. The scheme only requires employers to show a short-term reduction in their revenue, and permits them to keep receiving the wage subsidies for six months, so the escalating “return to work” drive by employers and government makes no difference to the payouts. More fundamentally, the “good news” consists of ensuring that more than 3m less workers receive payments than promised, even though 20% of the workforce is currently unemployed or underemployed, even on the understated official figures.

The drop in JobKeeper numbers seems to have been achieved largely by making it virtually impossible for small businesses to obtain wage subsidies. Many reports have appeared of small and family-owned enterprises such as cafes and restaurants being unable to survive for the two months it took for the wage subsidies to commence, or unable to keep on their casual workers, some of whom were previously paid less than $750/wk. The accommodation and food sector is among the hardest hit by the coronavirus lockdown. Between Mar 14 and Apr 18, 33.4% of jobs in the industry were lost. An Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in late March found that 76% of businesses in the sector intended to claim the JobKeeper wage subsidy. By May 7, however, only 53.8% of hospitality businesses had enrolled in the scheme. According to the government, 910,055 employers enrolled overall, but only 759,654 made claims that were processed. That is, about 150,400 businesses dropped out. This gap is on top of the 2.5m or more workers whom the government vindictively excluded from the scheme, including international students, workers on temporary visas, and casual employees who had not worked for their current employer for at least 12 months. Also excluded are university workers, local council employees and freelancers on short-term contracts, such as in the arts and entertainment fields.

Much remains deliberately hidden about the scheme, particularly the amounts being pocketed by big business. But there is ample evidence that they will receive the lion’s share of the subsidies, as the WSWS predicted. While most employers enrolled in JobKeeper are small businesses with fewer than five employees, more than 1,580 are large companies with annual turnovers above $250m. At least 949 have more than 500 employees. That latter group alone would be receiving at least half a million wage subsidies. One example was reported in a Senate committee last Thursday. Mirvac, a profitable $8b property giant, is claiming JobKeeker subsidies via allegedly loss-making subsidiaries despite recording revenues of around $2b/yr. This is no doubt the tip of the iceberg. Other large companies, protected by the government, are refusing to provide any information about their subsidies. Corporate rorting appears to be common. Citing tax consultants, the Australian Financial Review reported on May 19 that companies were “moving revenue around” and “delaying invoices” to qualify for JobKeeper payments. A JobScammer web site, set up by the Victorian Trades Hall Council, has received more than 300 complaints from workers about JobKeeper. The complaints included bosses selectively excluding workers from the scheme, demanding casual and part-time staff work increased hours to “earn” the $750 payment, and demanding kickbacks from workers. Having backed the pro-business scheme, Labor and the unions now suggest it be expanded, using the $60b “saved” to cover some of the workforce excluded from it. Both Morrison and Frydenberg have rejected these pleas out of hand, confirming the deliberate exclusion of millions of the most vulnerable workers.

Despite Labor’s hypocritical posturing, there is no real difference when it comes to cutting payments to workers, which may starve many into submitting to the intensifying “return to work” drive of governments, Coalition and Labor alike. In fact, before the $60b “miscalculation” was unveiled, Labor leader Anthony Albanese had accused the government of over-spending on the program, because some casual workers might have received less than $750/wk before the scheme commenced. Labor also supports cutting back the $550/wk JobSeeker unemployment payments, currently made to 1.6m jobless workers, from September. As well as coercing workers back into unsafe workplaces for the sake of corporate profit, big business and the political establishment are pushing for radically reduced wages and working conditions on a permanent basis, and for government austerity measures to extract the cost of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent in an array of “rescue packages” to bail out the capitalist class.

NZ opposition leadership change points to political instability
Tom Peters, WSWS, May 25 2020

Todd Muller (Wikipedia)

A simmering crisis in NZ’s opposition National Party came to a head last Friday, when MPs voted to replace Simon Bridges with Todd Muller as leader, just four months before the country’s election. Paula Bennett also lost her job as deputy leader, replaced by Nikki Kaye. Muller is the third National Party leader since PM John Key’s sudden resignation in 2016. Bridges, a former crown prosecutor, took the leadership from Bill English following National’s 2017 election defeat. Muller entered parliament in 2014 and last year became National’s agriculture spokesman. He has previously held senior roles in dairy company Fonterra and kiwifruit marketer Zespri, but is relatively unknown to the public. Muller told Radio NZ he only decided to contest the leadership following a Newshub poll on May 18 showing the party’s support had dropped to 30.8%, from 43.3% in February. A second poll by TVNZ on Thursday showed National with 29% and Labour on 59%. The media highlighted Bridges’ dismally low rating in the “preferred Prime Minister” category, just 4.5% in Newshub’s poll, compared with PM Jacinda Ardern’s 59.5%. The government currently enjoys broad support in the ruling elite and has been glorified by the local and international media for its pro-business response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Party’s worst poll result in 15 years provided the opportunity to seal Bridges’ fate. Larger political issues, however, underlie the leadership change. In country after country, politics is being profoundly destabilised by the unprecedented health, economic and social crisis triggered by the pandemic. Whichever party leads the government after the September election will confront an upsurge of working-class anger and opposition over job cuts and attacks on wages and conditions, which are already well underway.

NZ is also facing intense pressure to support Pindo imperialist threats against China, NZ’s biggest trading partner. Powerful sections of the ruling class evidently concluded that Bridges was incapable of dealing with these explosive domestic and geopolitical crises. In recent weeks Bridges has been attacked in the media and inside his own party for criticising aspects of the government’s response to the pandemic. MPs reportedly questioned Bridges’ leadership after an Apr 20 Facebook post which said “businesses will suffer” from a five-day extension to the country’s lockdown. In reality, the government’s decision was calculated to appease businesses; it was less than the two-week lockdown extension recommended by health experts. The Facebook post received thousands of negative comments and media criticism. Pro-National Party commentator Ben Thomas described it as a “giant misstep.” Muller has promised not to criticise the government’s COVID-19 public health measures. More fundamentally, under Bridges’ leadership sharp divisions erupted within National over NZ’s relations with China. MP Jami-Lee Ross resigned from the party in Oct 2018 after accusing Bridges of “corruption” for failing to disclose political donations from Chinese businessman Zhang Yikun. Bridges tried to shut down the scandal, but the National Party was continually attacked as part of the anti-China campaign by sections of the media, Labour and NZ First supporters, and pro-Pindo academics such as Anne-Marie Brady. Vehement denunciations followed Bridges’ visit to Beijing in Sep 2019, where he talked up the trade relationship and expressed support for Chinese “sovereignty” in HK.

The Labour-led government that includes NZ First and the Greens has strengthened military ties with Pindostan. Its 2018 defence policy statement echoed the Trump administration’s denunciation of China and Russia as the main “threats” to global stability. The government has called for more Pindo forces to be sent to the Pacific to push back against Chinese influence. Foreign Minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters has deliberately stoked tensions with Beijing, most recently with inflammatory claims that the Chinese government tried to dissuade NZ from locking down in March. The 2008–2017 National Party-led government also boosted the alliance with Faschingstein, sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, while simultaneously building strong trade and investment ties with China. This fraught balancing act, however, cannot be sustained. The Trump administration is demanding unwavering loyalty from its vassals including NZ as it seeks to scapegoat China for the COVID-19 pandemic and to ramp up preparations for war. In the lead-up to the National Party’s leadership spill, Trump threatened to cut all ties with China and compared the pandemic to an act of war “worse than Pearl Harbor.” Todd Muller’s installation will not resolve the divisions in the political establishment. Muller’s former employers Zespri and Fonterra, New Zealand’s biggest company, both rely heavily on exports to China. Asked by Magic Talk on Sunday whether he had “concerns about our reliance on China,” Muller replied:

I see China as an opportunity. China has a massive interest in what we produce. We need to build deep relationships with them.

Muller told the Sunday Star Times the government should consider reopening the borders to China. At the same time, Muller represents a further lurch to the right. He has described himself as a “Pindo political junkie” and defended his prominent display of a pro-Trump “Make Pindostan Great Again” cap, acquired during a 2016 visit to Pindostan, in his parliamentary office. A Catholic, Muller voted against recent legislation which fully decriminalised abortion. As the election approaches, the National Party is cynically using the government’s failure to alleviate skyrocketing poverty and inequality to push for more pro-business policies. Muller has taken on his party’s small business portfolio, saying that this showed his “commitment to keeping people in jobs and helping businesses invest and grow.” In a Stuff column on May 24, Paul Goldsmith, National’s finance spox, denounced the recent increase to the minimum wage, a meagre $1.20/hr extra, and said the National Party would “reduce regulation” of businesses. While feigning sympathy for people losing their jobs, National agrees with the Labour-led government’s main response to the pandemic: billions of dollars in subsidies primarily for big business. None of the established parties has proposed anything to stop hundreds of thousands of layoffs and the destruction of living standards on a scale unseen since the Great Depression. The next government, whoever leads it, will continue the massive transfer of wealth to the rich, while ramping up the exploitation of the working class.

Boris Johnson defends key adviser over flouting UK lockdown rules
Robert Stevens, WSWS, May 25 2020

At a Downing Street coronavirus press briefing Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson fended off demands for the resignation or sacking of his key adviser Dominic Cummings. Johnson was speaking at his first press briefing in two weeks. Over the previous 48 hours, his government was thrown into turmoil as it emerged that Cummings broke lockdown rules. A joint investigation by the Guardian/ Observer and the Mirror newspapers revealed that he travelled hundreds of miles from London to the northeast of England, allegedly on two separate occasions. Johnson declared in response that Cummings had no case to answer and had “acted responsibly, legally and with integrity.” Cummings left London after the government had prohibited all non-essential travel from Mar 23. On Mar 30, Downing Street confirmed that Cummings was suffering from coronavirus symptoms and was self-isolating. Johnson and Health Minister Matt Hancock had tested positive just three days earlier. According to the Observer and Sunday Mirror, Cummings left Downing Street on Mar 31 and drove with his wife, who was also displaying coronavirus symptoms, and their four-year-old child, to his parents’ farm 260 miles away in County Durham. Under the lockdown, all non-essential travel was banned including visiting family members or second homes. Those living in a multi-occupancy household with symptoms were instructed to “stay at home and not leave the house” for 14 days.

Cummings and various government figures claimed that he made the trip to self-isolate in a self-contained part of his parental home to ensure that his child would be looked after if he or his wife became ill. But according to a retired chemistry teacher, when Cummings was supposed to be in self-isolation on Apr 12, he was out walking in the market town of Barnard Castle, 30 miles away from Durham. He returned to London on Apr 14, and according to another eyewitness he was seen five days later back in the north-east’s Houghall Woods admiring bluebells. The home in which his parents live is co-owned by Cummings. On Apr 6, when Cummings was in Durham, Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, was forced to resign after making two trips to her own second home in Fife just over an hour’s drive from her main home Edinburgh. Downing Street has denounced the Guardian and the Mirror for publishing “inaccurate stories about Mr Cummings.” But within hours the hashtag #sackcummings was trending and over 120k had signed a petition demanding his resignation. Leading backbencher Steve Baker was the first senior Tory to demand Cummings’ resignation. Baker said:

Cummings should resign before he does any more harm to the UK, the government, the prime minister, our institutions or the Conservative party.

He was backed by eight other Tory backbenchers, including other leading hard Brexiteers. Cummings loyalists doubled down, with ministers including Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak, Matt Hancock, Dominic Raab and Grant Shapps coming to his defence. Attorney General Suella Braverman, in defiance of all normal conventions, tweeted:

Protecting one’s family is what any good parent does. The @10Downing Street statement clarifies the situation and it is wholly inappropriate to politicise it.

The lies continued to unravel. With the government denying police officers had spoken to Cummings family about his presence in the north-east, Durham Police confirmed they knew Cummings was at the Durham property on Mar 31 and had spoken to Cummings’ father about the security measures required. Hours before Johnson spoke on Sunday, police officers were knocking at the door of the Cummings family home in north London. While Cummings was in Durham, thousands of people nationwide were issued with on-the-spot fines for alleged breaches of the lockdown rules. In the four weeks to Apr 27, the police issued more than 9k fines to people throughout England and Wales. By May 11, the police had issued more than 14k fines, including to 862 repeat offenders. Cummings was one of the chief advocates for the government’s “herd immunity” policy, based on the mass infection of the population and the rejection of any systematic measures to suppress the pandemic. In March, the Times reported on a private event held at the end of February at which Cummings explained the UK’s coronavirus response. Those present summarised his position as “herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.” A senior Conservative source described his view as “let old people die.”

Cummings, the former head of the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum, is part of Johnson’s inner circle of hardline Brexiteers who have championed “Britain Unchained” and the completion of what they describe as “the Thatcher revolution.” This war against society was on full display at Sunday night’s press conference where Johnson followed his fulsome defence of Cummings with declarations that his government’s back-to-work drive will continue unabated. Primary schools would begin selectively reopening on Jun 1, despite overwhelming opposition from parents and teachers. “Stage two” would soon follow, with secondary schools providing “some contact” for year 10 and year 12 students from Jun 15. It is not known if Cummings infected any other people during his trips to the north-east or while out and about in the area. What is known is that by May 14, the north-east had the highest rate of infection in the country, with its R value at 0.80, double the rate of London. The first case of coronavirus in the north-east came from a person who attended a Nike conference that the government allowed to take place in Edinburgh on Feb 26-27, attended by 70 employees from around the world.

Cummings has only been able to survive thus far because he has faced less criticism from the Labour Party than from within his own faction-ridden Tory party. ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer declared at the outset of the pandemic that Johnson could rely on his “constructive” opposition at all times. He has been true to his word, refusing to issue any public call for Cummings’ resignation. Instead, he wrote a polite letter to the head of the civil service, ‘Sir’ Mark Sedwill, asking him to investigate the 260-mile trip known to have been taken by Cummings. Even after Johnson’s media briefing, packed with lies from start to finish, Starmer still refused to call on Cummings to quit, complaining instead:

It is an insult to sacrifices made by the British people that Boris Johnson has chosen to take no action against Dominic Cummings.

Starmer’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn also refused to call for Cummings to go, merely retweeting a comment from former shadow chancellor John McDonnell that didn’t even name Cummings. McDonnell wrote:

The episode was a fundamental test of character [!] for Johnson. He’s dramatically failing it by defending the indefensible & doing it by obfuscation and avoidance.

Labour’s soft-pedalling, under conditions where Cummings is facing a possible police investigation, points to Labour’s central role in defending a government that is falling apart at the seams. They are giving Johnson carte blanche to do as he pleases. While Starmer and Corbyn were issuing their polite protests, it was left to former Durham police chief Mike Barton to observe:

It feels like feudal times. We make the rules and it is for you, the great unwashed, to follow them.

Project Restart: English Premier League puts profit first, players’ health a poor second
Paul Bond, WSWS, May 25 2020

The Johnson government and English Premier League (PL) are pushing ahead with plans to resume the soccer season. They plan to see games played behind “closed doors” from Jun 12. Several players, angry at being used as “lab rats” have said they will not run the risk of infection. Eight players have tested positive for coronavirus so far, but despite paying lip service to “transparency” the PL has declared that “no specific details” about affected clubs will be made public. Amid assurances that “safety comes first” small-group training began last Tuesday after a unanimous vote by PL shareholders. PL’s CEO Richard Masters spoke after last Monday night’s meeting, outlining various proposals under consideration. Revealingly, he said there had been no discussion of curtailing the season. In France and elsewhere the season has been ended due to the pandemic. This is the case with the Scottish Premier League, which confronts local health conditions less dire than those in England. But the PL is pinning its hopes on the German Bundesliga, which has already resumed play behind closed doors, televised from empty stadiums. On Saturday, Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez announced La Liga will resume on Jun 8, also behind closed doors, despite five players in the country’s top two divisions having tested positive for coronavirus. The government aims to use televised play to break down public support for social distancing. It met with PL officials on May 11, one day after Johnson announced the phased reopening of primary schools, with PL boxtops revealing:

The government has signalled the possibility of a return of live sports from Jun 1, following on from its announcement on the easing of the lockdown in England.

Jun 1 is the government’s preferred date to partially reopen primary schools. In March, the Johnson government criminally promoted major rugby and horse-racing fixtures at Twickenham and Cheltenham, creating catastrophic conditions for the spread of coronavirus. With televised football, the government calculates that fans will congregate, and they will use the resulting media headlines to stampede and shame the public back to work. Masters’ concerns are more directly financial. He responded enthusiastically to the Bundesliga’s televised games, with an eye to keeping sweet television companies with broadcast rights to matches. PL clubs could be forced to refund up to £340m to domestic and international broadcasters even if the season does resume, because matches will not take place as originally scheduled. According to Manchester United chief financial officer Cliff Baty, the club will hand back £20m in TV revenue to broadcasters even if the Premier League season is completed, as a result of changes in dates and kick-off times. The subordination of football to the capitalist market is proving disastrous. Four PL clubs could face administration by the autumn unless games are resumed. One club director said:

Football is a business like any other, but it is not being bailed out, and if we’re not producing our product, which is games, we’re not earning money. You can’t keep paying people indefinitely.

Premier League soccer is by far the world’s richest league. The most watched sports league in the world, its rights are sold to broadcasters in 212 territories with a potential TV audience of 4.7b people. The 20 PL clubs were due to earn £9.2b from broadcasters in 2019-22. If the current season is not completed, a loss of at least £1b has been forecast. Even the richest clubs have been hit, with Manchester United announcing in their third-quarter results to Mar 31 that the pandemic has cost them an initial £28m. Many players are keen to play again if it is safe, but club captains are reportedly “unimpressed” with the vague plans so far. As with every aspect of the government’s handling of the pandemic, football’s proposed “phased return” has been chaotic. Players have been sidelined from planning discussions, leading to anger they are “guinea pigs” whose concerns have been ignored. Only the first phase of resumption has been outlined in any detail. Non-contact training in socially distanced groups of five working with three coaches has been accepted, but players are reluctant to sign paperwork in the absence of clearer plans for phase two. The PL insists later details are sketchy because this is a gradual process, but club officials are driven by economics. One official said:

If they don’t play, they will be furloughed.

Several clubs furloughed non-playing staff immediately before reversing the decision in the face of popular anger that this was being imposed by billionaire owners. Officials may be hoping to win public sympathy given footballers’ large salaries, but the ploy is a cynical one. Tottenham Hotspurs player Danny Rose, currently on loan at Newcastle, addressed this directly, said:

I could be potentially risking my health for people’s entertainment, and that’s not something I want to be involved in if I’m honest.

Players want reassurance they and their families will be safe. At Brighton and Hove Albion, where three players have tested positive, manager Graham Potter cautioned against a premature return:

The situation is not totally resolved. We are human beings.

Clubs are implementing a £4m private programme to test players regularly, although this seems as much addressed at clubs’ legal liability as at players’ health. Longer term safety plans remain typically short on detail. PL director of football Richard Garlick said:

Gradually, we aim to ramp that up so we can have an inspector at every training ground.

Like other groups in society, footballers are up against the subordination of scientific evidence to the financial requirements of big business. The PL says its testing guidance is drawn from Public Health England, but PHE’s guidelines on PPE for NHS staff violated WHO guidance. Nearly half of PL medical practitioners feel insufficiently consulted about resumption of play, according to a survey by the Football Medicine and Performance Association. Their representative body noted they have not yet even received a copy of the PL’s medical protocol. Players have laughed openly at being “advised” to turn their face away after a tackle during games! The PL’s approach has been to argue instead for the setting of acceptable risk thresholds. The Bundesliga’s protocols, promoted as a model, say “the aim is not 100% prevention.” This is in line with the Johnson government’s herd immunity policy, with a government source saying:

There is going to be a wider societal change in the way we think about risk. If players don’t want to play, they basically won’t be playing football until there’s a vaccine. I suspect the rest of society will be back.

Given this attitude, any pledge that players will not be “forced” to return has little value. Players are correctly unwilling to sign liability waivers before returning, but the threat of furlough, or their inability to find work elsewhere if they refuse to play, as other clubs would be unlikely to employ them, amounts to a direct threat to their livelihood. The proposed timeframe is widely felt to be too quick. Brighton’s Glenn Murray said: “Why not see how the country deals with stopping the lockdown first before we even start unnecessary sports when people are dying all around us and the death rate is still high?” Danny Rose said:

Football shouldn’t even be spoken about until the numbers have dropped massively. People’s lives are at risk. We need an assessment of the first stage before making any further decisions.

At Watford, where Troy Deeney is captain, one player and two non-playing staff have tested positive. Deeney has refused to return to training, not least because of the risk to his family. His five-month-old son has breathing difficulties. “I don’t want to come home and put him in more danger,” he insisted. PL medical officer Mark Gillett expressed the general lack of caution that has characterised the clubs’ official response:

The risk in young fit athletes is still very small, and I think that is an important factor.

Deeney said:

I can’t get a haircut until mid-July, but I can go and get in a box with 19 people and jump for a header? I don’t know how that works.

At an online meeting of Premier League captains, Deeney asked officials what he described as “very simple questions.” No answers were forthcoming, with Deeney telling officials:

If you don’t know the information, why would I put myself at risk?

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