various countries outside pindostan

UK: Official figures inflate COVID-19 testing rate by more than 1m
Alice Summers, WSWS, May 30 2020

The Johnson Conservative government is engaged in a massive campaign of public deception, making cynical claims and pledges about the number of COVID-19 tests being carried out. Its aim is to cover up the impact of its “herd immunity” policy, which has led to tens of thousands of coronavirus deaths. Over 1m more tests have been reported by the government than the numbers genuinely tested, according to Dept of Health and Social Care (DHSC) figures. This is largely due to a practice of duplicating tests involving two samples from one individual in the official figures. According to Public Health England (PHE), other factors contributing to this discrepancy are tests being repeated due to an inconclusive outcome or being double-checked after a negative result. Tests that involve taking both nasal and saliva samples from the same person have been counted as two separate tests, the DHSC and PHE have admitted. This double-counting means that daily COVID-19 screening figures reported by the government have been exaggerated by as much as 20%, according to the Daily Telegraph. On May 21, the newspaper reported:

Almost 350k more tests have been reported in Government data than people tested since the start of the pandemic.

The last day the DHSC published figures on the number of people tested was May 21. From May 22 to May 29, the DHSC have not published any figures on the total number of people tested, but have continued to publish the number of cumulative tests. A post on the department’s Twitter page stated that publication has been “temporarily paused to ensure consistent reporting across all pillars. This is due to a small percentage of cases where the same person would have more than one test.”

imageNumber of tests provided versus number of people tested

An analysis of the figures shows that the discrepancy between the number of cumulative tests and the number of people tested is far higher than estimated by the Telegraph. The cumulative number of tests as of May 21 was 3,231,921. The number of people tested was 2,144,626. This is a ratio equivalent to approximately 66%. As of May 27, the government claims a total of 3,918,079 cumulative tests, which based on the 66% calculation means that around 2.6m people have been tested. This is approximately 1.3m fewer than the number of tests the government reported. The testing debacle confirms that not a word that comes out the mouths of Johnson or his ministers at their daily press briefings can be believed. On Thursday, Professor John Ashton, a former regional director of public health said:

It’s very difficult, even for someone like me whose living has centred on numbers, to know exactly what is going on. We don’t know how many people have been tested. We don’t know how many tests have been satisfactory. There’s a real problem of transparency and trust.

On Apr 2, the government announced that it planned to conduct 100,000 tests a day by the end of that month, with a Twitter post on the prime minister’s official account stating that this meant “100k people per day.” When this plan was announced, only around 10k daily tests were being conducted. After weeks of the government falling far short of this target, it was only finally “met” on Apr 30 because official figures included thousands of swab kits bulk posted to UK homes and to satellite testing sites like care homes, which had not yet been used or sent to laboratories for results. Over 40k of the 122,347 COVID-19 tests announced by the government on the last day of April were made up of kits that had been sent out but not yet been processed; 27,497 of these were test kits sent out to private homes and 12,872 were posted to satellite testing sites. Moreover, despite claiming to have exceeded its target DHSC figures show that only 73,191 individual people were screened for the virus on that day. Many home testing kits like these have still not been analysed, with thousands yet to be returned to laboratories according to Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE and the government’s COVID-19 testing coordinator. Professor Newton told the parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee on May 22 that while 762,252 coronavirus tests have been posted to people’s homes, around half have not been returned for analysis. Admitting that he did not have an up-to-date figure for the numbers processed, Newton stated:

I think certainly more than half, and we would like to get that amount up.

Newton confirmed that tests are counted at the point they are sent out to people or satellite centres, not at the point of being analysed at laboratories and results established.

Comparison between countries of cumulative total tests per thousand population

Taking account of the discrepancy between the number of tests provided and the number of individuals tested, the government has not once succeeded in testing 100k people in one day (as of May 26). The number of individuals receiving a test averages around 67k a day since the government’s target was supposedly met on Apr 30. The number of individuals tested in a single day reached 80,297 on May 21, the highest figure yet, still far short of the government’s 100k a day target. On May 2, the lowest day between Apr 30 and May 26, a mere 56,397 individuals were tested. Given that these figures are compiled at the point of test delivery, not completion, far fewer tests will have been sent to laboratories. On May 6, Johnson announced yet another arbitrary testing target, pledging to reach 200k tests a day by the end of May. On May 27, Health Minister Matt Hancock stated that this target was in fact based on the UK’s “capacity to perform 200k tests a day,” and will be measured by “asking laboratories each day to set out how many tests they can provide” rather than counting how many tests are conducted. Even those tests submitted to laboratories for analysis have been found to be unreliable, with many returning false negative results. According to the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA), 30% of NHS staff taking swab tests could be receiving a false negative result. Many health workers who may have been coronavirus positive were pushed back to work, potentially infecting patients and other staff members and contributing to the rapid spread of the virus in hospitals. PHE research published mid-May indicated that as many as 20% of inpatients and 90% of medical workers contracted the virus while in hospital. A study in the BMJ found that between 2% and 29% of COVID-19 tests wrongly came back as negative. The number of “true positive” results from nasal swabs was as little as 63% and just 32% from throat swabs, according to the lead author, Dr Jessica Watson. In a letter to PHE Chief Executive Duncan Selbie, Dr. Paul Donaldson, the general secretary of the HCSA, wrote of his “deep concern and frustration” at the body’s “systematic lack of information” over the reliability of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for coronavirus. Dr Donaldson said:

A wall of silence seems to have been erected around the issue, with only the occasional claim or hint emerging regarding the current testing regime. Separately, statements by PHE officials and others place the incidence of false negatives somewhere between 20% and 30%. If confirmed, this is a worryingly high rate which raises the prospect of many infected individuals, possibly without symptoms, being passed fit to return to health care settings where they will transmit SARS-CoV-2 to colleagues and patients.

Responsibility for the sustained and uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in hospitals and throughout the population lies with the Johnson government. Determined to impose its criminal herd immunity policy, it refused for weeks to implement a systematic testing programme, on the basis that there was already widespread community transmission and therefore testing was not useful. On Mar 12, the day that the government announced its herd immunity policy, Johnson declared that health staff would no longer test people at home, with testing only to be conducted on those already in hospital. Most people were refused tests and simply told to self-isolate at home if they had symptoms. At that point, just 10 people had died of COVID-19. Only when the death toll reached hundreds of people a day did the government announce its 100k tests a day plan, limited to only a select group of key workers until mid-May. The UK ranks at number 20 out of the 31 European countries with available data for coronavirus testing per capita, screening only 31.59 people for every thousand of the population. Impoverished Eastern European countries such as Lithuania (99.14 per thousand), Estonia (57.74), Latvia (52.9) and Belarus (49) have tested far more people relative to their population sizes. Russia, which has more than twice the population of the UK, has tested 61.3 people per thousand.

Exclusive images from inside British court expose Assange’s undemocratic treatment, physical deterioration
Max Blumenthal, The Grayzone, May 29 2020

Photographs taken inside London’s Woolwich Crown Court and provided exclusively to The Grayzone highlight the un-democratic measures the British security state has imposed on jailed Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange. Captured during Assange’s extradition hearing, which took place between Feb 24-28, the images highlight the confinement Assange has been subjected to, as well as the physical deterioration he has experienced since he was arrested in Apr 2019 and jailed in a maximum security prison. On Feb 26, Judge Vanessa Baraitser vowed to hold anyone in contempt of court for taking photographs. However, an observer had taken several photos a day before the judge’s warning. Anonymous Scandinavia, a Sweden-based group of Wikileaks supporters, provided the photos to The Grayzone in order to expose what they considered to be the state repression of an investigative journalist. The images show Assange confined to a glass cage, physically sequestered from his legal team, and unable to follow his own trial. Throughout the hearing, Assange protested his isolation, complaining to Judge Baraitser:

I am as much a participant in these proceedings as I am at Wimbledon. I cannot communicate with my lawyers or ask them for clarifications.

He told members of his legal team he was unable to hear from inside the glass cage. Below, a seemingly dejected Assange can be seen gazing through the bulletproof glass panes at two of his lawyers, Stella Morris and Baltazar Garzon.

In a heartfelt video testimonial released this April, Morris disclosed that she was the mother of two infant sons with Assange. Throughout 2017, Morris was spied on by a Spanish security firm apparently hired by the CIA through Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands. At one point, the director of the firm ordered an employee to steal a diaper from one of Morris’s sons in an attempt to match his DNA to that of Assange. Morris commented after learning of the surveillance campaign:

I understood that the powers that were against Julian were ruthless and there were no bounds to it, and that’s why I feel that I have to (talk to press), because I’ve taken so many steps for so many years and I feel that Julian’s life might be coming to an end.

Since its foundation in 2010, Wikileaks has published troves of documents exposing Pindo war crimes, meddling and corruption around the globe. Following the release of thousands of classified State Dept cables provided by Chelsea Manning, then-Vice Pres Biden denounced Assange as a “high-tech terrorist.”

In Apr 2017, then-DCI Pompeo labeled Wikileaks a “hostile foreign intelligence agency,” denigrating Assange as a “fraud” in a speech telegraphing Faschingstein’s malicious campaign against the publisher. That December, Pindo federal prosecutors filed a secret indictment charging Assange with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act. He now faces 175 years in a Pindo prison. Nils Melzer, the UN rapporteur on torture, warned:

If extradited, Julian Assange would be exposed to a real risk of serious violations of his human rights, including his freedom of expression, his right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Melzer was disturbed by the traits he observed after meeting Assange in May 2019. In a reportpublished by the UNHRC, the expert noted:

In addition to physical ailments, Mr Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.

The photo below reveals a visibly disoriented Assange with a grim pallor and expressionless gaze.

Though Assange has never been convicted of a crime and has no record of violent behavior, his cage was more restrictive than the enclosure reserved for Adolph Eichmann when the top-level Nazi bureaucrat was placed on trial in Jerusalem in 1961. Unlike Assange, Eichmann was able to communicate freely with his lawyer and listen to a live translation of his trial.

During his corruption trial in Moscow in 2005, the Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was similarly held in a cage. Following a formal protest of the confinement by his business partner and co-defendant, Platon Lebedev, who claimed that the cage represented a breach of the right to a presumption of innocence, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the two were subjected to “inhuman and degrading conditions in the courtroom.”

When Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, collapsed and died in a soundproof cage in a courtroom, six years after he was deposed in a 2013 military coup, Western media and human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International erupted in a chorus of condemnation.

These same rights groups have said little about the draconian restrictions imposed by the British security state on Assange throughout his extradition hearing. But their reticence might be excused on the grounds that clear images of his unwarranted courtroom isolation were not publicly available until now. The Belmarsh supermax prison where Assange has been held is regarded as the UK’s version of the US facility at Guantanamo. Aside from Assange, the jail is home to mafia henchmen, al-Qaeda members, and neo-fascist enforcers like Tommy Robinson. Around 20 percent of prisoners in Belmarsh are murderers, and two-thirds have committed a violent crime. 117 licensed medical professionals from around the world have written to the British and Australian governments to condemn “the torture of Assange, the denial of his fundamental right to appropriate health-care, the climate of fear surrounding the provision of health-care to him, and the violations of his right to doctor–patient confidentiality.” Since the doctors’ open letter, Belmarsh has become a site of Covid-19 infection. As journalist Matt Kennard reported, a 2007 report by the UK’s Chief Inspector of Prisons found that “infection control was inadequate” in the detention facility. Rather than allow a temporary medical furlough for Assange, however, Judge Baraitser has postponed  his extradition trial for four months, disappearing him again from public view. the UN’s Melzer said of the Wikileaks founder’s treatment:

In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political persecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states ganging up to deliberately isolate, demonize and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law.

When Assange returns to court this September, the glass cage awaits.

German and French trade unions back Merkel and Macron’s recovery programme
Peter Schwarz, WSWS, May 30 2020

The major German and French trade unions have expressed their support for the European recovery plan proposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. In a joint declaration on May 20, the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) and the French trade union federations CFDT, CGT, FO, CFTC and UNSA said:

We expressly welcome the Franco-German initiative for economic recovery in Europe after the coronavirus crisis, presented by the French president and the German chancellor on May 18 2020. This is a change of direction towards more solidarity between the member states of the EU. We are convinced that our two countries must now assume their special responsibility to ensure that the EU emerges stronger, more socially equitable, more democratic, more responsible and more environmentally friendly. We hope to convince all other EU member states of the Franco-German proposals, so that after the crisis we can build a more sustainable Europe based on more solidarity.

These highly-paid union officials are well aware that Merkel and Macron’s proposal has nothing to do with social justice, democracy and environmental sustainability. Neither does it serve European solidarity, let alone solidarity with the millions of workers, clerical employees and self-employed who are losing their incomes and livelihoods due to the coronavirus crisis. Instead, the fund, like the numerous national aid programmes and ECB’s bond purchases, will continue to inflate the equity portfolios and bank accounts of the rich. As we demonstrated in an earlier article, the main aim of the Franco-German initiative is to reinforce European companies in their trade war with rivals, particularly Pindostan and China. Accordingly, “strategic projects” are to be promoted and “global champions” built up. The coronavirus crisis is to be used to reorganise the European economy in the global battle for markets and profits. In particular, the economies of weaker EU countries, for which the fund is primarily intended, are to be restructured. It goes without saying that this will involve mass layoffs, cuts to wages and social benefits. Major corporations in the auto, aerospace and steel industries as well as numerous other industries have already announced tens of thousands of layoffs. The reconstruction plan, presented by EC Pres von der Leyen in more detail on May 27, is expected to total €750b, of which €500b will be allocated in the form of grants and €250b as loans.

In order to finance the package, the EU Commission will break with previous practice and borrow money, which is then to be repaid from the EU budget between 2028 and 2058. As the EU budget is financed by the member states, they will then have to repay the programme according to their economic weight. Also in consideration are new import taxes to directly boost the EU budget. The main recipients of the programme will be Italy (€82b in grants/€91b in loans), Spain (€77/€63b) and Poland (€38/€26b). France and Germany are also slated to receive grants of €39b and €29b, respectively. An EU summit will discuss the proposal on Jun 18–19. At least one further summit will be necessary until an agreement is reached. As the funds are allocated within the framework of the EU budget, they are subject to strict neoliberal requirements, as is the case for all EU programmes. Von der Leyen wants to ensure that the annual recommendations from the EC for the economic and financial policies of member countries, which have so far largely been ignored, are binding on the recipients of grants. Brussels could then dictate cuts in social, educational and cultural spending, as it did after the 2008 financial crisis in Greece. The exact use of the funds is still under debate. In addition to traditional regional and structural aid, subsidies for climate protection, renewable energies, digitisation and above all armaments production are also under discussion.

The trade union declaration of support, which is only one-and-a-half pages long, is a signal to the rulers in Paris and Berlin and the EU Commission in Brussels that they can rely on the unflinching support of the trade unions in combating their rivals in the global trade war and implementing the consequent attacks on the working class. The unions are already in the forefront of driving workers back into the factories, where they risk their health and lives due to the continuing risk of infection. To give one example, IG Metall and the works council in Wolfsburg organised a three-day light show on the wall of the Volkswagen plant in the city to promote the return of workers to Europe’s largest car factory. For years, every plant closure and layoff plan in Germany has borne the signature of union officials. The coronavirus crisis, however, has hugely intensified the tendency towards corporatism, the fusion of entrepreneurs, unions and government. The greatest economic downturn since the 1930s has to a great extent swept the carpet from beneath the so often praised free-market economy. Governments are pumping billions of euros and dollars into aerospace, auto and other corporations, and even becoming shareholders to strengthen their own companies in the struggle to survive against competitors. This form of nationalisation has nothing to do with socialism. Rather, it serves to defend corporate profits against international rivals and claims made by workers and is inevitably linked to whipping up nationalism. The unions, nationalist to the core, cannot stand aside. As always in times of crisis and war they jettison even the appearance of representing the interests of their members.

In Aug 1914, when WW1 broke out, Germany’s trade unions announced a “truce” with employers and government and sent their members to the front to slaughter French and Russian workers. On May 1 1933, three months after Hitler came to power, they even marched under the swastika to offer their services to the new regime. Hitler interpreted this as weakness and dissolved the unions the following day. The unions in France and other countries behave no differently in similar situations. If German and French unions are now giving their support to this latest initiative, it is only because they believe that Germany and France cannot advance their interests on the world market without the EU. At the same time, when it comes to job cuts, for example at Airbus or in the auto industry, the unions divide workers and play off one country and location against another. The unions’ drive to corporatism inevitably arises from their pro-capitalist perspective. It is significant that the CGT, which pretends to be the most radical of the French unions, also signed the joint declaration. In the fight against the health and social consequences of the coronavirus crisis, workers in Europe confront not only corporations and governments, but also the unions. They must break with these organisations and set up their own independent action committees. The fight against the consequences of the pandemic is ultimately a political struggle against capitalism. This requires the unity of the European and international working class on the basis of a socialist programme to replace the EU, the tool of the most powerful capitalist interests, with the United Socialist States of Europe.

Australia’s “national cabinet” declared permanent
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, May 30 2020

PM Scott Morrison announced yesterday that the so-called national cabinet, established in response to the coronavirus pandemic, will become permanent, regardless of the progress of the public health crisis. All the members of the cabinet, composed of the federal, state and territory government leaders, agreed with this major shift in the country’s political order at their meeting yesterday. Five of the eight leaders come from the Labor Party, which is in opposition to the Liberal-National Coalition at the federal level. They have been at the centre of a de facto national unity government since March, resting on the support of the corporatised trade unions and the federal Labor opposition. This cabinet has no clear legal or constitutional status—there is no mention of such a body in the 1901 Constitution. Nevertheless, it has ruled by decree, via emergency powers. The cabinet has been directly responsible for the criminally-negligent official response to the pandemic, the hundreds of billions of dollars provided by governments to big business and the woefully-inadequate assistance to the unemployed. It is now spearheading a campaign to force workers back into workplaces in the interests of corporate profit, despite the ongoing dangers to their health and lives. Morrison said the national cabinet will meet fortnightly as the COVID-19 crisis continues, and once a month after that. It will replace the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which featured irregular gatherings of federal and state leaders.

The move is part of a broader coming together of the entire political establishment, directed against the working class. The purpose of such “national unity” arrangements, not seen outside wartime, is to suppress widespread social and political opposition and to create the conditions for a further pro-business overhaul of the economy. Through the national cabinet, the constituent governments have activated sweeping provisions in emergency and health legislation, including those allowing for expanded police and military operations. It will undoubtedly seek to maintain these measures, in line with a broader assault on basic democratic rights. Unlike COAG, the cabinet’s discussions are covered by confidentiality pacts, shielding its actual deliberations from the population. Morrison touted this as providing for “collective responsibility” and “cabinet solidarity” and prevent “political posturing.” In other words, this secrecy is aimed at facilitating the seamless collaboration of the Labor and Liberal-National members of the cabinet, in the interests of big business. Morrison said the national cabinet would “streamline” decision-making, allowing governments to impose major policies without “a whole bunch of paperwork” or “endless meetings.” The establishment media welcomed the move. Commentator Michelle Grattan wrote:

Scott Morrison strengthens his policy power, enshrining national cabinet and giving it ‘laser-like’ focus on jobs.

An article in the Australian Financial Review declared:

COAG is dead. Long live the national cabinet.

Morrison signalled that the arrangement will be critical to “tax reform,” lowering tax rates for the major corporations and reducing public spending. This is part of a further profit-driven restructuring. arlier this month, with the support of all his cabinet colleagues, Morrison outlined a plan to “streamline” tertiary education funding. The state governments will oversee a “simplification” of the TAFE technical college model, reducing the number of courses and gearing them even more directly to the employment needs of big business. Morrison said the national cabinet’s central mission will be “job creation.” In reality, working with employers and the unions, it has already overseen the destruction of more than a million jobs in the past three months. The endless invocation of “creating jobs” is aimed at legitimising a far-reaching assault on wages and working conditions. Governments, the unions and employers’ groups are insisting that workers accept the permanent imposition of changes introduced during the pandemic, including the slashing of penalty rates and shift restrictions across entire industries. With the Australian Council of Trade Unions in the lead, they are preparing a tripartite reshaping of industrial relations, aimed at removing any obstacles to a continuous assault on wages and conditions. To create the conditions for a resumption of corporate profit-making, the national cabinet is accelerating a dangerous “back to work” campaign, aimed at forcing employees back into all work sites, including schools, factories, offices and universities. In recent days, face-to-face teaching has been resumed in public schools in New South Wales (NSW) Victoria and Queensland, despite widespread opposition from education workers and parents. Within days of the reopening, two schools in Sydney and one in Melbourne were forced to close last week, as a result of COVID-19 cases among students. The national cabinet meeting agreed yesterday that it had completed “stage one” of a three-stage removal of lockdown measures. This has included the abolition of numbers of restrictions on gatherings and intrastate travel, as well as the resumption of classroom teaching. Without even waiting to assess the results, states are going beyond “stage one” already. The NSW government, for instance, is allowing clubs to have 500 people on their premises from next Monday. Such measures render contact tracing, in the event of viral outbreaks, virtually impossible.

The federal government Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy admitted it was not yet possible to determine the health consequences of stage one. In other words, the authorities do not know how widely the coronavirus is circulating. Morrison restated that there would be “spikes” and “outbreaks.” He again declared that the policy is not to “eradicate or eliminate” COVID-19 transmissions, because he insisted this would be too costly. The dangers have been underscored by continuing infections, including 12 across the country over the past 24 hours. The possibility of unknown community transmission was highlighted last week by the tragic death of 30-year-old miner Nathan Turner in the regional Queensland town of Blackwater. After he died, it was determined that he had the coronavirus. The miner had not come into contact with any confirmed cases or recently travelled outside the town. It was previously thought there were no cases in that region. Investigations are continuing, but one possibility is that Turner contracted COVID-19 from fly-in fly-out miners or contractors. Throughout the pandemic, the multi-billion dollar mining industry has been exempted from key restrictions. Employees have continued to travel to remote and regional sites from major cities, despite the obvious danger of further outbreaks. An article in the Melbourne Age this morning further pointed to the ruthless role of business in the health crisis. It revealed that workers at Cedar Meats, a Melbourne abattoir that has been the source of over 100 infections, warned management in mid-April that they thought COVID-19 was circulating in the facility. Their concerns were dismissed as “rumour and innuendo.” They were forced to remain on the job, resulting in the largest virus cluster in the state of Victoria.

Pandemic intensifies social crisis in New Zealand
Tom Peters, WSWS, May 30 2020

The New Zealand government’s Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) reported on Thursday that a survey of 3k people, conducted in April, found 34% of households were in “financial difficulty.” A further 40% were “at risk of tipping into hardship.” The survey was part of a study involving eight countries. New Zealand ranked worse than the UK and Norway, where 28% and 8% of respondents respectively were in “financial difficulty.” Other countries have not yet reported their results. The findings reflect the dramatic and widespread fall in living standards due to the global economic crisis precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 38% of respondents, an estimated 679.5k households, suffered a decline in income, with 232.5k losing more than a third. CFFC head Jane Wrightson warned that “income loss will get worse before it gets better.” In fact, there is no end in sight for what is the deepest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s. New Zealand is highly exposed to the crisis. Its tourism and international education industries are imploding. Households have low savings and high debt levels, many workers are in insecure jobs and social welfare benefits are extremely low. The country also has some of the world’s most unaffordable housing. The CFFC estimated that 179k or 10% of all households had missed a mortgage or rent payment since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. The survey found that another 40% of households “were not in financial difficulty yet but were at risk of financial difficulty” if they lost any more income. Only 26% were “financially secure,” with “enough money in savings to meet financial shocks in the future.”

On Thursday, Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft told Stuff he estimated 200k more children could be pushed into poverty, bringing child poverty to nearly 40%. Already, before the present crisis, 235.4k or 20% of all children lived below the poverty line, after housing costs were deducted. Job cuts are accelerating, abetted by the Labour Party-led government and enforced by the trade union bureaucracy. All the claims made over the past three years that Jacinda Ardern’s coalition government with the Greens and NZ First would alleviate poverty and restore “capitalism’s human face” are being thoroughly discredited. According to Stuff, 53k more people have signed up for the JobSeeker unemployment benefit since the week of Mar 20. This brings the total to 198,000, indicating more than 7% unemployment, the highest level in more than a decade. The rate is expected to go well above 10%. In the past week, Air New Zealand announced it is making 4k people redundant, up from previous estimates of 3.75k. The airline is majority-owned by the government and has access to a $900m government loan. Air New Zealand has received tens of millions of dollars in “wage subsidies” from the government. These handouts, falsely promoted as a means of saving jobs, have not stopped businesses slashing wages and sacking workers. In the tourism sector, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels announced 910 job cuts. Tourism Holdings Ltd, which runs the Waitomo caves and Kiwi Experience businesses, is axing 140 staff. AJ Hackett Bungy will slash about 150, nearly three quarters of its staff, in Queenstown, Taupo and Auckland. Invercargill Licensing Trust, which operates hotels and hospitality businesses, has made 87 people redundant.

Furniture and electronics retail chain Smiths City has sacked 115 people, nearly a quarter of its staff. Retail group H&J Smith intends to shut stores in Dunedin, Mosgiel, Te Anau and Balclutha, with 175 redundancies. Fuji Xerox, the printing and photocopying company, plans to cut about 100 jobs, 11% of its workforce. Its competitor Ricoh is reportedly slashing 80 jobs, despite receiving $2.2m in wage subsidies. MediaWorks is cutting 130 staff, mostly across its radio stations and sales team. This follows 200 layoffs last month by NZME, which owns the New Zealand Herald. Tower Insurance announced 108 redundancies after posting a first-half-year profit of $14.9m. ANZ Bank’s New Zealand arm is also attacking workers, despite making a $789m profit for the six months to March. The bank is cutting pay for about 200 contract workers by 20% until the end of September. Auckland Council is formulating an “emergency” austerity budget for the country’s largest city in response to $550m in expected lost revenue over the next financial year. Labour Party mayor Phil Goff told TVNZ on May 22:

We are conducting a review that will result in fewer jobs in our organisation in the coming months.

Already, about half the 1,100 temporary council workers and contractors have lost their jobs. The council is reportedly in talks with the Public Service Association about imposing a wage freeze. The Ardern government, facing an election in September, announced an Income Relief Payment (IRP) on May 25 for people who have lost jobs since Mar 1. The payment of $490/wk is about double the normal JobSeeker benefit, but only lasts for 12 weeks. The new payment is still not enough to pay for basic needs, particularly in major cities where rents are highest. And people who were already unemployed prior to March will receive no increase to their payments. Thousands of migrant workers remain barred from accessing welfare. Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff, however, praised the IRP, saying:

The government is being nimble and responsive … to meet the needs of our community.

Opposed to any fight in defence of jobs, the unions are echoing the government and employers’ position that mass redundancies are inevitable. After the election, the IRP and the wage subsidy scheme are due to expire. That will trigger a further wave of layoffs and increased poverty. There are growing demands from big business for whoever wins the election to slash spending on social programs. Government ministers have made clear that “generations” of workers must pay back the debt incurred from its pro-business subsidies, tax cuts and bailouts. ANZ Bank economist Sharon Zollner told Stuff on May 26:

A bunch of our sacred cows might be getting reviewed.

They included pension eligibility. The opposition National Party has pledged to increase the retirement age from 65 to 67. The current government has ruled out such a move, but the Labour Party previously campaigned for restricting pensions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.