continuing stories on coronavirus

UK: Setback for Johnson’s school reopening plan due to popular opposition
Tania Kent, WSWS, Jun 10 2020

Britain’s Conservative government has been forced to drop its plans to have all primary children back in school within the next four weeks. It also conceded that there would be no further openings for secondary schools until September “at the earliest.” The retreat is a credit to the millions of parents and educators who opposed the government and acted in defiance of the trade unions. However, the retreat is only temporary. The government’s “back to work” agenda will continue to force children and educators back into unsafe classrooms. Gavin Williamson made the announcement in parliament yesterday. He did not offer much in the way of explanation, other than to claim that it was always the government’s plan to move “with caution” and “when the time is right.” This is a lie. There was overwhelming evidence from the government’s own scientific advisors that it was not safe to open schools on Jun 1, but it continued with its plans. Primary schools were opened to nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6 children from Jun 1 to join children of key worker and most vulnerable for whom schools have remained open. Over 2m additional children were due to be in school. However, more than 1m children were kept at home by worried parents, fearing an explosion in COVID-19 cases that will spread throughout the population. In some areas, up to 90% of primary schools remained closed to more pupils amid rising fears about the spread of coronavirus. In large working-class cities in the north of England, where infection rates are up to seven times higher than parts of the south, not a single primary school opened to more pupils. In the north-west, just 8% of schools opened to more pupils, according to the National Education Union. The “R” (reproduction) rate is above 1 in many parts of the north-west, confirming the threat of an explosion of the virus.

The government’s obscene claims that the reopening of schools was driven by the concerns over the impact on children suffering and from disadvantage and inequality, which the government has overseen, were also exposed in the briefing. Williamson confirmed that free school meals vouchers will not be provided over the summer break to the millions who rely on them already, and the millions whose parents will be made unemployed due to the pandemic. He admitted that the government’s plan to provide 700k laptops and internet access to families from disadvantaged backgrounds is a pipe-dream. Some 100k laptops are being “prepared” to go out this week and a further 230k by the end of the month, whereas 700k are needed. Williamson stressed that he is calling on schools to continue to open more broadly to those groups already invited back, and for families who will need child-care as wider sections of industry begin to open from next week. Management of this drive has been handed over to head-teachers and governors, who will be under increasing pressure as millions return to work. There are no central statistics of the number of educators infected by COVID-19 or the number of schools which have been forced to close due to outbreaks. Sporadic reports from local newspapers reveal that some schools have been forced to shut: 10 schools in Lincolnshire and at least one each in Bradford, Sheffield, Doncaster and Derby. A primary school in Pennington in the New Forest was closed yesterday after a pupil was reported as infected. While the trade unions and some sections of the Labour Party are claiming victory for the retreat, nothing can be further from the truth. Party leader Sir Keir Starmer wrote a letter to Johnson, revealed last week in parliament, stating:

I am sure as Prime Minister you will share my concern that without a stronger consensus of professionals and parents behind the wider opening of schools, some parents will choose not to comply and the issue will become even more socially divisive. This is an unacceptable position to put Britain’s families in, and we should do all we can to avoid it. I fully support the wider opening of schools as soon as is feasibly possible, but this requires a consensus, and we are not there yet. I am therefore writing to you personally, to seek a meeting with the Sec State Ed and shadow Sec State to explore how that consensus can be achieved in the shortest possible time-frame.

The unions, notably the NEU, the largest and ostensibly most “left-wing”, have been denounced by many of their members for refusing to call industrial action to oppose the unsafe conditions in which teachers have been placed by insisting it was up to individuals to challenge risk assessments. The NEU openly advocated the opening of schools from Jun 15 on the grounds that it “will be safer by then,” as did most local authorities. The key issues in reopening schools, according to NEU joint Gen Sec Mary Bousted, were ones of “logistics, not of risk.” An NEU press release said:

It has taken the government some time to recognise what was obvious to most. The government’s social distancing rules made it impossible for primary schools to admit all pupils before the summer holidays.

Canadian government threatens fines and jail time to force workers back to work
Roger Jordan, WSWS, Jun 10 2020

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government plans to make legislative changes to its Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in the coming days, so that it can use threats of onerous fines, criminal prosecution and jail time to force workers to return to work under unsafe conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed changes underscore that the trade union- and New Democratic Party-backed Liberal government is spearheading a homicidal back-to-work drive that prioritizes big business profit over workers’ lives and threatens to dramatically increase the numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths. Millions of workers who have lost their jobs or are unable to work because of the pandemic are currently receiving the CERB, a makeshift program that has temporarily replaced the more restrictive Employment Insurance system. But with provincial governments across the country rushing for the past five weeks, with Trudeau’s assent, to rescind all lockdown restrictions, there has been a mounting chorus of complaints from big business, the Conservative opposition, Quebec’s CAQ government, and other right-wing forces that the “overly generous” CERB is a “disincentive” to work. The proposed changes to the CERB, outlined in a draft bill circulated to the opposition parties last Saturday and leaked to the press Monday, are meant to threaten and bully workers into returning to work as soon as their employer and big business political hirelings in government pronounce it “safe.”

Under Bill C-17, CERB recipients who “fail to return to work when it is reasonable to do so and the employer makes a request for their return,” “fail to resume self-employment when it is reasonable to do so,” or “decline a reasonable job offer when they are able to work” will be liable to punitive fines. These could be as much as three times any CERB amount they are deemed to have improperly claimed. The proposed legislation also outlines a series of new CERB “fraud” offenses punishable by fines of up to $5k and six months in jail. These include “making false or misleading statements, failing to fully disclose all relevant income or receiving an income support payment for which a person is not eligible.” The last of these is especially threatening, given that the bill stipulates that a worker who refuses to return to their job is ineligible for further CERB benefits. In effect, the government is seeking the legal power to imprison workers who attempt to use the CERB to prevent their employer from starving them back to work under unsafe conditions. The Liberals’ bill will also change eligibility criteria for the CERB. As of Jul 5, recipients will apply for the benefit every two weeks rather than every four weeks. According to news reports, this alteration is aimed at making the program more “flexible,” including by helping employers take workers back on reduced hours. The government also wants to reduce the amount of money CERB recipients can earn before experiencing clawbacks to their benefits, from $1k/month to $500/month.

The draft bill underscores that the Trudeau Liberal government is intent on ratcheting up corporate Canada’s reckless back-to-work drive, which is proceeding apace even as total coronavirus infections approach 100k and deaths surpass 8k, and that it stands ready to use the full force of the capitalist state, including the courts and prisons, to suppress worker opposition. From the outset, the Liberal government’s overriding concern has been to protect the wealth and investments of the ruling elite. While over $650b was funnelled into the coffers of the big banks and corporations with virtually no strings attached, the aid offered to the more than 7m workers who lost their jobs and income has been meager and temporary. The CERB pays recipients a mere $2k/month, a sum that fails to even cover the rent of a modest apartment in Toronto or Vancouver, and for a maximum of 16 weeks. For millions of workers who lost their jobs in March, the end of their 16 weeks of eligibility is fast approaching, with many facing the prospect of having no job to return to when their CERB payments expire in July.

Once the bailout of the financial oligarchy was concluded, the Liberal government, trade unions, federal opposition parties, and provincial governments began working in tandem to remove lockdown measures and reopen the economy. Trudeau’s Liberals, who never tire of touting their “progressive” credentials, have worked hand-in-glove with the hard-right premiers François Legault in Quebec and Doug Ford in Ontario to ease restrictions, under conditions where virtually nothing has been done to strengthen Canada’s woefully underfunded health-care system. In flagrant violation of WHO recommendations, the “reopening” of the economy has proceeded without the implementation of systematic mass testing, contact-tracing and quarantining programs. Now, in the same week that Ford announced Ontario’s move to the next phase of reopening, the federal Liberals are establishing a punitive framework to bully workers back to their jobs under threat of destitution, bankruptcy and even imprisonment. Needless to say, business has warmly applauded the brutal measures contained in the Liberals’ draft bill. Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses demonstrated just how far removed the corporate elite is from the daily lives of working people, claiming:

While some workers are worried about returning to work for health-related reasons, many are happy to take the summer off if their income needs are taken care of through CERB.

The reality is that the measures contained in Bill C-17 were dictated by the major corporations and banks. In the days leading up to the publication of the legislation, Trudeau held one-on-one discussions with the chief executives of Canada’s six major banks, as part of the government’s consultations with big business on its “economic recovery” plan. If the Liberals and corporate Canada can pursue their back-to-work agenda so ruthlessly, it is because they know they enjoy the support of the New Democrats and trade unions. The unions and NDP have responded to the deepest crisis of global capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s by cementing their long-standing alliance with the Liberals, long the Canadian bourgeoisie’s preferred party of government. This is the political expression of the union bureaucrats and social-democrats’ intensified efforts to supress the class struggle, amid mounting working-class anger over the criminal indifference of the ruling elite towards their working conditions and lives. In March, Canadian Labour Congress head Hassan Yussuff initiated what he called a “collaborative front” between the unions and Canada’s employers’ organizations. This, above all, consisted in maintaining radio silence on the vast sums of money forked over to the financial oligarchy, while helping the Trudeau government design and promote its rations-style CERB. Now the unions are assisting the ruling class in its premature back-to-work drive.

As for the NDP, in late May it once again gave the minority Liberal government the votes it needed to proceed with its agenda. Touting a worthless commitment from Trudeau to ensure workers across Canada receive 10 days per year of paid sick leave, a proposal most provincial governments have already dismissed, Jagmit Singh and his fellow social democrats voted for a Liberal motion to shut down regular sittings of parliament until September. As a result, the government will now be able to gut financial aid to workers with virtually no public or parliamentary debate. Working people must oppose the Liberal government’s efforts to bully them back to their jobs with threats of fines and imprisonment. To do so, they must establish rank-and-file safety committees, independent of the pro-capitalist unions, in every workplace. The tasks of these committees should be to uncompromisingly fight for the safety interests of the workers, and oppose the demands of corporate management and governments alike to subordinate all health considerations to capitalist profit. The fight against the pandemic is inseparably linked to workers’ struggle against the ruling class—the corporate and financial oligarchy—and its dictatorship over economic and political life. It is, therefore, a struggle against capitalism and for socialism, that is, for the restructuring of socioeconomic life under a workers’ government so that meeting social needs, not swelling investor profit, is the animating principle.

COVID-19 spreads in Pindo auto plants as officials hide information from workers
Jessica Goldstein, WSWS, Jun 10 2020

Three workers at General Motors’ assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri are confirmed to have COVID-19, according to a company statement released Monday. Over 4k hourly and salaried workers are employed across three shifts at the plant, building the profitable Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize trucks, along with the Chevy Express and GMC Savana vans. The company said in the statement:

We believe there is very little risk that anyone inside the plant has been exposed to the virus at work because everyone, including the individuals, have been following our extensive, multi-layered health and safety procedures.

A veteran worker at the plant told the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter, dismissing GM’s claim:

Oh, it’s going to be more. Imagine how many could be infected. Two of the people last worked on Jun 3, and GM didn’t tell us for five days. Most were questioning that and wanting them to close down for 14 days because it’s so many folks there, you can easily come in contact with those who were infected and those that came in contact with them. The management only briefly paused production when they announced the first case. They read us a statement saying we weren’t at risk, that they have everything in place to protect us.

A little while after, supervisors came back to say another case was confirmed. The auto companies and their accomplices in the UAW union, having forced workers back into the plants with criminal recklessness last month, are now doing their best to cover up the further spread of the virus, releasing no tallies of the number of cases or deaths. In the weeks prior to the production restart at plants owned by the Detroit-based automakers across Pindostan on May 18, the UAW worked with company executives and state governors, including Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, to organize a return to work without serious safety measures or comprehensive testing in place, despite the ongoing spread of the pandemic. A worker at GM’s assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee expressed the widely held belief that the return to work was premature, saying:

I think it was way too early, just as many of my coworkers do. Here in Maury County, numbers are rising but we are just line dogs to these big companies. CEO Mary Barra had the audacity to say how she and upper management were working from home to stay healthy and safe and we, the workers who build these quality vehicles to make them their millions, all the while we all were in these plants STILL working as THEY stayed safe. They do not care, nor will they ever.

Prior to the production restart, the UAW undertook a PR campaign on behalf of the companies, telling workers that effective personal protective equipment and social distancing measures would be in place and that the plants would be cleaned according to CDC guidelines each day. Other measures such as daily wellness questionnaires and temperature checks have also been touted, but offer little more than a false sense of security, as these do not identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus, which the CDC estimates account for 35% of those infected. The UAW and corporations are well aware that without mass rapid testing and contact tracing programs, there is no way to effectively limit the spread of the disease in the auto factories, but they insist on keeping plants open under unsafe conditions in order to ensure the flow of profits continues uninterrupted. Ford Chief Manufacturing Officer Gary Johnson told Bloomberg earlier this week:

Until we have a vaccine that’s out there 100% and more testing is available over the next few months, then I think we’ll still have cases.

Once again revealing the pro-corporate character of the UAW and its indifference to workers’ lives, President Rory Gamble admitted the testing delays mean the virus could quickly spread undetected at plants. He recently told Automotive News:

We see ourselves probably in this mode for another year, realistically maybe a year and a half. We’re dug in for the long haul. There’s too much lag time in getting results back. While you’re waiting on the test results to come back, you could contract the virus.

He went on to refer to the spread of the potentially lethal virus among autoworkers as “glitches” in the companies’ restart. Neither the UAW nor the auto companies have indicated a timeline for implementing rapid testing on a mass scale, although UAW officials all received testing before returning to their comfortable office jobs. Both company executives and union officials continue to make vague promises about increasing testing “when available” while the vast majority of workers enter the plants every day not knowing if they or their coworkers are carrying the virus. Mark Stewart, Chief Operating Officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North America, said in a statement to the Detroit Free Press:

There is no reliable, scalable test currently available to test asymptomatic employees every day. We will continue to monitor new developments in testing and will look for more capability if it becomes available.

Gamble, in a recent UAW press release, made the worthless pledge:

In terms of testing, we continue to be resolute in asking for as much testing as is possible at the current time. We are asking for a commitment for full testing as soon as it is available.

Epidemiology Professor Michael Mina of Harvard University’s T H Chan School of Public Health told Automotive News that rapid testing at the necessary scale for the auto industry is likely months away. Implicitly pointing to the conflict between the needs of workers for mass testing and the companies’ bottom lines, the News noted:

Cost could make widespread distribution an issue, unless companies receive financial assistance and the price per test continues to fall.

Union officials are increasingly nervous over the unrest brewing among workers, and are desperate to head off a new wave of walkouts and job actions like those which led to the shutdown of the industry in March. Seeking to placate widespread anger, UAW Local 249 at Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant recently asked workers on Facebook to submit individual safety concerns to the union directly, claiming that it would begin to write safety complaints on behalf of workers, knowing full well they will have no substantive effect on the company’s policies. The virus is by no means confined to the Detroit’s Big Three auto plants. Workers at electric car-maker Tesla’s plant in Fremont, California, recently learned in meetings with their supervisors that at least two of their coworkers at the plant tested positive for COVID-19, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. The Fremont plant, where 10k workers build Tesla cars, was opened for production on May 11 by Elon Musk in defiance of local government orders, which were ultimately shelved in the face of Musk’s threats to move Tesla to another state. A Tesla seat assembly worker told the WaPo:

No social distancing at all when clocking in/out. People are in a hurry to go home or get back to their work station. Managers don’t say anything to the associates. They’re not doing it either. It’s like nothing but with a mask on.

Any decisions about workers’ protection from the disease that are left in the hands of the corporations and unions will be made in the interests of profit, not those of workers. To defend their lives and those of their families, workers require new organizations, independent rank-and-file safety and health committees, to take up the demands for universal testing, adequate PPE, shorter shifts and longer breaks, with no reductions in pay for those affected by shutdowns. With the advice of trusted public health experts, workers must exert oversight over health and safety measures in the plants and retain the right to stop production when conditions are deemed unsafe. The opposition of workers to working in plants which have been transformed into death traps coincides with the mass multi-racial and multi-ethnic demonstrations around the world against police brutality carried out by the state against the entire working class. The fight for safe working conditions must be fused with the struggle against police violence and for all the democratic and social rights of the working class based on a socialist program.

COVID-19 eruptions increasing in meatpacking plants, logistics centers
Shannon Jones, WSWS, Jun 10 2020

Industrial and logistics centers in Pindostan continue to be major vectors for the spread of COVID-19, with the number of infections rising sharply in many areas of the country. This follows the abandonment by government officials from the Trump administration on down of any measures to contain the virus. Meat processing facilities across the country remain COVID-19 hotspots. Industry executives are using Trump’s executive order declaring meatpacking plants an essential industry as a license to sicken and kill workers. In the wake of Trump’s executive order, the number of cases at meatpacking plants has risen by 100%. As of Monday, there were reports of 20.4k infections at 216 plants in 33 states. At least 74 workers have died. A Pindostan Today report found that that a number of counties where meat processing facilities are located experienced a doubling of their COVID-19 case count in the last two weeks. The lack of any serious safety procedures at most facilities, and the refusal of many employers, with the collusion of the unions, to provide any transparency on infections and deaths raises the urgent need for the formation of rank-and-file safety committees at all work locations to take up the defense of workers’ health and lives. These committees would demand full income for laid-off or sick employees, and enforce safety procedures in consultation with medical professionals.

One of the areas of the country with the most alarming spread of COVID-19 is Texas. The weekly number of new cases has grown from 1,081 during the week ending May 24 to 1,527 over the past week, using a seven-day trailing average. The indications are that meatpacking plants and prisons are centers of COVID-19 infection in the state. In the state of Iowa alone, some 3k meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19, the most of any state. According to one analysis, approximately 6.7k Tyson Foods workers in Pindostan have contracted COVID-19. That is more than double the number for any other company. At the same time, Tyson Foods is reinstating its strict employee attendance policy, essentially forcing workers who are sick to come to work. Kansas meatpacking plants have been heavily impacted. Plants in the state have been linked to at least 2,767 cases and 10 deaths. A classified Kansas public health document listed the Tyson Foods plant near Garden City as having had the largest outbreak in the state, with 571 cases and one death. A total of 503 cases and four deaths have been linked to the National Beef plant in Ford County. On Tuesday, Tyson Foods reported new COVID-19 outbreaks at two Iowa plants. It said 591 of 2.3k employees at its Storm Lake pork processing plant tested positive along with 224 out of 1.5k workers at its beef and pork processing plant in Council Bluffs.

COVID-19 is appearing in a growing number of rural areas largely bypassed in the initial outbreak. In Utah, officials with the Bear River Health Department in the northern part of the state confirmed a major outbreak at JBS Foods in Hyrum. Friday and Saturday saw about 200 new cases each day in Hyrum following a testing clinic at the JBS facility. Total cases in Utah are heading toward 14,000. So far, 287 workers have tested positive at the plant, which employs 1,400 and remains in partial operation. JBS has refused to close the facility, citing Trump’s executive order. The Bear River Health Department has received reports that COVID-positive and sick employees are being told to report to work at the facility. Most of the workers at the plant are immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa and many are not fluent in English. Health officials in Iowa report that Bridgestone America’s farm tire plant in Des Moines, which employs 1k workers, is continuing to operate despite at least 24 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Also this week, two more confirmed cases were reported at GM’s Wentzville, Missouri plant. The report was the result of an anonymous tip to local media, as GM is generally not reporting on coronavirus cases at its plants.

Because of the nature of their work, logistics workers are also at high risk of COVID-19 infection. Two Amazon workers at a Charlotte facility tested positive for COVID-19. At least nine other Amazon workers at Charlotte area fulfillment centers have tested positive, according to the Charlotte Observer. The Oregon Health Authority said it is looking into an outbreak of COVID-19 affecting five workers at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Salem. The company, with the aide of the media, is suppressing reports of infections and deaths at its facilities. In May, the attorneys general of 13 states sent letters to Amazon and its subsidiary, Whole Foods, asking for the release of data on COVID-19 cases, including a workplace by workplace breakdown, and for the company to reinstate its earlier policy of unlimited time off. In response, Amazon doubled down on its refusal to release figures, declaring in a statement that such data “isn’t particularly useful because it’s relative to the size of the building and then the overall community infection rate.” Amazon’s multi-billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos has touted the company’s supposed concern for workers’ health, with company officials escorting reporters through a model plant in Washington state. Bezos, who has grown richer by tens of billions of dollars during the pandemic crisis, is now reportedly worth $150b.

An Amazon worker at a warehouse in Jeffersonville, Indiana, Jana Jumpp, and another Amazon worker in California have kept a tally of COVID cases at Amazon and Whole Foods based on independent sources. They report that as of Tuesday, 353 Whole Foods workers at 164 stores have tested positive and at least four Whole Foods employees have died, including a manager at a store in Pasadena. As of last week, Jumpp had documented 1,079 cases of coronavirus among Amazon warehouse workers, and confirmed nine deaths. These numbers almost certainly understate the spread of the virus among Whole Foods and Amazon warehouse employees. Three Amazon employees in New York have filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming that it has failed to follow guidelines set by the CDC. It asserts that the company has mounted only a “facade of compliance,” but has failed to adequately protect workers from the virus in a number of ways, including “sloppy contact tracing” and failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment. Package delivery services FedEx and UPS have also refused to report COVID-19 cases. Last month in Kansas, a cluster of COVID-19 cases were traced to a FedEx distribution center in Olathe. FedEx confirmed that cases had been discovered at the facility, which employs about 200 people, but did not say how many. A UPS facility in Tucson has been identified as the source of an outbreak, with 43 workers testing positive, according to a report issued by the local union.

Though not as widely reported as the situation in meatpacking, other types of food processing facilities have reported large numbers of COVID-19 cases. A survey of news stories published between March 14 and June 8 found that almost 1,200 food processing workers at 60 plants had been infected, involving a wide range of companies including Kraft, Heinz, Birdseye and Campbell Soup. The most cases were reported at Steven Roberts Original Desserts in Aurora, Colorado, with 115. Ruiz Foods in Dinuba, California had 107, and Birds Eye in Darien, Wisconsin had 104. On Sunday, Oregon health officials announced an outbreak at a Pacific Seafood processing plant in Newport, where 124 cases of coronavirus were confirmed, the largest single-day outbreak in Oregon to date. So far, the company has not released the names and addresses of infected employees, making contact tracing impossible. Local authorities say they have no legal means of forcing the company to cooperate. The spread of the disease in industrial facilities is a tragedy not just for the workers who are exposed, but for their families and the broader community. The lack of any real oversight or control over workplace exposure means that workers are entirely at the mercy of profit-driven corporations determined to squeeze out every dime of profit at the least cost. The abandonment by public officials at all levels of any effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic makes it critical for workers to intervene to safeguard their health and the health of their loved ones. This cannot be entrusted to the pro-corporate unions. It requires the development of rank-and-file organizations of struggle in each workplace. The WSWS encourages workers to contact us to discuss the establishment of these safety committees.

Pindo Postal Service covers up COVID-19 death toll in NYC
Tom Carter, Shuvu Batta, WSWS, Jun 10 2020

A staggering 17k workers, or 3% of all Pindo Postal Service workforce, have been quarantined since the start of the pandemic, according to a recent report by Government Executive magazine. To date, around 70% of those quarantined have been cleared to come back to work. Management acknowledges that 2.83k workers have tested positive for COVID-19, out of a total workforce of approximately 630k. However, Postal Service officials have not made publicly available the number of deaths. The report by Government Executive published May 21 was able to confirm that 126 federal workers had died to date from the coronavirus pandemic, including 60 Postal Service workers. However, these figures represent only a “non-comprehensive tally.” The WSWS recently spoke with a Postal Service worker in NYC who was concerned by rumors that there had been a significant number of fatalities at his workplace. He works at the Morgan Processing and Distribution Center, one of the largest mail processing facilities in the country. Following up on this, the WSWS contacted the NYC Postmaster on Monday to request up-to-date statistics on:

  1. the number of postal worker deaths in NYC,
  2. the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus among postal workers in the city, and
  3. the number of workers in the city who were quarantined.

This information was requested to be broken down by facility and borough. The WSWS also requested information regarding whether facilities with confirmed cases were closed for deep cleaning and for how long. The Postal Service is a public enterprise and an agency of the executive branch of the federal government, so the requested information is subject to public disclosure. The postmaster’s meager reply, transmitted by Postal Service Communications Specialist Xavier C Hernandez, consisted in its entirety of the following:

With a workforce of more than 630k employees there have been 2.83k postal employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, with some deaths. I don’t have other numbers to provide you, sorry. Please find all other Postal Service COVID-19 information here.

The final sentence included a link to a press release that was posted on the Postal Service web page on Apr 30. This press release, issued almost six weeks ago, did not contain any of the requested statistics, and only pointed to some minimal safety measures that the Postal Service pledged to adopt more than a month ago, such as face masks. The WSWS pressed Hernandez on its original request, and Hernandez responded:

I will reiterate that the number I gave you is the only available information I can provide.

This time, he pasted a link to another USPS web page containing generic safety material. The latter site contains materials of varying dates, such as color posters that can be printed out (one reads “KEEP CALM AND WASH YOUR HANDS”), as well as materials admonishing employees to wear masks, stay six feet away from other people, and to use tissues (“then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands”). None of the requested statistics could be located on this web site either. One of two things is possible. One possibility is that the Postal Service does not actually track the numbers of deaths, confirmed cases, and self-quarantining postal workers in NYC. If that is true, it would represent colossal and scandalous incompetence on the part of a government agency with a budget of more than $70b, as well as reckless endangerment of hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives. Far more likely is the second possibility, which is that this information is tracked, but is not being disclosed to the public. There are absolutely no good reasons, and plenty of bad reasons, for keeping this information hidden from the public.

The Trump administration, both political parties, the news media, and their taskmasters in the corporate and financial oligarchy are currently pressing ahead with the homicidal drive to “reopen the economy,” which means sending millions of workers back into workplaces where they face the risk of infection and death. This constitutes an incentive to downplay and suppress the deadly consequences of this reckless policy. The risks of working during the pandemic are substantial and serious. More than 400k people have already lost their lives in the global disaster, and more than 7m have been infected. While 112k have already died in Pindostan, according to official statistics, more than any other country, many other victims have suffered debilitating and life-altering health consequences that will continue for years to come. No worker of sound mind would choose to eat at a restaurant where people had recently died from eating contaminated food, but workers are being told every day to show up to contaminated workplaces where other workers have already fallen ill or have died. In many workplaces, the safety measures that have been trumpeted by management are largely cosmetic, designed to lull workers into a false sense of security, and do not reflect the gravity of the danger.

Management’s reckless indifference to the fate of workers is compounded by the failure of the unions to take any serious action in the face of workers literally being killed by their employer’s policies. The four unions at USPS, the Pindo Postal Workers Union, National Association of Letter Carriers, National Postal Mail Handlers Union and they National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, have not organized any substantial fight. Hundreds of USPS workers had already been infected with the virus by mid-April, at which time workers’ anger peaked as they began to discover confirmed cases in their communities. USPS workers walked out in Coppell, Texas, while sickouts took place in Middle Village and Ridgewood in New York City, among other spontaneous job actions. The USPS had a deplorable safety record prior to the pandemic. In February, a lawsuit revealed that nearly 44k USPS workers had been fired since 2006 after being injured on the job. The criminally indifferent response to the deadly virus is a continuation and expansion of the generally callous attitude to workers’ health and safety that predated the pandemic. When it comes to information from management, another NYC USPS worker, speaking with the WSWS, put it bluntly:

They won’t give you any. Workers speak among themselves and gather and exchange what information they can. There are people that have been gone for weeks, and people who have been gone who never came back. You find out about it that way. At this point everyone is used to that. You will not get that information from management. They hold it back because they knew what the ripple effect would be. Workers feel like they are being lied to and manipulated. The whole postal system would be in danger of collapse if there were a full disclosure of the facts. There was a situation where one of the workers caught it, and the manager did not tell the workers about it. The workers found out, and then next day, half of the workers did not show up. I would feel that way too. They need to give you a chance to make your own decision. What is more important, my safety or the job at hand? They did not have a clear way to handle the situation. We were pretty much left in the dark. They waited until the last possible minute, until it was already at the doorstep.

He said he supports the safety measures that have been put in place in his own workplace, which include disinfecting stations, masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. However, he understands that not all workplaces have the same level of protection. With respect to the ongoing mass protests in the city and around the world, he said he was supportive but he was “outraged from before” the protests. Police brutality and police racism existed before the demonstrations, he said, and “the police are always this way.” He said that things would not change through the politics of the two major parties. In his view, people needed to “stop the flow of money” to the corporations and the rich: “That’s the sweet spot. Follow the money.” Describing workers struggling to meet child-care needs during the pandemic, drowning in bills, and going hungry, he added:

You are frozen, but the corporations are still sending bills. The bills are not frozen. The bills are still coming in. You have these idiots trying to open things up. The idea that you can ease back into it, in the pursuit of money, is ridiculous. You can’t just go back to the way things were. All this is ridiculous.

Workers throughout the essential industries, who remain on or are returning to their jobs, have every right to demand that management provide prompt and detailed disclosures of all illnesses and deaths. Vague statements about “some deaths” are totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated. The WSWS urges USPS workers, together with all similarly situated workers, to immediately form independent workplace safety committees, consisting of rank-and-file workers, to gather and circulate accurate information and enforce the most robust measures to defend workers and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Bridgestone tire defends safety “playbook” as infections rise at Iowa plant
Jacob Crosse, WSWS, Jun 10 2020

In factories and plants throughout the country COVID-19 infections have continued to rise among workers, despite assertions from companies, and trade union toadies, that all efforts are being made to maintain worker safety and mitigate the spread of the virus. It has been nearly two months since Bridgestone Americas, Inc.’s Firestone agricultural tire plant in Des Moines, Iowa, resumed production after shutting down from Mar 21 through Apr 13. Since restarting production, with the help of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 130, COVID-19 infections have continued to steadily rise at the facility and in surrounding Polk county. The WSWS first reported on May 8 that eight infections were confirmed at the giant tire facility, which can produce up to 4k tires a day for agriculture equipment and large farm machinery. The plant employs 1.05k workers, of which USW Local 310L claims to represent 90%. In a statement to Tire Business on May 26, Bridgestone PR confirmed the number of positive cases among workers at the plant had tripled in just over two weeks, to 24. Despite the rising number of infections at the plant, Bridgestone has no plans to cease production or modify its existing safety measures, which have so far proven ineffective. In a bald-faced lie, Bridgestone claims:

The well-being and safety of employees remains the company’s most important value.

Despite infections rising at the facility the company asserts that “the playbook has not changed.” The statement ended with reassurance to shareholders that, no matter how many workers become infected:

The Des Moines plant continues to operate on a regular schedule and in alignment with the latest safety protocol guidance from the CDC to support a safe and healthy environment for employees.

In a letter to workers dated May 7, plant managers and supervisors tried to cover for their own duplicitous role in facilitating the spread of the virus by seeking to blame workers for not adhering to social distancing guidelines outside of work and therefore shift the blame onto workers for the continued spread of the virus within the plant. The management wrote in a letter:

In our larger community, we are seeing an increase in cases, and as members of the community, we want to do our part as well. I am asking that you continue to exercise safe interactions outside of work and am attaching guidelines from the CDC as a reference for you to share with your family and friends and serve as a reminder that we are all counting on each other, now more than ever, to be as safe as possible.

As part of the “safety playbook,” which was discussed in detail with Steve Vonk, president of Local 310, prior to the plant’s reopening in April, Bridgestone put forth a number of new policies, which included nebulous action items such as “reworked areas that require frequent employee handling or touching” and “limited the number of people in common areas.” These half-hearted measures were never intended to actually keep workers safe, but instead served as a cover for the company’s inaction so production could continue with minimal disruptions or costs. The company and union also used the pretext of the virus to cancel “start of shift” and “plant operational meetings.” The elimination of meetings is a tried and true tactic of management to keep workers isolated and uninformed. While workers continue to fall ill, union president Vonk has continued to sow illusions among workers that the company is looking out for their safety, asserting to Tire Business:

The management has been pretty decent about responding to this.

Exemplifying the role of the USW as nothing more than a labor police force for the company, the union’s homepage, while remaining silent on the rising number of infections among its members, proudly displays a video from USW President Tom Conway explaining why the union executive committed to endorse Biden for president on May 20. In the just under seven-minute video, Conway vaguely listed the reasoning behind the USW’s “proud” endorsement of the Biden campaign. Without offering any concrete proposals or plans, Conway claimed that a Biden presidency offered “progressive new good ideas.” The real reason behind the USW’s endorsement, besides the fact that the Trump campaign didn’t even bother to return the union “questionnaire” sent out, is that the Demagog Party still makes use of the nationalist USW due to the crucial role it plays in suppressing the class struggle and isolating workers. Conway noted that Biden “understands” the relationship between the “union and labor as a partner … moving forward.” Conway wrapped up his video with a droll plea for workers to “get excited” about “playing a role in the campaign and the future of our country and how things oughta be.” Biden and the Demagog Party, no less than Trump and the Thugs, wholeheartedly support the back-to-work drive and with it the continued infection and mass deaths of thousands of workers in Pindostan and throughout the world in dangerous factories and plants. The only “progressive” social force capable of thwarting this genocidal policy, which is shared by the ruling class in each country, is workers themselves, politically armed and linked internationally through independent rank-and-file committees. Workers and youth interested in forming such committees are encouraged to contact the WSWS and take up the struggle for socialism.

COVID-19 cases rise rapidly after South Asia’s governments abandon lockdowns
WSWS Jun 10 2020

South Asian governments’ abandonment of lockdown measures in recent weeks has led to a rapid acceleration of the coronavirus throughout the region, which is home to some 1.7b people. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have all experienced sharp increases in infections since the beginning of the month. According to Bloomberg, cases rose by 27% in Pakistan, 19% in Bangladesh, and 17% in India over the past week, making South Asia the region of the world with the fastest increase in COVID-19 infections. Together, the three countries have recorded over 450,000 cases and close to 11k deaths, according to figures collated by Worldometers. These numbers are likely a gross underestimation due to a chronic lack of testing. As of June 9, India, which has a population of 1.37b, had tested just 4.91m samples, Indian Council of Medical Research data shows. South Asia is especially vulnerable to the highly contagious virus due to its dense population, mass poverty and ramshackle health-care systems. Millions of people crammed into urban slums and other small dwellings have no chance to observe social distancing guidelines or follow basic hygiene recommendations such as regularly washing their hands.

India

The easing of COVID-19 restrictions by the government of PM Narendra Modi has resulted in a massive increase in infections. India has rapidly climbed the ladder of the 10 worst-hit countries to reach fifth place with 276,146 cases as of Tuesday. More than 10k new cases were registered yesterday. Over the past 11 days, over 100k new cases have been registered. During the same period, the death toll increased by 2,760 to reach 7,466. Mumbai has been among the worst hit cities in the world. With just over 50k confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Monday, Mumbai will today surpass the official tally for Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus was first identified at the beginning of the year. The health system in Mumbai is on the verge of collapse, with severely ill patients put on a “waiting list” to get hospital beds. Corpses have been left lying in wards due to a shortage of medical personnel. Many medical workers have been sickened by the virus. With 1,280 COVID-19 deaths, the state of Gujarat has one of the world’s highest fatality rates. 6.22% of those officially recorded as infected have lost their lives. Meanwhile in Delhi, which has 1,262 cases and 33 deaths per million inhabitants, the highest figures in India, there is an acute shortage of hospital beds. Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s Chief Minister and the head of the Aam Aadmi (Common Man’s Party), has responded to this crisis with discriminatory measures. He banned non-Delhi residents from access to the Delhi Capital Territory’s hospitals, public and private. However, the order was subsequently overturned by the central government-appointed Lieutenant-Governor.

Despite the rising number of infections and a very high positive test rate, Delhi authorities have failed to increase testing. On Saturday, 37.83% of those tested were shown to be infected. They are also refusing to test asymptomatic contacts of those who have contracted the virus. India has been scaling back its lockdown measures since late April, when many major export-earning industries were allowed to resume operations. At the end of May, Modi announced the country was transitioning to “phase one” of its “unlockdown.” In line with this policy, shopping centers, places of worship, restaurants and offices were authorized to reopen on Monday Jun 8. In reopening the economy even as infections and deaths are soaring, Modi and his BJP government are acting at the behest of big business, which is adamant that workers’ lives must not be an impediment to their profit-making. Toward this end, the Modi government has effectively adopted a policy of “herd immunity,” under which the virus is allowed to spread unchecked through the population until it runs its course. The fact that this will result in mass deaths is conceded by government advisers like Jayaprakash Muliyil, chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Institute of Epidemiology. A fervent proponent of “herd immunity,” Muliyil has said his modeling shows “India may see at least two millions deaths” if the government quickly ends the lockdown, as it is now doing.

In pursuing this homicidal policy, Modi and the Indian elite as a whole are shamelessly exploiting the immense suffering inflicted on working people, especially migrant workers, other day-labourers and “self-employed” hawkers and artisans, by the government’s calamitous and ill-prepared lockdown. When the lockdown came into effect with less than four hours’ notice on Mar 25, more than 120m workers lost their jobs almost overnight. These workers and hundreds of millions of other Indians were left to fend for themselves. Only belatedly did the government roll out famine-style relief programs, for which many were ineligible. As the growth in infections underscores, the lockdown was also a failure from even the most narrow medical perspective. The Modi government failed to use the nine-weeks-long lockdown to implement mass testing and contact-tracing. Nor did it test and treat the millions of migrant workers whom it held in internal refugee camps for weeks, supposedly to prevent COVID-19’s spread, before allowing them to return home. Consequently, there is now a surge in COVID-19 cases in rural India, where health services are virtually non-existent. The government’s embrace of herd immunity is the cutting edge of an intensified assault on the working class. Modi has promised a “quantum jump” in pro-investor reforms, including the gutting of labor laws and the fire-sale of state-owned enterprises.

Pakistan

The spread of the pandemic in Pakistan has accelerated since PM Imran Khan decided to lift all the lockdown measures his government only reluctantly implemented in the first place. Karachi, the country’s largest city, is reportedly already running out of hospital beds to treat the sick. As of this writing, the official death toll from COVID-19 is just below 2.2k, with close to 110k reported cases, although these figures are assuredly gross underestimates due to a dearth of testing. A report by the Punjab government health authority, based on a small survey, estimated that just in Lahore, a city of 11m people, there are 670.8k coronavirus cases. The May 15 report was suppressed for more than two weeks by the local government to allow the lifting of the lockdown to go ahead. The pretext given was that the Supreme Court had ordered the lockdown to be lifted. At the same hearing, the court declared the coronavirus “is not a pandemic in Pakistan.” Khan has been the most vociferous opponent of any lockdown measures. Even after he had been forced by the provincial governments and military to agree to a nationwide lockdown, he continued to insist that Pakistan “cannot afford” a lockdown and “people would die of hunger.” Last week, Khan went so far as to ask the people to “live with the virus,” making it clear the government will do nothing under conditions where the death rate is rising and health facilities are rapidly reaching full capacity. According to conservative official statistics, poverty has increased from 24.3% to 33.5% due to the pandemic. GDP is projected to contract by 1.5% this year, while the fiscal deficit is forecast to hit 9.4% of GDP. The government continues to insist that it will implement reforms agreed to with the IMF, which will result in major attacks on jobs and workers’ wages. Essentially, the Khan government is conspiring with the IMF to impose the full burden of the economic fallout from the pandemic on the working masses.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s first COVID-19 cases were reported Mar 8. Three months later, the country has 71,675 confirmed coronavirus cases and 975 deaths. Tuesday’s death toll of 45 was the highest of any day since the beginning of the pandemic. Likewise, the 3,171 cases reported in the previous 24 hours were a daily record. Every week has witnessed a sharp spike in infections. In the 13th week since the first case, which ended last Saturday, there were 236 new deaths and 18,418 new cases; in the 12th week, there were 158 deaths and 12,530 cases; and in the 11th week, there were 138 deaths and 11,083 cases. However, due to inadequate testing levels these figures have little credibility. The Economic Times has estimated infections at 750k in Dhaka alone. Despite warnings from health experts, PM Sheikh Hasina’s government lifted the lockdown and reopened the economy on May 30. This further worsened the situation, particularly for workers in the export-oriented industries. According to media reports, 251 workers of 129 factories in six industrial zones were found infected on Jun 3. Hospitals are refusing treatments for many “patients with COVID-19-like symptoms as well as non-COVID patients,” due to shortages of equipment, beds, and personnel. Hasina’s administration has revised its health protocols, allowing hospitals to “only treat people with severe symptoms.” This has left many patients unattended, with many dying at home. A human rights group was cited by New Age on Jun 7 as charging that there have been “at least 122 deaths caused by treatment refusal” since the first death was reported on Mar 18. While official figures are not clear on the deaths of people with COVID-19-like symptoms, a Dhaka University study estimated such deaths in mid-May at 1k. At least 866 nurses and midwives have been infected, according to the Society for Nurses Safety and Rights, due to a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); and 73 doctors have been infected, 18 of whom died.

Russia’s ruling class nervous over spreading global protests
Andrea Peters, WSWS, Jun 10 2020

After nearly two weeks of silence, the Russian government issued its first official statements on the mass protest in the United States and major cities in the rest of the world, sparked by the brutal police murder of George Floyd. On Sunday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Maria Zakharova told Russia 1 TV:

They have reaped what they have sown. Having sown chaos, they have gotten chaos. All around the world they have promoted the possibility of destabilizing conditions, the possibility of playing on internal contradictions that naturally exist with any state and people.

Speaking to Komsomolskaya Pravda on Monday, Zakharova described the accusation that Russia was responsible for the crisis gripping Faschingstein, made most prominently on May 31 by former Obama’s NSA Susan Rice, as “mythology.” She said:

To state that behind the protests in Pindostan stands the hand of the Russians, Russia and Kremlin, as have several representatives of the Demagog Party in Pindostan have done, means to simply not respect your own people and not to understand what is happening. The only thing that links the current situation in Pindostan with Russia is that Moscow has repeatedly pointed out to Faschingstein the necessity of first of all minding one’s own internal politics before preaching to everyone else.

The same day, the main state television channel, Pervyi Kanal, swapped out the credits that were supposed to roll at the conclusion of the film Brother 2 with scenes of looting and violence from Pindostan. The song “Goodbye Pindostan” by Nautilus Pompilius played simultaneously. The plot of the popular “cult classic” gangster movie, which was aired on official TV to mark the twentieth anniversary of its release in 2000, touches on racial and social tensions in Pindostan. The Kremlin’s seeming smugness over the political crisis in Pindostan seeks to mask extreme nervousness within the Russian ruling class over the mass protests sweeping Pindostan and expanding globally. The social moods driving these events also exist in Russia, where the coronavirus pandemic has infected hundreds of thousands, sent the economy into a tailspin and wrecked the livelihoods of millions. Popular anger at the federal and regional authorities is rising, Putin’s popularity rating is falling, and a mood of “exasperation, anxiety, and anger” is spreading, as a recent study highlighted in the business daily Kommersant noted. 3% of the Russian population controls 89% of the country’s financial assets. 98 Russian billionaires have more wealth than the combined savings of the entire population of 144.5m people. Real incomes have been falling for years, and are expected to further decline as an estimated 5m to 6m workers are expected to find themselves jobless by the end of the year. In an attempt to forestall the spread of protests to Russia and prevent a feeling of solidarity from emerging within the Russian working class, the country’s media across the political spectrum have sought to portray the demonstrations in Pindostan as little more than “disturbances, brigandage, and looting,” as Alexei Poplavsky of Gazeta.ru put it. According to reporter Rustem Safronov, who works for the Kremlin-funded Radio Sputnik, they have “started to take on a bad form,” becoming “pogroms.” The news daily Lenta.ru featured an interview on Jun 4 with a one-time Pindo policeman about “rioters” in Pindostan. The ex-marine and former member of Florida’s Palm Beach County police force insisted that the murdered George Floyd was indisputably engaged in a crime when detained. Supposedly the sequence of events that led to the man’s asphyxiation are hazy but indicate little more than an “excessive use of force.” Combining outright lies with half-truths and stupidities, commentators have openly or implicitly endorsed Trump’s military police crackdown against what they described as a sort of “black peril” emerging from below. Racist tropes and xenophobia abound. Writing on Ekho Moskvy, Russia’s leading pro-Western liberal news outlet, economist Vladislav Inozemtsev blackguarded George Floyd as a convicted criminal “under the influence of drugs” when arrested. He lamented the deaths of white police officers, and described the mass inter-racial movement against state oppression exploding in Pindostan as “a demonstration of power that does not serve to affirm racial equality, but the superiority of ethnic minorities over the majority,” falsely claiming:

Never in 40 years has the killing of a white person at the hands of the cops resulted in a single speech against police violence in Pindostan.

Writing on Jun 8 in Gazeta.ru, owned by the billionaire oligarch Alexander Mamut, Georgi Bovt argued in an article entitled “Do whites have to kneel before blacks?” that other minority groups in Pindo history “faced conditions not worse than blacks,” but had seen their socio-economic status improve over decades. The social misery experienced by many Black Pindos, he claimed, is their own fault. In a particularly nasty moment in the article, Bovt claimed that in Russia it is acceptable to refer to blacks as “negr.” Bovt’s colleague at Gazeta.ru, Poplavsky, insisted the crisis gripping Pindostan was one of “political correctness.” Noting the opinions of a right-wing French commentator, the Russian journalist said:

Pindostan is in the grip of an aggressive ideology that has essentially declared oppressed minorities the builders of the future, in the manner of the proletariat for the Bolsheviks.

While Trump and the Thugs have responded with an admirably strong hand, the Demagogs had done nothing and attempted to justify the violence in the streets, Poplavsky wrote. While having a different political coloration, the racist attacks in the Russian press on the Pindo protests echo the efforts of the Demagog Party and its adjuncts in the media to insist that the demonstrations against police violence are fundamentally a struggle of blacks for “black lives” against “white privilege.” In both instances, the inter-racial and multi-ethnic character of the social anger erupting across Pindostan and internationally is denied. In the Russian media it is smothered in bigotry and ugly tropes trading in racial superiority. In the Pindo media, it is drowned in the claim that race, not class, is the dividing line of Pindo society. The aim of both approaches is to block a unified struggle of the working masses against the universal source of their oppression: capitalism. A notable feature of the present press coverage in Russia has been the relative lack of attention that has been given to the spread of the demonstrations in Pindostan to other countries, particularly European states. Like the racist denunciation of the protests in Pindostan, this silence is aimed at suppressing the universality of the social grievances underlying the protests by workers and youth throughout the world against racism and police violence.

Youth protests and worker strikes show mounting social opposition in Brazil
Tomas Castanheira, WSWS, Jun 10 2020

Protest in São Paulo

Brazil experienced a second weekend in a row of demonstrations against police violence, racism and the government of Bolsonaro. Tens of thousands of people, mostly young, took to the streets in every region and practically every state in the country. In São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte and Brasília the demonstrations were attended by thousands of people. In other capitals and several smaller cities, protests occurred simultaneously and included hundreds of people. Growing numbers of Brazilian youth and workers see their adherence to the international wave of protests driven by the police assassination of George Floyd as a political path to respond to the intolerable Bolsonaro administration. The political establishment responded by brutally repressing these protests. Although they have not yet summoned the National Guard, as proposed by Bolsonaro, the governors of all the bourgeois parties have mobilized the police apparatus in a war-like crackdown against the demonstrators. In São Paulo, Governor João Doria of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) deployed more than 4k military police officers, helicopters, four armored vehicles and a water cannon vehicle. The policemen conducted searches, forbade the demonstrators from carrying flags and alcohol, and arrested more than 30 people. They dispersed the protest by violently attacking it with tear gas grenades and rubber bullets and by beating defenseless people on the ground. In Rio de Janeiro, the repression started when the demonstrators were still gathering, with police arresting about 40 people. In Belém do Pará, more than 100 people were arrested before the beginning of a demonstration, cynically accused of violating a social distancing decree. On the same day, shopping malls were reopened in the city, generating crowded lines at their doors.

Protest in Goiânia, capital of Goiás

The same happened in Fortaleza, capital of Ceará, a state ruled by Camilo Santana of the Workers Party (PT). The demonstrators were corralled by the police and prevented from starting the protest, and when they sat on the ground the police attacked them with tear gas and arrested seven people. The PT governor took full responsibility for the arrests in an interview on the TV show “Roda Viva” on Tuesday night, and said he saw no “excess” in the police action. Santana reaffirmed that he will not allow demonstrations that break the quarantine, despite promoting the reopening of all activities in the state, one of the most affected by the coronavirus, with over 50k confirmed cases. On Monday, commerce and shopping malls were reopened in Fortaleza. After Sunday, Bolsonaro spoke in front of the government palace in Brasília, saying that the demonstrations are the “major problem of the moment.” Feeding his conspiratorial propaganda that characterizes the protesters as “terrorists” who are “intrinsically linked to international extremism,” he mentioned Vice Pres Gen Mourão, saying “they are starting to pull up their sleeves.” Underlying these words there is a dangerous drive toward openly dictatorial forms of rule. The political forces that claim to oppose Bolsonaro and his attacks on democracy are the same ones that are mobilizing the military-police apparatus. The scale of the violence being mobilized by the state is a reflection of the awareness and fear of the Brazilian ruling class of the fragility of its social and political order. The threat felt by the bourgeoisie doesn’t come from the radicalism of “anti-fascist” demonstrators, adopted as scapegoats, but from the fact that these protests are intersecting with a growing social opposition within the working class masses.

The explosion of class struggle

Protest in Rio de Janeiro

Under conditions of media blackout, an explosive growth in strike and protest activity is taking place in the workplaces at an unprecedented scale and high levels of militancy. The Brazilian working class is expressing that their conditions of existence, aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, have reached the breaking point. Millions of workers are being pushed to working places in highly risky conditions. Factories, slaughterhouses, mining companies, hospitals and transport have registered several outbreaks of COVID-19. At the same time, millions more workers have lost their jobs and had their wages cut during the pandemic. Last Monday, more than 3k workers went on a wildcat strike at Bridgestone’s Santo André plant, in the metropolitan region of São Paulo. The company is a Pindo-based transnational and the world’s largest tire manufacturer. The workers rebelled against continuously worsening conditions and for three days stood by the machines refusing to operate them. They have had their wages cut for months and a coronavirus outbreak has already infected over 50 employees. The Rubber Workers Union presented the situation as a dead-end. According to them, the only thing they could do was talk to the workers “to keep the peace inside the factory” and negotiate with the company a proposal to “alleviate” the economic despair of the workers. The strike was ended three days later, with the payment of a profit-sharing bonus. Wage cuts, deadly sanitary conditions and the danger of layoffs are maintained.

Protest in Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul

In bus companies across the country, drivers and ticket collectors have faced mass layoffs and pay and benefit cuts since the pandemic began. Since March, dozens and dozens of strikes in all regions of the country have broken out in response to these attacks. In Teresina, Piauí, drivers and collectors who have been on strike for nearly a month against the layoffs of 400 colleagues and pay cuts are holding street demonstrations daily. In a protest in front of the City Palace last Friday, workers held handmade posters reading:

I don’t have anything to eat today, imagine tomorrow. Bus drivers lives matter.

Another bus workers’ strike started last week in Vitória, capital of Espírito Santo. The city has been the stage of a series of militant strikes by workers of different bus companies over the past few months, with street demonstrations and blockades of avenues taking place. Once again, the strike has been prohibited by the court, with a threat of a daily fine of 30k reais (around $6k) to the union. The workers ignored the judicial measure and went on strike anyway. According to the president of the drivers’ union:

We are now at the company’s door talking to the workers to convince them to comply with the judicial order, but they are not complying with the union’s request. We try to convince them, but we can’t take them by the arm and force them to leave.

In crowded hospitals across the country, health workers are responding, through a growing number of strikes and protests, to deadly mass contamination, which has already cost the lives of more than 150 nurses. In the last week alone, actions as these have been recorded in at least four different states. In addition to the demand for adequate protective equipment and hiring more professionals, there is a growing national movement, especially among nurses and auxiliaries, demanding better salaries. This radical and growing activity of the working class marks a new stage of the international class struggle, in which the corporatist unions, upon which the ruling class has relied over the past decades, are losing their power to control the workers.

The struggle for a revolutionary leadership

On May 19, just over a week before the explosion of protests against the murder of George Floyd, the WSWS wrote: The Brazilian bourgeois state is imposing a normalization of death for the entire working class, whether through hunger, infection by the new deadly coronavirus, or the brutal murder by its military agents. However, the working class is not a passive agent in this process. The growing mobilization of Brazilian workers in wildcat strikes against unsafe conditions in the workplaces and the revolt of residents of the poor neighborhoods against state violence are merging with a global movement of the working class that faces the same attacks by the ruling classes of all countries. Developments are confirming this perspective. Demonstrations in opposition to the murders promoted by the state exploded simultaneously around the world. Millions of people took to the streets with a feeling that the social order in which they live is essentially unjust. These events are reflections of objective conditions widespread among workers around the world, regardless of their nationality, race, ethnicity or gender. In the name of the interests of a tiny corporate and financial elite, the lives of billions of workers are totally disposable. In this weekend’s Brazilian protests, workers such as nurses and food delivery workers turned out en masse, with their uniforms and class political demands clearly recognizable. In the next stages of this struggle, the growing opposition of the working class, developing in workplaces around the globe, will emerge as a determining political factor with huge revolutionary implications. The struggle for the common demands of the workers of the whole planet for the socialist reorganization of economical life should be fought as a global struggle through the leadership of the IC4I. We urge the workers and youth who follow the WSWS to make the decision to join us in building a revolutionary movement in Brazil and globally, and help us build the Socialist Equality Group (GSI) as the Brazilian section of the IC4I.

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