New COVID-19 infections worldwide hit record levels
Patrick Martin, WSWS, Jun 1 2020

June is the fifth month of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO declared the coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Jan 30. Over the weekend, as the world entered the fifth month of the public health and economic disaster, new infections worldwide hit record levels, approximately 125k per day on May 29 and May 30, according to WorldoMeter. Brazil passed a grim milestone, with 500k cases, second in the world to Pindostan, while approaching 30k deaths. Of the 125k new cases, Brazil accounted for the most, more than 30k, and Pindostan ranked second, at nearly 25k. Other countries contributing to the surge were Russia, India, Peru, Chile and Mexico, with a combined total of more than 30k. The same seven countries accounted for three quarters of the nearly 4.1k deaths recorded for May 30. Officially, the first Pindo death from COVID-19 came on Feb 28 in the Seattle area. In the 93 days that have passed since then, more than 106k people have died of coronavirus in Pindostan, while the number infected has skyrocketed from a handful to more than 1.8m people. Even these figures are likely gross underestimates of the real impact of the pandemic. Pindostan, the richest country in the world, with vast medical and scientific resources, has lost far more of its people to the coronavirus than any other nation because of the greed, callousness and sheer incompetence of its ruling elite. In the eyes of working people, both within Pindostan and around the world, this is a political and social disgrace from which Pindo capitalism will never recover.

Jun 1 marks two weeks since the auto industry and other major US employers fully resumed operations at factories, warehouses and offices. These facilities are likely to become new hotspots for the pandemic, following in the footsteps of meatpacking plants, which were never closed down and saw infection rates of well over 50% of the workers in some cases. The CDC projects that between 10k and 30k more Pindos will die from the coronavirus over the next three weeks, an estimate that does not take into account the likely acceleration of community spread because of the large-scale reopening of factories and workplaces, as well as stores, churches and other potential points of transmission of the virus. There are already disturbing reports, both anecdotal and statistical, of an upsurge of the pandemic in those states that first began reopening, or which never imposed any sort of lockdown. According to the site, which uses fairly conservative estimates based on CDC guidelines, 22 states, mainly in the South and the Mountain West, show increasing levels of COVID-19. The 14-day moving average for new coronavirus infections is up 60% in Alabama, 40% in Arkansas, 15% in Florida, 38% in South Carolina, 40% in North Carolina, 38% in Missouri and an astonishing 139% in West Virginia, more than doubling in two weeks from a previously low level. Several of these states were the scenes of notorious violations of social distancing last month, including a pool party in Arkansas attended by dozens of people, and the Lake of the Ozarks resort in southern Missouri, where thousands gathered on the Memorial Day weekend. New COVID-19 cases have been reported in connection with both events.

The most rapid increase in a Midwest state was in Wisconsin. Again, this is associated with the collapse of social distancing after the state Supreme Court overruled lockdown orders issued by the governor, leading to widely publicized scenes of tightly packed crowds gathered in bars and restaurants. The court ruling was issued May 13. Just over two weeks later, COVID-19 cases in the state are up 47%. According to one report, ICU beds are filling up in Minneapolis & St Paul, Omaha and Rhode Island, a signal of impending crisis. Leavitt Partners, led by former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, projected that Hennepin and Ramsey counties, which include Minneapolis & St Paul respectively, will have a shortage of dozens of ICU beds in the next three weeks. Ramsey County could have a shortage of overall hospital beds as well. Minnesota saw its largest one-day rise in coronavirus-related ICU bed hospitalizations with 260 on Wednesday. But that same day, as protests mounted in Minneapolis over the police murder of George Floyd, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed an executive order allowing salons and barbershops to reopen and bars and restaurants to begin outdoor dining. State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that the state would not hit its peak coronavirus infection level until late June or July. The WaPo reported Sunday:

Two to four weeks after many states began lifting restrictions on restaurants, bars and larger gatherings, cases are rising in areas that had previously dodged the worst of the virus’s impact. Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin all set record highs for new cases reported Friday… In many areas, large gatherings are cited as the center of major outbreaks.

While some of the previously hardest-hit states have begun to see a decrease in their 14-day moving average, including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Michigan, these are decreases from appalling highs. Even with the “improvement,” these states still account for half of total Pindo deaths and at least a quarter of new deaths. In California, where Demagog Governor Gavin Newsom has begun the systematic relaxation of the lockdown, hotspots have begun to flare outside of LA, which has been the center of infection so far. In Alameda County, which includes the city of Oakland, new cases jumped by 30% last week, with 107 new cases on Thursday, the most on a single day since the pandemic began. In practice, every state governor is carrying out the same policy as the Trump administration and bourgeois governments throughout the world: forcing millions of workers back to work to resume the process of profit and wealth accumulation for the capitalist class, while deliberately encouraging the breakdown of social distancing in order to spread the infection as widely as possible. The policy of “herd immunity” has no scientific or public health content whatsoever. It is a label that disguises a social policy whose deliberate purpose is to dispose of as much of the most vulnerable population as possible: the elderly, the sick, the immune-compromised, all those who do not produce surplus value and profit for the financial aristocracy. As the WSWS and the SEP have insisted, fighting the pandemic requires the independent mobilization of the working class, advancing a socialist program irreconcilably opposed to the economic interests of the capitalist class and the capitalist system as a whole. Millions of lives are at stake. They can be defended only through an open struggle to end the corporate-financial dictatorship over social policy and redeploy economic resources on the basis of social need.

Discredited policy of coronavirus “herd immunity” placed in stark relief
Benjamin Mateus, WSWS, Jun 1 2020

Last week, the NYT published a sobering piece on the prevalence of the coronavirus in the population headlined, “The World Is Still Far from Herd Immunity for Coronavirus.” They wrote:

Official case counts often substantially underestimate the number of coronavirus infections. But in new studies that test the population more broadly, the percentage of people who have been infected so far is still in the single digits.

Estimated percentages of antibodies in different populations

The threshold for population immunity to the coronavirus, one that naturally drives down the growth of community transmission, remains speculative, but consensus has placed it above 60 percent and some cite over 80 percent. Current seroprevalence studies for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in the population have recently been estimated (modeling via Imperial College London):

  • NYC, 19.9% have antibodies — May 2
  • Boston, 9.9% — May 15
  • London, 17.5%, with the UK’s national average at 5% — May 21
  • Madrid, 11.3%, with Spain’s national average at 5% – May 13
  • Barcelona, 7.1% – May 13
  • Stockholm, 7.3% – May 20
  • Wuhan, 10.0% of returning workers — Apr 20
  • Pindo national average, 4.1% – May 21

However, these estimates must be taken with a considerable grain of salt. Even the CDC, whose absence during the pandemic has been underscored by many epidemiologists and scientists, has gone on record recently writing:

Serologic test results should not be used to make decisions about grouping persons residing in or being admitted to congregate settings, such as schools, dormitories, or correctional facilities. Serologic test results should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace. In most of the country, including areas that have been heavily impacted, the prevalence of the SARS-CoV-2 antibody is expected to be low, ranging from less than 5% to 25%, so that testing at this point might result in relatively more false-positive results and fewer false-negative results.

This poses a conundrum, in that the individual testing positive for antibodies does not have a definite guarantee they are truly protected. For those that do carry antibodies, the length of time such immunity remains present is unclear. For instance, immunity to SARS after exposure seems to wane after two years. The CDC writes in their updated guidelines:

It cannot be assumed that individuals with truly positive antibody test results are protected from future infection. Serologic testing should not be used to determine immune status in individuals until the presence, durability, and duration of immunity are established.

Sweden was hailed as the poster child by those such as opinionated NYT columnist Thomas Friedman, who advocated for “a surgical-vertical” herd immunity policy. Such a policy would attempt to isolate and protect the vulnerable while placing the younger and healthier layers in harm’s way to eventually acquire population immunity to protect the economy from the catastrophe caused by national lockdowns. he wrote:

Wait a minute! What the hell are we doing to ourselves? To our economy? To our next generation? Is this cure — even for a short while — worse than the disease?

These statements consciously sought to establish state policy on the pandemic.

SWEDEN vs Neighboring Nations: Created by Derrick VanGennep and Vincent Brunsch of on 14 May 2020 from data here

So, what did happen in Sweden? Given its lack of intervention and call for “personal responsibility” to slow the spread resulted in a 10-day average of almost 600 daily new cases in April, two to six times higher than the peak of its neighbors, who quickly decelerated the infection rate in their respective countries by imposing strict restrictions on economic activity and population movement. The cumulative deaths in Sweden had reached 350 per million by mid-May and continue to rise (now at 435 deaths per million). In contrast, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland have kept their numbers under 100 deaths per million and have virtually halted the rise in the number who succumb from the infection. It is not surprising that many have now emphatically decried Sweden’s experiment as untenable and insane. However, the commercial doors have been flung open, and workers have been forced back to the factories and warehouses. ICL, based on their latest modeling projections, estimated that the prevalence of COVID-19 in the Pindo population is approximately 4%. With 331m people in Pindostan, this means that 317m people remain vulnerable. Accepting the minimum threshold of 60% to achieve population immunity, this begs the question: can the working class face an assault on its communities and neighborhoods 15 more times than what it has already been through? Put another way, is the policy of herd immunity being proposed by the ruling class to save its profits and wealth, strangulated by the lockdowns, worth the social catastrophe of culling the working class until sufficient numbers have been infected that the natural course of the infection will burn itself out?

The first reference within the scientific community to population immunity (concepts now understood as herd immunity) from a viral pathogen was made in published observations in 1933 by a Baltimore physician, Dr A. Hedrich in an article titled “Monthly estimates of the child population susceptible to measles, 1900-1931.” He found that the incidence of measles in Baltimore would fluctuate, having a periodicity of two to three years. Just before a major outbreak, the fraction of the population under the age of 15 that was susceptible ranged from 45% to 50%. When the epidemic began to fade, the proportion of vulnerable children had fallen to 30% to 35%. He concluded that when the population immunity grew above 55%, the measles epidemic became contained.

Authors of a public health statement, “Epidemiologic basis for eradication of measles in 1967,” published in Mar 1967 when efforts were being made to eliminate measles from Pindostan, wrote:

It is difficult to estimate whether the threshold of herd immunity for an average Pindo city now would be higher or lower than Hedrich’s estimate for Baltimore 30 to 70 years ago. Obviously, a considerable variability must be assumed for this threshold from urban area to urban area and within varying ethnic and socio-economic groups in a single urban area. There is no reason, however, to question the validity of the basic assumption that the occurrence of measles epidemics depends upon the balance of immunes and susceptibles.

The authors of the 1967 article concluded that in addition to the routine and universal immunization of infants and school children, they endorsed intensive efforts on the part of local, state and federal health authorities to develop practical surveillance efforts and infrastructure for immediate epidemic control by “verifying the diagnosis, trace the source of infection, detect other unreported cases, and determine exposed susceptible contacts.” The primary goal of this universal vaccination and public health program was to establish a high level of population immunization.

If such immunization programs are carried out promptly and effectively, an epidemic of measles can be contained within two to three weeks. The continuation of an epidemic longer than three weeks is a clear indication of the inadequacy of the planned program.

It warrants observing that these assessments and prognoses were provided over 50 years ago, although federal funding issues impeded the initiation of a broad measles program in Pindostan once a vaccine was available. Measles is six times more contagious than SARS-CoV-2. Minus a vaccine for broad-based public immunization against the coronavirus, fundamental public health measures, contact tracing, testing, tracking, isolation and treating, remain the cornerstone of curbing the ravages of the pandemic. Given the present technology and medical advances, a collaborative effort to find a vaccine or therapeutic is of primary concern. Such initiatives must quickly be scaled and delivered on a global basis according to guidelines established by medical experts and epidemiologists. Calls for a policy of herd immunity come from the most reactionary voices within the financial oligarchy who use the media to provide social or scientific credibility for their deadly agenda. The implications for Pindostan are that 1.4m more people will have to die, 3m to 5m more people will be hospitalized, and many more convalescing at home needing care from their family before the population as a whole could expect the virus’ s growth to become naturally subdued. Public health measures have already proven much more effective and manageable in many countries, calling into serious question the unhinged policies being promoted. The doctrine of herd immunity is an explicit policy for a socioeconomic pogrom.

COVID-19 fatalities in Europe’s care homes far higher than official counts
Stephen Alexander, WSWS, Jun 1 2020

Albina Minelli, 92, at the nursing home in Alzano Lombardo, Italy.
(Photo: Luca Bruno/AP)

Across Europe and internationally, the deaths and suffering wrought by government and corporate criminality in the face of the coronavirus pandemic has fallen most heavily on the elderly, sick and disabled. Just as the belated and partial lockdown measures have begun to stem the tide of fatalities in care homes, the ruling elite in Europe is forging ahead with a recklessly premature easing of lockdown restrictions in line with the demands of big business. This takes place under conditions where none of the major causes of transmission in care homes have been resolved: inadequate personal protective equipment for health and social care workers, no systematic testing regime, and profoundly under-resourced care services, leaving millions of residents and workers dangerously exposed to an ongoing wave of the pandemic and making a much larger second wave inevitable. The WHO estimates that up to 50% of all COVID-19 deaths to date have occurred among care home residents in Europe. As of Jun 30, cases in Europe rose above 2m (2,004,226) and 173,280 deaths have been reported by authorities across the EU and the European Economic Area, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. This means that at least 80k care home residents have now died of the virus. Hundreds of care workers have also died and tens of thousands have been infected. Care home deaths are highest in countries where the virus has been allowed to run rampant through the population, with capitalist governments mirroring the fascist pseudo-scientific strategy of “herd immunity” first espoused by the British Conservative government. Across Europe and internationally, corporate profits have been prioritised over the lives and health of the working class. Broad swathes of industry have been allowed to operate with only cosmetic safety measures in place, and mass public events, including sports fixtures and conferences, continued well into March.

The proportion of overall COVID-19 deaths involving care home residents ranges between 24% in Hungary to 82% in Canada, according to figures compiled by the International Long Term Care Policy Network at the LSE. In absolute terms, however, the worst care home fatalities have occurred in some of the wealthiest countries in Europe as well as Pindostan, the world’s deadliest pandemic hotspot, where care residents comprise 42% of nearly 100k COVID-19 fatalities. Spain currently has the highest number of care deaths in Europe, at 16,678, approximately one-third of probable COVID-19 deaths across the country, according to the ILTCP. France’s count is close behind with 14,363 deaths as of May 18, 51% of the pandemic death toll. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics recorded 12,526 death among care home residents in England and Wales as of May 1, amounting to 38% of all coronavirus fatalities. The overall UK figure is much higher, with 1,623 COVID-19 deaths in Scottish care homes as of May 17, 46% of the total. Several other states have recorded thousands of deaths among care home residents, including Belgium, where 4,646 residents have died (51% of the official COVID-19 death toll), Sweden, where 1,661 residents have died (48.9%), and Germany, where 3,029 deaths (37%) have occurred in residential care, homeless centres, refugee detention facilities and prisons. Residential care also accounts for a high proportion of COVID-19 fatalities in Ireland, comprising 62% of more than 1,500 COVID-19 fatalities; Norway (58% of 233 deaths); Portugal (40% of 1,125 deaths); and Austria (41% of 510 deaths). The true scale of the COVID-19 deaths and infections in social care is yet to emerge, as many countries do not have systems in place either to track or control the contagion. A recent report by the ECDPC explained:

Under-ascertainment and under-reporting of COVID-19 cases in Long Term Care Facilities has been a common feature of the COVID-19 surveillance in Europe. The majority of European countries did not have surveillance systems for LTCFs in place before the current pandemic, systems able to systematically and consistently monitor respiratory diseases and provide timely reporting at local or national level to inform interventions.

The true death toll will perhaps never be counted, as thousands of care residents have been buried or cremated without first being tested for the disease. Post-mortem testing is virtually non-existent and unsystematic in the countries where it is practiced. In Germany, where the federal government has been lauded by the corporate media for its handling of the pandemic, comprehensive testing is still not provided for care home residents or staff. The Robert Koch Institute, the country’s leading authority on infectious diseases, has stated that official figures are incomplete and “should be considered minimum values.” In Italy, which has had some of the worst single cases of mass care home deaths, there are no official statistics for infections or deaths in residential care. 190 of 1,000 residents at one large care home near Milan died of the virus. Up-to-date figures on excess mortality, which are currently only available in the UK, demonstrate that the impact of the pandemic in social care is far more acute than indicated by official statistics. In England and Wales, there were 25,591 excess deaths in care homes between Apr 10 and May 15, more than double the official figure, compared to a five-year average, amounting to 52% of all excess deaths during the pandemic.

Excess deaths beyond those already linked to coronavirus are thought to comprise undiagnosed COVID-19 fatalities and secondary victims, who have died due to neglect as already woefully underfunded services were overwhelmed and those in need of care were told to stay away. Horrific reports have emerged from the worst affected states of elderly people dying horrendously, isolated from their families, without adequate palliative treatment or even basic daily care. The virus was transmitted rapidly in care partly due to the widespread, genocidal policy of discharging patients from hospitals into care homes without first testing them for the virus, while criminally rationing hospital treatment for coronavirus at the expense of the elderly and disabled. Last week it emerged that the Johnson government refused to sanction a plan by Public Health England to lock down care homes, which would have prevented many deaths. The 11-point plan which PHE considered would be “high impact” in tackling the spread of the virus was sent to Downing Street on Apr 28 but rejected. PHE called for a “a further lockdown of care homes” and included proposals that staff move in to care homes for four weeks. It requested the government “use NHS facilities and other temporary accommodation to quarantine and isolate residents.” At the time the government was opening temporary large-scale Nightingale hospitals at which many care home residents could have received urgent treatment. The ILCPT report calculated:

The proportion of care home residents to die of COVID-19 ranges from 0% in HK, 0.3% in Austria, 0.4% in Germany and 0.9% in Canada, to 2% in Sweden, 2.4% in France and 3.7% in Belgium. In the UK, if only deaths in care homes registered as linked to COVID-19, the figure would be 2.8, whereas if excess deaths of care home residents is used, it would be 6.7%.

The fact that these deaths were entirely preventable through the basic public health measures insisted upon by the WHO since January, including regular testing, proactive contact tracing and quarantine protocols, is proven by the handful of countries where they were instituted. HK has had no COVID-19 deaths among care home residents, despite being one of the most densely populated and internationally connected areas of the planet, situated in close proximity to the first epicentre of the pandemic in mainland China.

As full operations resume, North American auto companies keep silent on spreading COVID-19 cases
Shannon Jones, WSWS, Jun 1 2020

Thousands more autoworkers across North America are being called back to work this week despite a rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in factories. On Monday, General Motors resumed three shift operations at its Wentzville, Missouri; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Flint, Michigan, assembly plants and added second shifts in Ingersoll, Ontario, and Spring Hill, Tennessee. Several other GM plants are reopening with one shift. Fiat Chrysler is expanding production to three shifts this week at a number of plants including at Sterling Heights, Michigan, and at Jefferson North in Detroit. It is also reopening its Belvidere, Illinois, factory. Ford is restarting its Dearborn Assembly plant Monday after it had to temporarily close Thursday evening when it ran out of seats for the F-150 truck. The Ford Kansas City plant was also forced to close last week after a worker tested positive and other undisclosed reasons, but was set to restart Monday.

Nearly every major auto company operating in North America has now reported COVID-19 cases among their workforce. Workers on the A Crew at the Ford Dearborn Truck plant forced a temporary halt to production May 20 after it was discovered that a worker on their shift had tested positive for COVID-19. There were also brief production stoppages at Ford Chicago Assembly. Fiat Chrysler and General Motors have acknowledged that there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases at their factories, but they have not halted production even for cleaning. Neither company has reported how many workers were taken ill or at what factories. The UAW said that Ford and GM had at least six cases and that Fiat Chrysler had five. Meanwhile, both Toyota and Honda said they had unspecified numbers of COVID-19 cases at their plants and that they had carried out brief pauses in production for cleaning. At latest count at least 25 workers employed by the Detroit Three have died from the disease, along with one Hyundai worker in Montgomery, Mississippi. An undisclosed number of auto parts workers have also died. Workers contacted by the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter denounced the auto companies and the UAW for enforcing an early return to work under conditions where the COVID-19 pandemic is still spreading. A worker at Sterling Heights Assembly told the Autoworker Newsletter:

A lot of workers feel Chrysler is putting our lives in danger. We don’t know if our co-worker may have the virus. The six-feet rule is impossible in an assembly plant. It takes two people to do certain jobs.

At Jefferson North, at least four workers became ill while working on the assembly line Thursday evening. Production was not halted, and the UAW and management have refused to supply workers with any explanation of what happened or if the affected workers were tested for COVID-19. Temporary Part Time (TPT) workers are being forced to work 60-hour work weeks to make up for absenteeism. Also, protocols to shut the line 15 minutes before the end of the shift for cleaning are largely being ignored, and the extra time added to breaks, supposedly to clean, is being used by exhausted workers to rest and try to catch their breaths because of difficulties of working in a hot area with a mask. The information blackout by the UAW and auto company management makes it ever more imperative for workers to organize independently to protect their health and safety through the building of rank-and-file workplace and factory safety committees. These committees should be democratically controlled by workers and monitor all conditions in the plants including full testing, social distancing, expanded break times and slower line speeds. In opposition to the increase in production and speed-up, which will inevitably lead to the subordination of safety to profit, rank-and-file safety committees must assert their control over production and safety. A worker at the FCA Windsor Assembly plant in Ontario said:

Workers are being starved back to work. I believe this is the beginning of the end for freedom in every aspect of the word ‘freedom.’ I am not shocked whatsoever, just very disappointed. My heart goes out to every single person working on the assembly line having to deal with less than standard safety measures. We have gone backwards a millennium. Everything our grandfathers fought for is all but lost.

A major factor driving the premature reopening of auto plants is financial pressures from banks and investors. Auto sales in April were down 46% from one year ago. Some forecasts see a year-over-year decline of 30%. Cox Automotive predicted that sales of pickup trucks would be down 18% in May. Auto companies are heavily leveraged and must service an increasing debt load. On Apr 17, Ford sold $8b in high-yield “junk” bonds, below what Wall Street considers investment grade. GM also recently sold $4b in high-yield bonds in an attempt to shore up its increasingly shaky financial position. They are thus seeking to squeeze every ounce of profit and production possible off the backs of workers to pay off these debts. A worker at the FCA transmission plant outside Kokomo, Indiana, denounced the demand by management that workers pay back Supplemental Unemployment Benefits (SUB) they received during the shutdown, writing:

Taking away our SUB pay is an injustice, because FCA is asking for the money back before they even gave it to us. Some had it taken in a lump sum, and others are having it taken back $100 per check. I had to pay back $480. We need that money because we are struggling to pay our bills since we went back to eight-hour shifts. When it came to applying for unemployment many people did not know what to do because they had never done it before. The UAW was not any help, because the union website was unclear on what we needed to do to get unemployment. I don’t want to give this to my family members. There was an engineer who had died of COVID-19 and another worker who was diagnosed with it. What was this all for? Their numbers. They thought nothing through. They’re going to have to shut it down all over again.

My point is, forcing extra contact by excessive overtime, exposing at risk employees to toxins, not having replenished cleaning supplies, managers not being exposed to extra hours or even being present. General Motor’s mandates are self-serving. They are willing to trade lives for auto parts. Every time we start and end a shift we wait in line, pre-screen, then get the infrared temperature check. And in the line, you can’t social-distance. Then we need to go through three doors just to get inside of the plant. First of all, there is not enough hand sanitizer or gloves in the plant. There is one hand sanitizer set up at the beginning of the line, and one sink, and it’s hard to find soap. We have disinfectant cleaner, but not enough paper towels, so I had to buy some of my own, but we can’t be expected to keep doing that.

There is no way to do social-distancing at all. One shift goes in as another comes out, so there are always thousands of people in the plant. It is causing the parking lots to be overcrowded, which is dangerous because since we’ve opened there have been multiple times people have nearly gotten into accidents. We now get one ten-minute break each hour with only fifteen minutes for lunch, and just walking to the bathroom to wash your hands takes five minutes. Managers are handing out cheap masks with their bare hands. The masks rip easily and the elastic hurts our ears, so we need to buy or make the ear loops that attach them to your glasses or hat. It’s hard to breathe with them on. We’ve been getting light-headed and have phlegm building up in the back of our throats.

A worker at the GM foundry in Bedford, Indiana, wrote to the Autoworker Newsletter, describing the lack of serious safety precautions and unhealthy conditions in the plant since it reopened for production in mid-May. He wrote:

They have stated and written the importance of distancing and minimizing contact. However, they have mandated and forced employees to work excessive hours including weekends. They have exhausted and not replenished the cleaning supplies for the work areas. Much of the staff and leadership are either not present or working from home. Most of the affected employees are aged 50 plus.

Workers sickened after Amazon sprays industrial strength chemicals to disinfect warehouse
Samuel Davidson, WSWS, Jun 1 2020

At least three Amazon workers in Ohio fell sick after management sprayed industrial strength chemicals to disinfect a warehouse while workers were still inside, according to information provided to the International Amazon Workers’ Voice (IAWV, a newsletter created by the SEP – RB). Amazon workers from the Cincinnati area told the IAWV that company boxtops first tried to conceal the fact that four workers at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19. Once word began to spread among workers that there were confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the warehouse, management decided to have the warehouse “decontaminated.” According to workers, this meant spraying industrial-strength disinfecting chemicals in the workplace while workers continued to work. An Ohio worker with first-hand knowledge was interviewed by the IAWV. Amazon has fired numerous workers who have spoken out about safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, so this worker asked to remain anonymous. He said:

The HR team has neglected to notify employees that there were four cases of positive COVID-19 until time had passed and the word was getting out. At the beginning of May, there was a text sent to employees stating a coworker had tested positive in April and the HR team was taking precautions. The management had a company come in to spray industrial strength sanitizer during work hours without closing the facility down for the recommended two hours. Two employees had to leave because they came in contact with the chemical resulting in hives, rash, itchy skin. One employee became nauseous and had to leave. The company who sprayed had their employee in hazmat gear including respirators. Not once did it dawn on the management that the employees should not be in contact with the chemical or breathe it in. Since that incident, management has required the company to spray at 4:30 am while employees wait to start, sitting in the break room (6ft apart) for 30 minutes. The company hired to do the disinfecting recommends that no employees work in the area for two hours, and then only with proper ventilation. Amazon has still not acknowledged the recommendations of the company spraying the facility.

The Amazon worker was not able to identify what specific chemical was used at the facility, but recommendations associated with several major chemicals that used as airborne disinfectants are for the area to be sealed for two hours followed by another two hours of ventilation. The CDC, the federal agency responsible for promulgating guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, recommends that anyone who comes in contact with someone who has been infected with COVID-19 needs to self quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of the disease. If this guideline had been followed, Amazon would have placed the entire shift on a 14-day leave. In addition, the CDC recommends that areas where an infected person worked should be ventilated for 24 hours before cleaning begins. The Ohio worker said:

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Amazon seems to think they are above the law and do not have to follow the stay-at-home order or the temp checks as requested by our governor Mike Dewine. I have not returned to work yet and I’m not sure I’m going to. From what I know, my Amazon facility started temp checks, and is requiring face masks at the start of every shift.

Throughout the pandemic, Amazon has continued to rake in billions in profits. While many businesses are going bankrupt, Amazon’s wealth has increased dramatically. While seeing an initial fall in the value of its stock at the beginning of the pandemic in Pindostan, the company stock has fully recovered and continued to grow. In January, the company stock stood at a little less than $1.9k per share, and in February, the stock rose to a high of $2.17k before falling to less than $1.7k per share in March. Since mid-March Amazon stock has climbed to over $2.4k per share, a rise of greater than 25% since the beginning of the year. Amazon oligarch Jeff Bezos saw his personal wealth has increase by more than $34b. Amazon has plenty of money. When management refuses to slow down the pace of work to address a safety issue, it is a deliberate decision to place corporate profit ahead of workers’ lives. The Ohio worker said:

It’s not right that Bezos is making tons of money while us employees had nothing to fall back on. A coworker emailed Jeff Bezos and asked him these exact questions. They got a shit response from one of his senior management. Amazon’s commercials are lies. What they say about how good we are treated are lies. Especially the facility I work in. If you are a Tier 1 employee in an orange vest, you are considered unworthy of honest communication. I am very concerned about the treatment of workers who have to take time off because their children are now home from school. I have two children in school, including one in elementary school. Amazon is penalizing employees for taking off due to the schools being closed. Amazon doesn’t care about employees who had to take time off for school closures. We had to take unpaid time off in order to home-school our kids. Amazon has some benefits that are attractive, particularly to students. I’ve enjoyed my job and meeting my co-workers, but the mental anguish that we suffer is uncalled for and unacceptable.

The SEP and the IAWV are working to assist Amazon workers around the world with the formation of rank-and-file safety committees, which will enforce the necessary self-defense measures to protect workers’ lives from management indifference during the pandemic. We encourage all Amazon workers to read the recent statement posted on the WSWS, sign up for the IAWV newsletter, and contact us to get involved today.

Pindo telecoms see opportunity to cut jobs, boost profits in pandemic
Mark Witkowski, WSWS, Jun 1 2020

After an initial confused response to the COVID-19 crisis, the two largest telecom providers in the US directed much of their workforce to work from home (WFH) rather than report to a central location. By mid-March, Verizon had some 115k out of a workforce of 135k working from home. AT&T reported similar figures. Both firms already had a number of contract and full-time employees working from home. Under state-mandated social distancing rules relating to the pandemic, the number ordered to work from home increased to unprecedented levels and expanded to include job titles previously excluded from WFH policies. The giant telecoms no doubt see an opportunity to use the pandemic as a means to cut cost, eliminate jobs and restructure the workplace, shifting many costs onto the shoulders of employees. Neil Anderson of World Wide Technology speaking to Fierce Telecom noted:

We don’t expect that there’s going to be a return of 100% going back to central working locations and office locations. It depends on the industry. You can’t be a surgeon & work from home. But for knowledge working at carpeted office spaces, we think that there’s actually going to be a significant reduction somewhere on the order of 30% to 40% of the employees continuing to work from home. Some of that may be out of a company led initiative where they say ‘Hey, this worked pretty well. Let’s take advantage of that and save some money on real estate costs.’

A policy shifting employees to WFH status opens up the possibility of more rapidly shifting work to where labor costs are lowest. This is something they are no strangers to. For decades, the telecoms have moved jobs around the globe, seeking the most exploited workers. Even within the Pindostan, salaries vary greatly between high cost cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston and other comparatively low-cost areas outside major metropolitan centers. WFH allows the telecoms to isolate workers, undermining their ability to connect in order to exercise their collective strength. Further, it allows the possibility that companies can close entire buildings and layoff support personal. These include watch engineers, cleaning staff, security, fire safety, clerical staff, and others. In addition, real estate tax, heating, air conditioning and electrical cost are all reduced or eliminated through WFH, with the cost shifted to employees. Then there is the question of liability. Workers injured in a company location are entitled to workers compensation, with workers working at home full-time it calls into question existing compensation laws. The courts in this regard tend to rule on behalf of business owners.

Verizon has long been in the real estate business. In recent years it as has sold off many of its properties in the Northeastern US to be converted to ultra-high rent luxury condominiums particularly in NYC, where Verizon has tried to get out from under its franchise agreement to make its FiOS service available to more city residents, and has directed its field technicians not to enter customer premises for obvious safety reasons. Technicians are instructed to walk customers through repairs over the phone. Due dates for new installs have been pushed out until November. No doubt Verizon is auditing the numbers in an effort eliminate even more technician jobs, adding to those it has been cutting for decades. For its part, the Communications Workers of Pindostan (CWA) union has been quick to sign off on this. While the union and its pseudo-left accomplices hailed bonus pay and other short-term benefits to workers as a win, the union itself did little if anything to secure these. The company recognized the tremendous anger in the work force and understood that the union might be unable to prevent workers from walking off the job en masse faced with unsafe conditions. To avoid this the company offered the bonus and some other minor temporary concessions to workers.

Field managers in Verizon’s wireline division were directed to work from home. Field employees who cannot work from home were directed to “home garage,” meaning they would bring company vehicles and tools home and report directly to their work assignment in the field without first meeting at a garage or central office. One field technician in New York who spoke on the condition of anonymity reported that a number of technicians in one group were exposed to the virus by a local manager who ignored the work at home rules and dropped in on them at work to discuss their metrics, in other words enforce productivity requirements. Verizon had previously invested heavily in GPS and other technology providing tracking measures allowing managers to closely monitor location and key productivity metrics for these workers in order to extract more productivity from the workforce. This intense monitoring has also had the effect of creating a highly stressful work environment for front-line workers. The same is true for call center employees and other inside workers who were directed to work from home. Intense and pervasive monitoring used to extract productivity from workers often takes a psychological toll as well. Calls are recorded, as is every keystroke entry onto a computer. In fact, everything these workers access and the speed at which they do it is monitored and recorded in the interest of extracting more labor from them.

Verizon and ATT have in the past had experience with management employees who work in office environments such as engineering, IT, billing systems and human resources who work from home during work stoppages by unionized employees. This enabled them to conduct business without having to send non-striking workers across picket lines. Cynically, management touts WFH as a perk for employees. While it may in fact save the employee on commuting cost and childcare, the ultimate aim is to save money for the company. Many of the management workers on WFH are on call 24 hours a day and expected to conduct business with little notice at all hours. Verizon and ATT are among the biggest sources of dividend payments to Wall Street, which is driving companies to extract greater profits from workers in order to shovel more money to the financial oligarchy. The interests of both workers and the broader public require that the telecom industry be taken out of the hands of investors and private equity firms and operated to meet social need rather than the demands of the financial oligarchy. This requires the development of an independent, socialist, political movement of the working in opposition to the Democrats and Republicans, the parties of the banks and big business.

Pindo universities and colleges appeal for legal immunity from coronavirus lawsuits as campuses plan to reopen in fall
Anthony del Olmo, WSWS, Jun 1 2020

In a letter to Congress, the Pindo Council on Education, a policy group for universities and colleges in Pindostan, pleaded on Thursday for legal liability protections ahead of potential lawsuits brought by students, faculty and staff as campuses plan to reopen in the fall in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The letter was co-signed by 70 other higher education associations. The move comes as over a dozen campuses currently face class action lawsuits from students demanding a partial reimbursement in tuition costs as schools moved instruction online due to campus closures in response to the pandemic. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has had a major financial impact on higher education institutions. Some schools estimate losses in the millions for the portion of the spring semester under lockdown, with predicted losses of up to $1b this coming year. According to Inside Higher Ed, schools anticipate at least a 15% drop in enrollment nationwide for the 2020–21 school year, amounting to a $23b revenue loss.

Likewise, state funding for education has been slashed substantially in several states as tax revenues have fallen as a result of mass unemployment, decreased consumer spending and a lack of federal aid during the pandemic. The largest budget shortfalls have been reported in California and New York, where cuts in education have been reported at $18b and $15b, respectively. Universities and colleges depend on state funds for a portion of their revenue, but have become increasingly reliant on revenue streams coming from student enrollment in tuition costs, residence fees, sports revenue and dining. As a result of years of budget cuts in education, the business model of the university requires the in-person attendance of students, faculty and staff. Over the past several weeks, a large number of higher education institutions have declared that in-person instruction, residency and dining will be opened in the fall with varying social distancing measures. In making these plans, administrators are juggling between fully in-person instruction, fully online instruction or, in most cases, a hybrid of the two for the upcoming fall sessions.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently outlined a number of measures being planned by schools for in-person instruction in the fall, ostensibly meant to ensure social distancing protocols at campuses. Plans for instruction vary but revolve around measures such as the mandatory use of masks on campus and a 6ft distance from other students and faculty. Cartoon images in The Chronicle article illustrate the measures, for example showing students spaced out in classrooms and one-way entrances and exits to buildings. Other measures include a reduction in class sizes and a reorganization of class schedules to accommodate for longer times between classes and deep cleaning of classrooms. Likewise, universities are reconsidering the number of students living in dormitories and eating in dining halls at the same time. For example, these include reducing three-person rooms to two-person rooms and designating some housing to quarantine any students infected with COVID-19. While it may be the case in certain instances that such measures are being proposed by well-meaning individuals, the plans are wildly inadequate and will do little to nothing to stop a major outbreak of the virus on their own. University and college campuses have thousands to tens of thousands of people passing through their grounds per day, including students, faculty and staff, visitors, guest speakers, and parents and family. These individuals come from both local areas and far-flung states and countries.

There is no doubt that if campuses open up under the current conditions, they will become new hotspots for the disease. This phenomenon is already occurring in meat packaging, auto and other industries, which are forcing workers to return to their jobs despite the unsafe conditions. In fact, without a national plan for testing and contact tracing now there will most likely be a deadly second wave of the pandemic in the fall and winter. Adequate testing and contact tracing require funds that neither the Trump administration nor any state government has provided. The vast majority of schools have no plans to divert more funds into the infrastructure necessary for a safe return to campus. The school plans for reopening also expose a host of issues concerning the deteriorating quality of higher education, including larger class sizes and the firing of tenured faculty who are replaced with lower paid adjunct lecturers. The reduction of class sizes to ensure social distancing measures raises the necessity for more classrooms and faculty in order to provide the same quality of education. Likewise, the deep cleaning required to keep classrooms and study spaces virus-free would also require additional cleaning staff be hired.

Although no schools have announced tuition raises so far, increases are inevitable, not only to meet the new needs posed by campus-wide physical distancing measures but also in light of the cuts in state spending and an absence of federal assistance. Students, who are grappling with the health and financial consequences of returning to school, may opt to forego attendance altogether for the upcoming school year. Schools are already anticipating a significant 15% reduction in enrollment, which is bound up with the continuation of high tuition costs for what amounts to an online degree as well as the dangers of living and studying on a campus with thousands of others in the midst of the pandemic. Student debt in Pindostan stands at over $1.5t, primarily due to rising costs of tuition, residency, books and more, which have raised the cost of a university degree to unaffordable levels for the vast majority of students. State budgets for education were cut across the board in 2008 following the financial crash and have never been raised back to previous levels. The costs for students to obtain a higher education will only continue to increase so long as schools are starved of resources and carved up by private interests. The decline of the education system and the failure of the state and federal governments to prepare and effectively deal with the pandemic without causing mass infection and death lie solely with the incapability of the capitalist system to meet the health and social needs of the population. For public education and higher education to survive requires the mobilization of society’s resources to meet human needs, not private profit.

Major League Baseball plans to open season in midst of pandemic
Alan Gilman, WSWS, Jun 1 2020

On Mar 12, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball (MLB) suspended spring training and postponed the start of the 2020 regular season. Initially, the opening of the season was to be delayed for just two weeks, but this was pushed back in response to updated recommendations issued by the CDC, which urged restrictions on events of more than 50 people for eight weeks. On Mar 27, MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association finalized an agreement that established a potential framework for the 2020 season. Players would receive pro-rated salaries for the number of games played. Players and owners were willing to stretch the postseason well into November in order to maximize the number of games played. In the ensuing weeks, various scenarios were proposed as to when and where to start the season. In early May, based on the expectation that the COVID-19 spread would be contained, MLB announced an 82-game season that would begin by the first week of July, with spring training resuming by Jun 10. Teams believe most pitchers need about four weeks to get ready, and position players need about three. MLB’s plan, which calls for “frequent” but not daily testing, quarantines only individuals who test positive and contravenes federal guidelines that advise individuals who come in contact with a confirmed infection to quarantine for at least two weeks. The Harvard Global Health Institute recommends states conduct at least 152 tests per day for every 100k people. But only four out of the 17 states with MLB teams currently meet that standard. How MLB avoids competing for desperately needed resources has gone unanswered.

With MLB losing roughly $75m a day, according to estimates by Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University in St Louis, officials are contemplating a half-season plus expanded playoffs, well over 1.2k games across the nation. Baseball contends it can counteract the virus by disinfecting baseballs, deep-cleaning clubhouses, and at least initially banning paying customers from the ballpark. MLB will need help from state and local health officials to address ongoing concerns in most major league cities. In recent weeks, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has lobbied governors and other officials in many of the places baseball is played. Manfred’s attempts to win over governors underscores the power they have over MLB’s plans. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican who played college baseball at Yale, has been at the forefront of Wall Street’s reopening campaign. On May 13, DeSantis announced at a news conference:

All professional sports are welcome here for practicing and for playing. What I would tell commissioners of leagues is, if you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida.

Manfred also has a close relationship with President Trump. He golfed with the president in October during the World Series, and visited him at Trump Tower before the 2017 inauguration. The president of the New York Yankees, Randy Levine, is a former deputy mayor of NYC under Rudy Giuliani, and was considered a candidate to be Trump’s chief of staff. Giuliani’s son Andrew is now the official White House sports liaison and a frequent Trump golf partner. Currently, many Major League cities still restrict gatherings to a limited number of people. In LA, a hotspot of COVID-19 and the home of the Dodgers, Mayor Eric Garcetti said restrictions will remain in place for three more months. But Demagog governors Gavin Newsom of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, signaled their support in May for pro sports to return soon in those states. Most recognize that MLB’s attempt to play baseball this summer is a high-risk venture threatening the health of many people, even if it is played before no fans. Pitcher Brent Suter, the Milwaukee Brewers’ player representative, said:

If we get the plan going and everyone does what it takes to get this to work, and then it just infects the system, it might induce a panic throughout the country. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, they couldn’t even do it with all of these precautions.’ That’s a fear of mine, for sure.

Baseball played through the 1918 outbreak of the Spanish flu, which killed roughly 675k Pindos and 50m people worldwide. Babe Ruth fell ill in the spring of 1918 with what likely was the same strain of the flu, and another Hall of Famer, White Sox pitcher Red Faber, missed the 1919 World Series because of lasting effects of the illness. One player, outfielder Larry Chappell, died, along with several prominent sportswriters, umpires and others surrounding the sport. Andy Dolich, a Bay Area consultant who has worked as a senior executive for teams in every major sport, including the Oakland A’s, said:

What’s at stake here is a human life. That might sound overdramatic, but it doesn’t sound overdramatic to me. All the people involved, that’s a person, with a name, who has a family.

Many players, despite their economic concerns over not playing, have expressed fears that playing will put their health and that of their families at risk.
LA Angels second baseman Tommy La Stella said:

I want to make sure baseball is smart about it and not pushing to get back on the field to make money at the expense of our safety. It’s not the corporate heads who are in compromised positions. It’s going to be the producers.

The Angels’ Mike Trout, the highest-paid player in baseball, is expecting his first child with his wife, Jessica, in early August. He told ESPN:

My wife is my biggest concern. With the season and stuff, we’ll just play it by ear. Obviously, you don’t know what it entails yet, but we’ll go down that road when that happens. But it’s a scary, scary time for my wife. I don’t see us playing without testing every day.

Professional athletes, because of their youth and conditioning, are generally at low risk of dying from the virus, but “are the demographic most likely to be asymptomatic” carriers, said Will Humble, the former health director for the state of Arizona. Many others who will be in close contact with players are in the high-risk category, including eight umpires and seven managers who are over 60. Moreover, there are players with serious pre-existing medical conditions. Carl Carrasco of the Cleveland Indians was diagnosed with leukemia last year. At least three players have Type 1 diabetes, and others have heart issues. Beyond their families, teammates, managers and other baseball personnel, players also will be exposed to a broad range of people from hotel staff to security personnel, and from bus drivers to flight attendants. MLB’s plan does not say anything about testing for these workers. Financial issues between the owners and the players have again arisen to further complicate any proposed opening. Last week, MLB dropped the 50-50 revenue sharing split concept and proposed a sliding salary scale, in which the highest paid players would take the largest pay cuts and the lowest paid players would be made close to whole. The players’ union had rejected this demand. It has accused the owners of attempting to divide the players and claims that the pay proposal is a union-busting attempt. Scott Boras, baseball’s best known agent, who represents 71 players, said:

Remember, games cannot be played without you. Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept, or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated.

As baseball attempts to finalize its reopening plan, the monetary interests of the owners continue to supersede the health and welfare of the players, their families and their communities.

Thousands of Canadian medical workers infected with COVID-19 due to lack of PPE
Omar Ali, WSWS, Jun 1 2020

The neglect of health-care in Canada by a ruling elite that is indifferent to the lives of working people can be seen most acutely during the present pandemic in the failure to provide even front-line medical staff with adequate personal protective equipment. This has resulted in mass infections among health-care professionals, with more than 4k just in Ontario testing positive for COVID-19. Total numbers of deaths among medical workers are hard to come by, but at least five personal care workers have died in Ontario alone. In British Columbia, a coronavirus outbreak has erupted among nurses in a hospital intensive care unit. According to BC Nurses’ Union President Christine Sorensen, four nurses working at a hospital in the Fraser Valley city of Abbotsford that has been dedicated to treating coronavirus patients have tested positive for COVID-19. The union has said it previously complained about unsafe working conditions at the Abbotsford facility, including overcrowding. Nurses posted there have complained about a scarcity of PPE that has forced them to ration supplies. Nurses report having to go an entire shift without switching equipment. Conditions are similar in other parts of the province and indeed across the country. The BC union says it has received more than 2k complaints from its members. Nurses have reported shortages in all the basic equipment they need to safely attend to their duties, including gloves, gowns, respiratory masks and face shields. Sorensen complained bitterly that hospitals lack the plexiglass barriers that are now widely available at the larger supermarket chains. Nurses are being instructed to leave masks somewhere safe when they leave for break so that they can reuse them upon their return. The response of the New Demagog Party provincial government’s ministry of health to the outbreak and dearth of PPE was to simply reiterate its claim of being committed to the safety of front-line health-care workers.

In Ontario, the latest update from the Ontario Health Coalition reported that infections among medical staff and patients of health care institutions doubled from 3,783 to 7,894 between Apr 21 and May 5. As of May 5, 16.1% of all COVID-19 infections in Ontario were among health-care workers. Long-term care facilities have been hit especially hard by the virus, with more than 250 out of Ontario’s 626 elder care homes suffering a COVID-19 outbreak. As documented in graphic detail by a report from the Canadian military, which has had to deploy staff at five for-profit Ontario care homes ravaged by the coronavirus, many outbreaks were the result of inadequate supplies of PPE and the inappropriate use of medical equipment. Similarly dangerous conditions exist for doctors. While polls of physicians indicate an improvement in their situation, there remains a concern particularly among community-based physicians about the supply of PPE. Health-care workers have been forced to organize donation drives and rely on private stockpiles donated by companies. Canadian Medical Association President Dr Sandy Buchman criticized the situation doctors and health-care workers have been put in, saying:

If we had planned properly and monitored these provincial and federal supplies of the equipment, we wouldn’t be scrambling.

The reason why authorities are “scrambling” is because the federal government failed miserably to prepare for the pandemic. Although it was known by mid-January that the virus was highly contagious and could spread rapidly around the world, the Trudeau Liberal government waited until Mar 10 to write to the provinces to determine their supplies of PPE and other critical medical equipment. The government, with the support of all opposition parties and the trade unions, spent much more time crafting a multi-billion dollar bailout for the big banks and corporations, which was designed above all to prop up the stock market and guarantee the wealth of the super-rich. Workers and the health system have been left with rations.

The lack of adequate PPE supplies has led the federal and provincial governments to improvise by allowing the usage of expired and substandard materials. Ottawa revised their standards for masks in March allowing for more porous masks to be used during the pandemic, going against recommendations by the WHO. The blame for the lack of this critical equipment lies squarely with the Canadian ruling class, which has callously pruned and slashed health care spending for decades, leaving the country highly vulnerable to a pandemic that was both foreseeable and long predicted. After failing to replenish its stockpile, the federal government sent 2 million expired masks to a landfill last year. Sally Thornton, a vice president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the agency responsible for the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile, claimed that the stockpile is “doing well” even as she argued that provinces and territories are responsible for their own supplies and Ottawa serves only to assist in providing surge capacity. Tacitly acknowledging the government’s failure to prepare adequately, Patty Hajdu, the federal health minister, admitted that the government does not have enough PPE for the duration of the crisis. Health Canada has ordered 1.8b units of PPE mostly from China, which supplies much of the world PPE stock. However, Chinese suppliers are taking orders from around the world as demand has skyrocketed. The consequence has been a mad dash to secure dwindling supplies and Canadian government-chartered aircraft returning from China empty after being outbid. Some companies have taken advantage of the situation to sell counterfeit, substandard N95 masks at exorbitant prices.

The response of the corporate media and the government has been to stoke anti-Chinese sentiment to deflect criticism away from those responsible. Global News ran an article accusing China of suppressing information on the virus in January in order to secure for itself the global supply of PPE without triggering a bidding war. It went further, to claim that China used its connections in the diaspora to secure this equipment. The reliably reactionary head of the opposition federal Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, has been criticizing the government for not being sufficiently hostile to Beijing. One Toronto nurse speaking with the WSWS explained that PPE was crucial for health-care workers, especially as there is a shortage of nursing staff and keeping them virus-free is essential to keeping them on the job. Personal protective equipment inside the hospital is used at all times even during meetings between coworkers. She pointed out that some nurses are already tempted to work while infected, eager not to leave potential overtime earnings on the table when their incomes have been depressed in recent years. The anger among health-care workers over the lack of PPE has led to the eruption of protests. In Quebec, the main nurses’ union, FIQ, felt compelled to call demonstrations in Montreal to protest the failure of the right-wing Coalition Avenir Quebec to supply PPE. The protests were also motivated by a brutal regime of forced overtime, routine staff shortages, and the government’s cancellation of all vacations. Quebec Premier François Legault responded arrogantly, declaring that “this is not the time” for protest.

FIQ, like its union counterparts across the country, is itself deeply complicit in the catastrophic conditions that have been imposed on health-care workers in recent decades through austerity budgets and round after round of contract concessions. Nurses and other health-care professionals can only secure access to adequate PPE and other basic necessities to ensure a safe working environment by forming rank-and-file safety committees in opposition to the political establishment and its trade union backers. Their fate is only one of the most extreme expressions of the contempt shown towards workers’ lives by the capitalist class. Sections of workers from every part of the economy, from meat packers to grocery store workers and autoworkers, are being forced to labour under unsafe conditions with inadequate protective gear. Medical professionals must unify their struggles with these workers and the entire working class in opposition to the subordination of working people’s health and lives to capitalist profit; that is, in the struggle for workers’ control of production and the socialist reorganization of society.

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