israel is far from immune

Back-to-work policy accelerates spread of COVID-19 in Israel
Jean Shaoul, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

The direct result of the back-to-work policy dictated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Blue and White coalition government is a renewed rise in the number of new COVID-19 cases in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza. As of Jul 3, Israel had recorded 28k cases and 326 deaths, with an additional 1k new cases. The number of new cases has doubled every 12 days over the last month, and now averages more than 500 a day. While the number being ventilated is stable at around 30, this is because hospitals are deferring ventilation to a later stage of the disease, if at all, due to fears of long-term damage. Likewise, the number of seriously ill, which has risen to more than 40, is still relatively low because it takes about two weeks after the detection of new cases to reach this level of severity. The rise in new cases has led to the closure of many schools throughout the country, and the re-imposition of restrictions in certain areas, including limits on the number of people at concerts, events, weddings and funerals. The government has brought back the rule requiring Palestinians, who cross the border into Israel to work predominantly in the construction industry, not to go home to their families at the end of their working day. Instead, they must remain in Israel until Jul 17, in accommodation provided by their employers. The government is also introducing legislation allowing the Shin Bet to continue using a surveillance system originally developed for monitoring the Palestinians, in a bid to curb the spread of the disease, despite widespread criticism.

In late April, as the infection rate began to fall, reaching just a few dozen new cases a day, and the cost of the closures reached $285m/day, the government announced a relaxation of restrictions. This allowed the reopening of schools and a return to work, and later, the reopening of restaurants, bars, clubs, swimming pools and hotels. Netanyahu has failed to put in place any measures to guard against or deal with a second wave. This was despite recommendations from a team of experts, headed by Professor Eli Waxman from the Weizman Institute of Science in Rehovot, that advises the National Security Council. It had called for a contact-tracing body, a national information centre on the COVID-19 crisis and a unit within the Ministry of Health to tackle emergency situations. His team also recommended that the government reconsider its decision to restart the economy if the daily number of infections rose above 200, far lower than the current rate. Waxman blamed the increase in cases on the speedy and uncontrolled reopening of schools and the economy and the government’s failure to implement his team’s recommendations. He said:

In another three weeks, we are liable to reach a thousand new infections a day. And even if a small percentage of them turn serious, an overload will gradually be inflicted on the hospitals.

The social and economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating for Israeli workers and their families. While around 400k workers have returned to their jobs, more than 861k are unemployed, 21% of the workforce, compared with 27% at the height of the lockdown and just 3.5% in February. This figure does not include people above the legal retirement age, who do not normally qualify for unemployment benefits but have been receiving special grants during the pandemic.

The government’s emergency unemployment support for 262k workers is set to expire at the end of August. This will leave hundreds of thousands without a financial safety net amid one of the worst unemployment crises Israel has ever seen, even as it announces an additional $580m aid package for small and medium-sized businesses. The poorest Israeli households will find themselves in dire straits, with no income, no government support and nowhere to turn for help. According to a government survey, job vacancies are at an all-time low, with just 42k vacancies in May, as the demand for workers fell by 55% in telecoms and 64% in retail. One-fifth of businesses expect their income to fall by half, while retail businesses, which have furloughed more than 46k workers, reported that they are likely to reemploy only 34% in the best-case scenario and just 10% in the worst-case scenario. The Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have recorded more than 2.1k coronavirus cases, with 258 new cases in the previous 24 hours, and a total of 11 deaths. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered a full lockdown throughout the West Bank for five days.

Anger is mounting against the Netanyahu government on several fronts. Last week, thousands of workers in the travel industry, one of the country’s major employers, rallied outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem demanding grants and aid for the sector. El Al, Israel’s largest airline, already struggling before the pandemic, has suspended all flights as pilots refused to operate the few flights set for Wednesday, and ordered all flights, even those in transit, to return to Tel Aviv’s international airport. The airline reportedly told pilots that if they refused to fly, they would be transferred to other active positions in the company, although many would be furloughed. It has already put 80% of its 6,303 workers on unpaid leave, cut management salaries by 20%, stopped all investment and purchases, including a signed agreement for new planes. According to pilots’ representative Nir Reveni, El Al had failed to abide by agreements made with pilots during the coronavirus pandemic and was holding out for a bigger bailout from the government. This package would dilute the main shareholder’s stake from 63% to 15% and slash one-third of the workforce in the name of efficiency savings.

Teachers, furious at government plans to extend the academic year for secondary school students at their expense to make up for students’ lost education, had threatened strike action that was only averted by a court ruling outlawing the government’s proposals. While 100k government employees have returned to work, the Ministry of Finance has announced drastic cuts in spending, including slashing both wages and jobs, leading the union to declare a labour dispute. The intention of the government workers’ union is not to defend jobs but defend its place at the negotiating table and present its own plans on how to cut costs. Ariel Ya’akobi, chair of the union, made this very clear, saying:

Usually, when they want to cut wages or fire workers, they approach the union saying that the government is in financial difficulty. Whenever the government is in difficulty, we’re always there to help, and we find a way to solve the problem with as little harm to workers as possible. But this time, the government has already decided how much and where they’re going to cut expenses.

Netanyahu has caused immense anger, expanding the cabinet to buy off his political supporters and demanding the Knesset approve retrospective tax benefits for him even as he faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who now holds the specially created position of deputy prime minister, is seeking an official residence and other trappings of office at public expense. Israeli and Palestinian workers and youth have joined in the international protests against the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. They voiced their opposition to the brutality of Israeli police towards the most impoverished layers: Ethiopian, Jews of Arab and North African descent, migrant workers, Israel’s own Palestinian citizens, Bedouins, or the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories; and to the persistent refusal of politicians and the authorities to end racism and improve conditions in the wake of similar protests. Not least, there have been protests against Netanyahu’s deeply controversial and illegal proposal to annex the settlements and the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, which appears to have been put on hold pending approval from the Trump administration, presumably with some cosmetic concessions.

Millions in Pindostan face catastrophe as federal unemployment relief set to expire amid surging pandemic
Kevin Reed, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

Tens of millions of Pindos who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic face financial catastrophe as the federal government moves forward with a plan to end the $600 weekly federal expansion of state unemployment benefits by the end of July. While the pandemic continues to surge and sets infection records daily, the seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 infections in Pindostan has now surpassed 50k, a bipartisan agreement is being worked out in Congress to terminate the federal aid and force workers into destitution or back to work to face sickness and death. At a press conference on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the unemployment benefit that was included in the CARES Act passed in March will not be in the new coronavirus relief bill being planned for a vote in the Senate by the end of July. Speaking for the interests of the American corporate and financial elite, McConnell said of the $600 benefit:

The government should not be paying people a bonus not to go back to work. And we’re hearing it all over the country that it’s made it harder actually to get people back to work. I think it was a mistake.

McConnell, who was opposed to the expansion of unemployment payments in the first place, said that any new bill that included the benefit is “never going to pass the Senate.” In an interview with Fox Business Network on Wednesday, Trump backed up McConnell’s view, saying that the CARES Act jobless benefit gave Pindos “a disincentive to work.” While the Demagogs have said they are in favor of an extension of the federal benefit, knowing full well that the Thug majority will not approve it, a deal is being worked out behind the scenes that will tie any new aid to economic conditions in each state or offer some kind of reduced “back-to-work bonus.” Whatever the agreement worked out by the end of the month, it is clear that the Pindo political establishment is preparing a new round of government funding that will be doled out to the corporations and stock market, while the working class will be cut off from minimal aid as part of the “reopening of the economy,” even as it is projected that daily confirmed coronavirus infections could rise to 100k in a matter of weeks.

The consequences of this policy will be devastating for workers who will fall off a fiscal cliff on Jul 31, as some analysts have put it. For many individuals, the loss of the $600 federal supplemental benefit will mean that their state-only unemployment checks will drop to $385/wk. One report says that the federal cut-off will reduce benefits for 31m workers by 61%. Exposing as a fraud the claim that the supplemental benefit is keeping workers from returning to work, new research by the Economic Policy Institute published on Jun 29 shows that some 17.6m workers have no prospect of returning to a job at all. The EPI report, which came out before the official unemployment numbers for June were released on Wednesday, notes:

Of the 32.5m workers who are either officially unemployed or otherwise out of work because of the virus, 11.9m workers, or 7.2% of the workforce, are out of work with no hope of being called back to a prior job. To this total, 5.7m workers, or 3.5% of the workforce, are out of work and expect to get called back to a prior job but likely will not.

For millions of workers, the termination of the $600/wk benefit will lead to devastating consequences as families are forced to make decisions between feeding themselves or paying for utilities and rent. Bob Pinnegar, President and CEO of the National Apartment Association told Forbes on Wednesday:

The enhanced unemployment benefits are very important to people, especially those that are in lower paying jobs. They’re really helping them to make ends meet and to be able to put food on the table, to pay their utilities and to pay their rent. The challenge is going to be going forward.

A massive housing crisis is inevitable as the 120-day federal eviction protection is also set to expire on Jul 25, at the same time the supplemental unemployment benefits end. Since many rental properties do not qualify for the eviction program to begin with, a large number of families will be thrown out of their homes in August. A measure of the priorities of the Pindo ruling establishment is the fact that the CARES Act has not addressed the needs of the poorest sections of the population, especially when it comes to food insecurity. A report on Friday in the Hill said:

Congressional stimulus packages passed so far allow states to increase SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits for two months for some, yet the poorest 40% of participants, including 5m children, have yet to see any benefit increase.

Data from Jun 11 through Jun 23 published by the House Pulse Survey of the Census Bureau shows that about 11.8m children live in households that missed a mortgage or rent payment or sought deferment, while 3.9m children are experiencing COVID-19 induced food shortages. While Congress and the President Trump are proceeding with an aggressive back-to-work agenda, the reality is that millions of workers are resisting being forced to work under conditions of an expanding pandemic which is just beginning to infect ever broader segments of the population.

South-eastern Pindostan continues to mark substantial rise in coronavirus cases
Cordell Gascoigne, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

Over the past week, Pindostan has been ravaged by coronavirus as a result of governors pushing forward with the full reopening of the economy which has been encouraged by Trump. Particularly in south-eastern Pindostan, the largest meat producers in the country (Butterball in Garner, NC; Wayne Farms in Oakwood, Ga; and the titan Tyson Food in Springdale, Ar), have operated as vectors for the virulent disease, as exhibited by the high rate of meat industry workers in the US and internationally who have been exposed to and afflicted by COVID-19. Over the past week, Arkansas has seen an increase of more than 5k cases, bringing the current total to 22,622 cases and 281 deaths. The state government reported 878 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the most the state has seen in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic. The state reported more than 7k tests had been administered and conducted over the past 24 hours. Dismissing the record high total, governor Asa Hutchinson boasted that the state had seen a decline in cases for a few days prior to Thursday, which more than doubled Wednesday’s new case count. The state of Louisiana over the course of seven days saw an increase of over 10k cases, bring its total confirmed infections to 63,289 and 3,283 deaths. The limited measures and “precautions” taken by the state during Phase Two of its economic reopening exposes the criminal character of policies which are aimed at forcing workers back to work at all costs, including their lives.

The Louisiana Dept of Health reported in its daily update that there were 1,728 cases and an additional 21 deaths Friday. There were an additional 15,286 tests administered and reported to Louisiana state government on Thursday, which found 9.05% positive for coronavirus. Over the past week, the positive rate was 7.63%; during Phase One, the average was recorded at 4.78%. Mississippi’s recorded cases have increased by more than 6k from last week’s 22,287 to the current 28,770 with deaths having increased by 114 from 978 to 1,092. The state reported nine deaths on Wednesday and set a new high in patients hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases at 786, of which 579 of were confirmed cases. From last week’s 30,444 confirmed coronavirus cases and 841 deaths in Alabama, the current total is 38,962 cases and 972 deaths. Jul 2 presented, as the trend continues, another record in the coronavirus pandemic with the Alabama Dept of Public Health’s report of 1,162 cases of COVID-19 overnight, the state’s highest single day total to date. Furthermore, the state’s hospitals are reporting their third consecutive day of record numbers with 797 inpatients being treated for the respiratory disease while hundreds more are hospitalized awaiting test results, since the state’s first case was confirmed in mid-March, 2,835 people have required hospitalization. With coronavirus on the rise and record numbers reflecting that, a decision by Thug governor Kay Ivey on Monday extended the state’s Safer-at-Home order to Jul 31. In Montgomery County, 36 new cases were recorded overnight, bringing its total to 3,875; while Jefferson County reported 145, rapidly becoming the county with the most cases, raising it to 4,532. Mobile County reported an additional 100 cases, rising to 3,797. Half of Montgomery County’s deaths have taken place in June, and 10 of its 102 deaths have occurred in the last week.

As of Jul 2, the Tennessee Dept of Health has reported 46,520 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 370 probable cases of the disease, an increase of 1,575 total cases since Jul 1. The state’s health dept also announced 594 confirmed deaths, 2,775 hospitalizations and 28,938 recoveries with more than 838k coronavirus tests having been administered. Among significant counties:

  • Carter has 56 cases, 1 death, and 41 recoveries;
  • Greene, 86 cases, 2 deaths and 58 recoveries;
  • Hawkins, 55 cases, 2 deaths, and 40 recoveries;
  • Johnson, 38 cases, 0 deaths, and 25 recoveries;
  • Sullivan, 101 cases, 2 deaths, 76 recoveries;
  • Unicoi, 55 cases, 0 deaths, and 52 recoveries;
  • Washington, 135 cases, 0 deaths, and 106 recoveries.

In Georgia, the previous week’s number of cases numbered 71,095, which increased to 87,709 and 2,779 deaths. The DeKalb County Board of Health confirmed its COVID-19 call center and testing sites will close Jun 3, despite the harrowing surging of cases, and not resume operations until Jun 6, claiming the decision was “in line with other health districts in metro Atlanta and in other parts of the state.” As with other states in the south-east, another record was set in the state on Jul 2 as confirmed coronavirus cases rose by nearly 3.5k. Hospitalizations have also increased by 225 with 32 more patients in the ICU in less than 24 hours, bringing the total, according to the Georgia Dept of Public Health, to 11.5k in the hospital and 2,389 in ICU. With cases surging in the auto and meatpacking plants, a manager at Macon Beer Company confirmed they shut down production due to the spike of COVID-19, with doors closed on Jul 1 until further notice. In addition, restaurants in Macon are following the Beer Company’s path as cases in Baldwin and Bibb counties continue to rise. Florida on Jul 2 reported 10,109 new cases of COVID-19, continuing its breaking of records in single-day reported cases, with 6,563 cases on Jul 1. There were an additional 68 deaths bringing the total to 3,718. Florida has nearly 170k confirmed cases of coronavirus. For 25 consecutive days, Florida has set a record high in its weekly rolling average.

Georgia, one of the first states to loosen restrictions, joined Florida and several other states in setting single-day records of new cases. Georgia reported 3,472, up from 2,976 on Jul 1. Also on Jul 1, Miami-Dade County’s confirmed cases increased by 2,304 to 40,265, in which the county had 1,018 deaths, the highest total in the state. Broward County’s cases increased by 531 to 17,116, bringing the county’s death toll to 394; Monroe County recently listed with 296 cases with a one-day increase of 26 and 5 deaths; and Palm Beach County’s cases increased by 412 to 14,859, with a death toll of 523. In total, Florida has confirmed at least 15,150 coronavirus-related hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic. While more than 70k people in North Carolina have been confirmed positive for the disease, the actual number of people who have contracted the virus statewide is, according to researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, closer to a staggering half million. The researchers have estimated around 5% of the state’s population, more than 480k, are infected with the relatively low official numbers indicative of the state’s lack of testing. The South Carolina Dept of Health and Environmental Control announced Friday that there have been 1,831 new confirmed cases and 9 additional confirmed deaths bringing the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 41,532 and confirmed deaths from COVID-19 to 793. There are currently 1,125 hospital beds throughout the state occupied by patients who have either tested positive or are under investigation for the disease. As of Friday, a total of 450,432 tests have been conducted in the state, placing South Carolina in the lowest tier of states for per capita testing.

UAW and GM downplay outbreaks of COVID-19 at Pindo auto plants
Jessica Goldstein, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

Auto corporations in Pindostan and the United Auto Workers (UAW) have continued their policy of coverup as COVID-19 cases spread throughout the plants. Two clusters have been reported at General Motors plants since states recklessly began a premature reopening of their economies, according to the Detroit Free Press Friday. Since production restarted in May, 22 new cases have been reported at GM’s Arlington Assembly Plant in Texas, where over 4k workers build GM’s highly profitable SUVs. Twelve new cases have also been reported at the company’s assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri where over 4.2k workers build full-size pickup trucks and vans. The auto industry in North America was shut down in March, even before many state stay-at-home orders went into effect, after workers at auto plants in Ontario, Canada, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio organized independent wildcat actions to protest unsafe working conditions, defying both the company’s demands and attempts by the Unifor union and the UAW to keep them on the job. The Pindo-based auto corporations collaborated with UAW to shuffle workers back into the plants in mid-May under the pretense that they were being thoroughly cleaned daily and that adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and personal hygiene measures would be provided and that the plants would be configured to comply with social distancing. Returning under conditions of financial duress due to difficulties obtaining unemployment pay, workers went back to the plants to find that virtually none of the highly touted safety measures had been put into effect. While demanding workers go back to work in a non-essential industry to produce profits for corporate shareholders, General Motors is seeking to shift complete responsibility for health and safety onto the workers. In a statement to the Free Press, GM spokesperson David Barnas said:

Many of the same steps we follow inside our plants can help keep people safe when they’re not working, and that includes staying home if you’re not well, social distancing when you leave home, frequent hand-washing and the use of masks.

The UAW has issued a toothless statement in regards to the climbing case count at the two plants. Union spox Brian Rothenberg said:

The UAW is watching very carefully how these health and safety factors are impacting different plants, and we are in a continual dialogue at all levels. Health and safety for all members is our priority.

Autoworkers know the UAW’s word is just as worthless as that of corporate management, with whom they are in “continual dialogue” on the best way to suppress the mounting opposition of workers to the flouting of safety protocols. The UAW has no intention to force GM or any of the auto corporations to shut down plants. The union made no effort to mobilize workers to shut down production inspite of its posturing last month, when five positive COVID-19 cases had been reported among workers at Wentzville. The Free Press reported that an anonymous source close to the UAW stated that GM would clean the Wentzville plant with a chemical spray over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. While the UAW and corporations are working behind the scenes to play down the health crisis, workers’ anger is reaching a breaking point as they demand that the plants be shut down again for their safety. A veteran worker at GM Wentzville told the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter:

They should shut down. It’s spreading. Workers suspect there are many more than the 12 reported COVID cases at the plant that management is not telling them about. I wonder whether the factory is really going to be sprayed with disinfectant over the weekend, since some workers are being told to come in to work. There is no social distancing when we are clocking out. The chairman is always at the door standing there seeing it, and hasn’t done anything. It’s like herding cattle. He’s standing there and members of management are too. None of them says anything.

In opposition to the UAW, a bought and paid-for organization that works in the interests of the corporations against the working class, autoworkers have taken an important step toward by forming independent rank-and-file safety committees at the Fiat Chrysler (FCA) Jefferson North (JNAP) and Sterling Heights (SHAP) assembly plants in Michigan. The workers of the JNAP committee stated:

We must not be kept in the dark about a virus that could potentially kill us. After a hard day of work, we have the right to come home in one piece, not sick, not hurting.

To build support for their struggle and expand their movement, members of the JNAP and SHAP committees have appealed to autoworkers across Pindostan and the world to form their own independent rank-and-file committees at their plants. The appeal has garnered growing support. A worker at an FCA plant in Indiana criticized the filthy conditions in the plant, caused by the company’s relentless drive for profit, saying:

They don’t care about people at all, just parts and numbers. It isn’t safe at all, and it’s filthy in the plant. The bathrooms are disgusting. It looks like the floors never get mopped. When we first came back, it was clean, but it slowly reverted back to the way it was. They probably don’t pay the cleaning crew enough money, and they don’t care. They do have stickers on the floor for show, but there is no social distancing at all. There’s basically two crews in the building at once, and people are running into each other. The time frames should be staggered to keep people out of the way. I make sure the stations on my team are cleaned at the start of the shift, but after that, I don’t know. The line just keeps moving. If the line stops, here comes management wondering why!

The same worker called for building rank-and-file safety committees in every plant to combat the union and management, saying:

Just like with any struggle, if there’s enough people to overthrow the culprit, or whatever is the cause, the people will win. The people will outnumber the culprit, and they have no choice but to give in! Change comes about in numbers, that’s the only way. It’s just like with civil rights, if enough people revolt, change has to come. Once it gets started, it will be hard to stop. That’s the issue, it’s just getting organized to be able to have the special committees. I believe in it.

The WSWS Autoworker Newsletter and the SEP call on autoworkers to build rank and file committees and join hands with the JNAP and SHAP workers in a struggle against the corporations and unions for workers’ control over health and safety measures, line speed, pay and benefits in the plants. These committees must be organized democratically to give voice to and fight for what workers need, not what the companies and union says can be afforded. These demands include:

    Workers must be immediately notified of any cases of COVID-19 and what areas were affected. This information cannot be kept secret from workers.

  1. When a case is confirmed, the factory should be closed for 24 hours for deep cleaning, not just the affected area, but the whole plant.
  2. Preventative maintenance is needed to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment.
  3. Social distancing must be implemented when entering and leaving the plant and during bathroom, lunch and other break times.
  4. The line must be stopped for 10 minutes every hour to enable workers to take off their masks, rest and cool off.
  5. Workers must have regular, universal testing. Temperature checks and self-reporting symptoms are not enough.
  6. If conditions are not safe, workers have the right to refuse to work without threat of retaliation by management and the union.

The fight for the basic right to a safe workplace is one that must encompass the entire working class, in every industry and in every country, connected by the means of production in which every worker plays a role. The rank and file committees are the first step toward breaking out of the isolation imposed by the corporate political parties and unions worldwide and building new connections among workers to carry their struggle forward.

Riverside, California: HCA nurses strike continues as coronavirus takes its toll
Alex Johnson, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

Striking Nurses in Riverside, California are entering into the ninth day of struggle against the HCA Health-Care subsidiary Riverside Community Hospital as a part of a 10-day strike initiative amid rising anger over unsafe conditions and understaffing. Although the militancy of health-care workers remains strong, there is a looming danger that the strike action will be betrayed by the union and end with an acceptance of management’s terms under conditions where the coronavirus pandemic is ravaging the entire state of California. An estimated 500 nurses have gone on strike each day throughout this past week outside RCH hospital grounds. Major demands of the nurses include adequate staffing to relieve nurses from working arduously long shifts and to address the chronic lack of PPE, which has resulted in at least one nurse at the hospital falling ill and dying from COVID-19 and 60 becoming infected. In many cases, nurses have been forced to work 12-hour shifts without taking breaks to eat food, drink water, or even take bathroom breaks. This is occurring even while hospitals across the state of California and the country are seeing an astronomical spike in COVID-19 cases and ICU bed availability suffers from critical shortages. Just yesterday, Riverside County reported more than 500 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths. Riverside University Public Health System expects there to be 18,811 total cases in the county by next Tuesday. The spike in cases is a consequence of the reckless and premature back-to-work drive that has been spearheaded by the Trump administration and put into practice by Demagog governor Gavin Newsom.

According to health officials, the confirmed active case count in Riverside bloated to 10,059 on Thursday, compared to 9,532 on Wednesday. The number of deaths due to COVID-19 stands at 465. On Wednesday, Governor Newsom implemented a ban on indoor operations at restaurants, wineries, family entertainment centers and theaters. He cited this as a precautionary measure in response to the “particularly concerning” spike in infections for 19 counties within the state. In Riverside, as well several counties on the state government’s “watch list,” multi-agency strike teams have been deployed to collaborate with local business owners to enforce compliance with state and federal health protocols, including social distancing and mask usage. While mandates barring indoor activities are scheduled for three weeks, scientists and epidemiologists have noted that this is the beginning of a resurgence of the pandemic in multiple states across the country after lockdowns were lifted to resume economic activity.

According to hospital figures, on Thursday hospitalizations increased by 12 patients and ICU patients increased by 6 additional patients. In total, there are 431 patients currently being serviced at RCH and 123 patients in ICU. 99 ICU beds in Riverside County were being used as of Jul 1 as hospitals across the county are now scrambling to prepare for the expected surge in capacity. Riverside spox Brooke Federico stated earlier this week that suspected and confirmed coronavirus patients currently account for about 35% of those beds. Hospitals in Riverside County have already begun placing some overflow patients in surge-capacity beds on a temporary basis despite the county officially having 385 licensed ICU beds. The chief operating officer at Desert Regional Medical Center, Michael Ditoro, told local media that his facility has hit ICU-bed capacity “well prior to COVID. Year after year.” But according to Ditoro, the surge in capacity isn’t the biggest problem, and meager staffing levels is placing health-care workers and patients at severe risk. Alan Williamson, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at Eisenhower Health, voiced concern over the severe crisis of overstaffing as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases ramp up. As Williamson put it:

Eisenhower Health has the ability to accommodate 155 intensive care patients but the question would be, are you able to muster enough nursing staff and ancillary staff to run 155 ICU beds?

Medical professionals and local politicians have sounded alarm bells over the dire situation facing hospitals in the Riverside area. Demagog Party Rep Raul Ruiz, who is also a medical doctor, said in a public email:

I am calling on the county to immediately reverse their decision to rescind public health safety and reinstate their order to wear masks in public and to transparently communicate their social distancing and stay-at-home surge intervention plans.

Public health officials in the county have also expressed worries over the recent upticks in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Earlier this week, Riverside’s public health officer, Dr Cameron Kaiser, told the Board of Supervisors that the county’s progress in fighting the virus has vastly deteriorated and that the “curve is no longer flat.” In data produced by state officials, hospital conditions in Riverside have steadily worsened ever since reopening plans were put into effect. Towards the end of May, there were 195 patients across 15 hospitals in Riverside who were being treated for COVID-19. As of Jul 1, that number has more than doubled. Striking HCA nurses speaking to local media in recent days have repeatedly pointed out how draconian the hospital regime has been in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Erik, an RN and rapid response team member, told MedPage Today:

You have to sneak the break in, or you get to the end of the day and it dawns on you that you’re dehydrated and you haven’t been to the bathroom all day.

RNs frequently go for 10 hours without bathroom breaks while wearing extremely tight respiratory masks, feeling incredibly dehydrated but unable to step away from patients due to short staffing. Hospital management has enforced this practice in defiance of required break timeslots. According to nursing staff regulations at RCH, nurses are entitled to three paid 15-minute breaks and a half-hour off the clock each working day. Andrew said:

If I could find a single member who got all those breaks every day I would keel over from shock, because it doesn’t happen.

In addition to the increased workload on the patient floor, nurses have been compelled to handle housekeeping duties. This has led to a significant drop in cleanliness in hospital rooms and unsanitary care. Nurses have been tasked with stripping beds, wiping poles and IVs, and stocking rooms. There have been cases of women in birth delivery units being brought into rooms that are still noticeably dirty from the last delivery. A survey conducted by SEIU Local 121RN, which holds the contract for the NCA nurses, found that only 27% of HCA health care hospitals in the Southern California area have access to N95 respirators in their unit, significantly lower than other hospitals surveyed. Around the same number of nurses have access to Powered Air Purifying Respirators. Only half of HCA hospital nursing staff have been trained in safely donning and doffing PPE in the past year. Staff confidence in the hospital management’s ability to address safety equipment shortages is also abysmally low. The survey showed that only 3% of HCA health-care hospitals felt their facility had enough PPE for expected coronavirus increases.

While SEIU has consistently declared that the temporary strike has been carried out to ensure “worker safety,” and supposedly place pressure on RCH to address the needs of workers, all actions of the union point to a strategy of strangling the rising upsurge and making sure it does not endanger the profit interests of the company. SEIU is doing everything in its power to suppress the continual upsurge of nurse opposition and derail the strike wave into a dead end. The 10-day strike is set to end on Monday without any clear resolution on the deplorable working environment and shortage of staffing nurses are facing across the California hospital system. No information is being relayed to health care workers or the public at large about what is being communicated or planned between the union and Riverside Community Hospital Management. RCH, in an attempt to safeguard itself with staff absent, has hired extra nursing staff to act as strikebreakers to continue its operations. Nothing is being said by the SEIU on the use of strikebreakers to handicap the struggle launched by health-care workers or the obstinate refusal of RCH to fulfill workers’ demands. On the contrary, union officials have insisted that the calling of the strike has nothing to do with allocating more resources and funding to address workers’ concerns.

Moreover, SEIU has also stated the walkout is not related to the current contract of workers at RCH, which doesn’t expire until September. SEIU has refused to pose any concrete demands to HCA Health-Care, and no confidence should be placed in this pro-corporate union in the fight for improved working conditions, a livable wage, and to stop layoffs. Nurses at RCA should link up with health-care, auto and factory workers across the country for a general strike and communicate with workers internationally who are facing the same struggle against multi-billion-dollar corporations and the capitalist politicians and corrupt trade unions who protect them. To carry out the necessary amount of mass testing, contact-tracing, and quarantine procedures needed to eradicate the pandemic and save lives, as well as ensure nurses, doctors and other critical frontline workers have adequate PPE to combat COVID-19, health-care workers and hospital staff should form rank-and-file safety committees to guarantee that their social needs are met and are not subordinated to private profit.

HPAE union betrays NJ nurses’ fight for PPE and better pay
Erik Schreiber, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

During the past several weeks, thousands of nurses in southern New Jersey have staged pickets to demand better pay, safe working conditions, and adequate staffing at their hospitals. The novel coronavirus pandemic has only made the satisfaction of these long-standing demands more urgent. During the spring, New Jersey, along with NY and Connecticut, was the center of the COVID-19 outbreak in Pindostan. As of Jul 1, NJ had 171,928 cases of the novel coronavirus and 15,078 deaths. The state has the second-most deaths and third-most cases in the country. By Jun 13, the state had already lost more residents to the pandemic than it lost during WW2. Like their counterparts across Pindostan, health-care workers in NJ have faced renewed attacks such as reduced hours, furloughs, and staff cuts since the pandemic reached Pindostan in March. At the same time, more than half of the state’s health-care workers have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, according to a survey. Of those who became infected, 25% of health-care workers returned to work before they felt they had recovered. Nearly 75% of health-care workers were told to reuse their N95 masks for days. Trauma and feelings of failure and abandonment are widespread among the state’s nurses. Several dozen NJ health-care workers have died from COVID-19, deaths that could have been prevented through better PPE. Governor Phil Murphy nevertheless is pressing ahead with his premature reopening of the state, which will lead to even more infections and deaths.

Even when the pandemic was at its initial peak, NJ cut hospital staff. Now, as the increase in new cases has slowed, nurses at three facilities in NJ are beginning to enter struggles over better PPE and higher wages. Anger is running high among health-care workers, and strikes and protests are spreading in Pindostan and internationally, but the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which is affiliated with the Pindo Federation of Teachers (AFT), has systematically stifled and isolated these struggles. Until this week, about 300 nurses at Southern Ocean Medical Center in Stafford Township and about 1,200 nurses at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune were staging informational pickets seeking better wages, adequate supplies of PPE, and restrictions on duties unrelated to nursing that could entail increased risk of exposure to the virus. The contract for nurses at both hospitals expired on May 31 and was extended. Both facilities are owned by Hackensack Meridian Health, the largest health-care provider in NJ.

During contract negotiations, the company proposed to use so-called floating nurses who could work in several departments, potentially including departments for which they had not been trained. Nurses opposed this idea. Throughout the negotiations, HPAE deliberately limited nurses’ actions to symbolic informational pickets that each lasted for only four or five hours. In a statement meant to reassure the company, the union publicly emphasized that the nurses were not on strike. The union has consistently tried to separate their members at different facilities. When negotiations at Jersey Shore University recently broke off, HPAE continued negotiations and reached an agreement at Southern Ocean. On July 2, it was reported that HPAE and the company also reached an agreement for the Jersey Shore University facility. The three-year contract at Southern Ocean, which was ratified last week, will provide for a limited increase in pay. However, the contract also states that HPAE and management will develop guidelines for floating nurses, which the nurses had opposed.

Moreover, reports suggest that the contract does not guarantee adequate PPE or prevent nurses from being assigned non-nursing duties that could expose them to infection. This agreement arises as the coronavirus spreads rapidly throughout the country and the Murphy administration prematurely reopens New Jersey. With 300 new cases each day on average, the disease has not been contained in the state and conditions are ripe for a second surge. HPAE is playing the same role at Salem Medical center in Mannington Township, where about 140 nurses at Salem Medical Center in Mannington Township also are negotiating a contract. Like their brothers and sisters at Jersey Shore, they are demanding higher wages. They call for better nurse-to-patient ratios and demand that Community Health-Care Associates, which owns the facility, honor commitments it previously made regarding accrued paid sick and vacation time. In addition, nurses must fight CHA continuously for PPE. CHA bought Salem from its previous owner in 2016. Before the sale closed, nurses began negotiating a contract with CHA, and it was finalized within months.

Nurses say that CHA agreed to honor the previous owner’s system for accrued paid time off, and that nurses would keep the time that they had accrued. But when CHA officially took over Salem, the company claimed that it had agreed to a new sick-and-vacation-time program, not the previous one. CHA also is denying nurses pay that is commensurate with their experience. An intensive care nurse at Salem estimated that 80% of senior nursing staff at the hospital had left because of this policy, which has made it difficult to recruit and maintain senior nurses. Salaries at Salem are even lower than at other hospitals in the area. HPAE has allowed negotiations with CHA to drag on fruitlessly since December, and the nurses’ contract expired in February. Despite the absence of a contract, and despite management’s attacks on Salem’s nurses, the union has only organized rare informational pickets in front of the hospital. It has not called for a strike or a united struggle of nurses at Salem and at Jersey Shore. Its tactic is to wear nurses down until they are ready to accept concessions.

The role of HPAE mirrors that of other unions in Pindostan and internationally. The NY State Nurses Association has consistently blocked nurses’ struggle for PPE. When a nurse at Mount Sinai shared a photo of nurses wearing garbage bags because the supply of gowns was insufficient, NYSNA Director Terry Alaimo excoriated the nurse in a vulgar e-mail that was leaked to the NY Post. NYSNA also provided support for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan for the premature reopening of the state by issuing a five-page report full of vague demands that it did not intend to enforce. Like NYSNA and the AFT, HPAE is firmly integrated into the Demagog Party. To develop a successful struggle against furloughs and layoffs, and for decent wages and adequate protection at their workplaces, nurses should follow the example of autoworkers in Detroit, who have formed independent rank-and-file committees to protect their health and safety. Nurses should advance the following demands:

  • Worker control over staffing levels and scheduling to allow for proper treatment for patients and sufficient rest and recuperation for workers.
  • The highest quality PPE in sufficient quantities to allow their use in accordance with health and safety standards.
  • Immediate recall of all laid-off and furloughed health-care workers.
  • Full and timely disclosure of information about the spread of the virus in the workforce.
  • Regular testing for all workers at no cost and full pay for those who must quarantine after testing positive.
  • Free and universal health-care of equal quality.

Their allies in this struggle will be health care workers and other sections of the working class across Pindostan, Latin America and internationally. We encourage nurses and other health-care workers in New Jersey who want to discuss and take up this fight to contact the WSWS.

Pandemic spirals out of control in South Africa, India, Brazil
Bryan Dyne, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

The official tallies of daily confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa, India and Brazil show the pandemic in each country is now spreading exponentially. The three countries have emerged as regional epicenters of the pandemic and they have collectively reported one-fifth of the world’s pandemic cases and a sixth of the world’s deaths. One feature all three countries share is that the number of daily new cases in each has steadily gone up since the coronavirus first emerged. Whatever containment measures that were put in place have collapsed and the pandemic is running rampant through their respective populations. South Africa continues to have the most coronavirus cases of any African country, with more than 177k total cases and just under 3k deaths. Both of these figures have more than doubled in the past three weeks. The explosion of cases and deaths have put a massive strain on the country’s health care system. The pandemic has forced medical centers, such as Cape Town’s Khayelitsha District Hospital, to turn themselves entirely into COVID-19 wards. The head of internal medicine at the hospital, Dr Ayanda Trevor Mnguni, has been forced to hire outside help to cope with the number of cases. Dr Mnguni has also had to hire extra staff on the spot because of a sharp spike in the number of nurses and doctors contracting the virus. In comments to the BBC, Dr Mnguni noted:

We’ve got a lot of staff who are infected. We’ve had a week where we lost our porters. The following week it was our radiographer. A week after that, our staff from the laboratory. The majority of our nurses are themselves patients who’ve got diabetes and hypertension, so that puts a huge strain on the system. Also, we’re noticing an explosion of undiagnosed diabetics, who are now being diagnosed as a result of Covid. And that obviously overwhelms our emergency unit.

Doctors at Khayelitsha are also at times forced to send overflow patients to a sports hall turned emergency coronavirus center run by Médecins Sans Frontières, an organization which has traditionally aided in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In scenes reminiscent of Wuhan in January, a critical lack of supplies, especially oxygen, has meant that the most severe cases are often left to die in favor of those who are predicted to have a better chance of survival. Similar conditions exist elsewhere in Africa. Egypt trails far behind South Africa in number of cases, standing at 72.7k, but exceeds it in deaths, which have risen above 3.2k. Egypt itself has seen a relative stabilization of the number of its new daily cases, which currently hover at 1.5k. This number is expected to sharply rise now that the country has been reopened for tourism, including the Great Pyramids of Giza.

The number of coronavirus cases in India and South Asia more broadly are significantly higher. India alone has nearly 650k confirmed cases and more than 18.6k known deaths. While the country has seen a steady rise in new cases, it also saw a very sharp rise in new deaths, which have doubled in the past three weeks. The spike in deaths is in part the result of revised death tallies submitted from Mumbai and New Delhi, and more are expected as other cities and provinces submit their own death count updates. The revisions were part of an ongoing effort to accurately count the number of dead, an issue that countries in the developing world as well as the advanced economies have faced. The Financial Times has issued repeated reports that the UK is missing at least half of coronavirus related deaths from its official tally. Similar studies have been done in Pindostan showing that the number of deaths should be increased by at least 25%. Estimates from epidemiologists in India suggest that the true number of dead in the country is double the current estimates. One of the ways researchers in India have attempted to compare real and reported deaths is by investigating cemeteries and crematoriums. In Delhi, both report that they have become overwhelmed with bodies in recent months. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh are facing similar problems, including rising case numbers and death tolls. Pakistan currently has nearly 222k reported cases and 4,500 deaths, while Bangladesh has 156k cases and 1.9k deaths. Like India, however, there are concerns in both countries that the real casualty estimates are undercounted as coronavirus deaths are mislabeled as cases skyrocket. South Asia as a whole has surged past one million cases and 25k known deaths.

Brazil, one of the most devastated countries in the world, is second only to Pindostan in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Every day it now reports an average of more than 35k cases and just under 1k deaths. The country has to date reported 1.5m cases and 62.3k deaths. As in India, local medical authorities suspect that the actual number of cases in Brazil is much higher than official tallies. The country currently ranks 111th in the world in per capita testing. While it has currently done nearly 3.3m tests, 47% have tested positive. Models of the virus’ spread predict that the number of actual cases in the country may be up to twenty times the official figures. This has not stopped the economic reopening ordered by President Jair Bolsonaro. Rio de Janeiro, a municipality with a population of 6.7 million, opened restaurants, bars and gyms yesterday. This follows reopening a month ago of car dealerships, home decoration stores, shopping malls and certain public spaces. Since then, the region’s infection rate has increased by 50% and its death toll has increased by 70%. Brazil’s native population is among the most vulnerable and have also been heavily impacted. The Xavante territory, which has a population of 22,000 indigenous people, has suffered 16 coronavirus deaths so far. One of the main reasons is that local authorities underestimated the pandemic’s ability to reach the more remote parts of the Amazon and as such did not make plans to send medical personnel to those regions if the virus did emerge. Another indigenous community, this time in Alto Solimoes, has so far recorded 25 COVID-19 deaths, according to Brazil’s Special Indigenous Health Service. There have been at least 380 deaths and 9,414 infections among the country’s native population.

Australia: Melbourne’s coronavirus outbreak continues to spread despite localised lockdown
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

A surge in COVID-19 infections in the Victorian capital, Melbourne, has continued over the past days, after the state Labor government reinstituted limited lockdown measures on Wednesday. Health authorities confirmed 108 new infections today, following 66 yesterday and 77 on Thursday. Friday’s tally marked the 17th day in a row of double-digit case numbers in Melbourne. Daily infections were higher than 60 throughout the past week. While the number of confirmed cases is lower than in epicentres of the pandemic internationally, it is clear that significant community transmission is underway. Of yesterday’s infections, 17 were connected to known outbreaks, 20 were detected through routine testing and 28 are still under investigation, meaning their source is unknown. Only one case was a returned traveller in hotel quarantine. Over the past fortnight, the proportion of cases stemming from individuals returning from overseas has fallen sharply, while the overall infection tally has risen rapidly. This indicates that the virus is likely circulating widely in Melbourne, and that the real number of infections is far higher than is indicated by the official figures. The outbreak is an indictment of the state and federal governments, Labor and Liberal-National alike. All of have insisted over the past month that the virus has been successfully contained and that it is necessary to “reopen the economy” and end the remaining lockdown restrictions. PM Scott Morrison and the state and territory leaders, the majority of them Labor, are continuing to announce the lifting of coronavirus restrictions on an almost daily basis. Large gatherings, including sporting events with spectators, are resuming in most states, and caps on patrons in restaurants, pubs and other likely sources of widespread transmission are being eased.

In line with this agenda, the Victorian Labor government of Premier Daniel Andrews resisted calls for the reintroduction of lockdown measures for more than a week after Melbourne’s case numbers began to rapidly rise. When it did act, the government rejected proposals for a city-wide lockdown, or for any measures that would impinge on the operations of most businesses. Instead, a localised lockdown has been imposed, covering 36 suburbs and ten postcodes in areas that have been deemed “hotspots” of infection. The suburbs are primarily in the north and west of the city. They are overwhelmingly working class, with higher rates of poverty and unemployment than elsewhere in Melbourne. Residents of the areas are being subjected to a punitive police response to the health crisis. “Border checks” are being conducted by police units, with those coming in and out of affected areas being interrogated about whether their travel is “essential.” They have been threatened with fines of more than $1600 and arrest if they fall foul of the vague criteria of what is “essential” and what is not. Workers have told the WSWS that the police presence in the affected areas is pervasive. Hundreds of officers have been mobilised to patrol the “hotspots.” The crackdown is in effect in suburbs such as Broadmeadows, which has been devastated by the shutdown of the car industry, as well as areas with large numbers of immigrant youth, who are routinely subjected to police harassment. It follows a number of recent cases of police violence across the country, and mass protests last month sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The claims of the Victorian government that the outbreak could be contained, under conditions where most workplaces are continuing operations and schools are open, has already been exposed as a fraud. As many as a quarter of cases over the past days have been detected among residents outside the lockdown area. Some suburbs with high rates of infection have not been placed under lockdown. Blatant commercial considerations appear to be at play. On Friday, Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos revealed that the 3031 postcode was one of four with the highest number of cases over the past week. Despite this, and for reasons that have not been explained, it is not among the ten postcodes that have been locked down. Significantly, though, 3031 covers the Flemington Racecourse, one of the largest in the country. It is continuing to hold races, without patrons, enabling the multi-billion dollar gambling industry to continue its lucrative operations. If the postcode was placed within the lockdown zone, races would likely need to be suspended. Some residents in 3031 have pointed to the arbitrary character of the measures. In comments to the media, they have noted that they live only houses away from the 3032 postcode, which has been declared a “hotspot.” Meanwhile, information continues to emerge revealing government culpability for the outbreak. Health authorities revealed last week that genomic sequencing had shown that many of the recent cases could be traced to private security guards who have overseen hotel quarantines of returned travellers. A cluster that began in May at the Ridges Hotel in Carlton has led to at least 19 confirmed infections. Another at Stamford Plaza in the city centre has resulted in 35 cases, a figure that continues to grow. These confirmed infections have potentially seeded far more widespread transmission.

The Labor government’s decision to put private security staff on the frontlines of an unprecedented pandemic, is of a piece with the entire pro-business response to the crisis. Three large companies in the sector were placed in charge of the hotel quarantines in March, without any public tender. Their employees are low-paid, receiving as little as $25/hr, including for night shifts. They have told the media that they either received no training, or health instruction that lasted a few minutes. Andrews has announced that the private security will be replaced by correctional officers and military personnel. This is in line with a broader use of the pandemic, by governments, to expand the police and military presence amid mounting social and political opposition. In an exercise in damage control, Andrews has called a $3m inquiry into the use of private security. The continued operations of workplaces where social distancing is virtually impossible have also contributed to the spike. At least six infections have occurred at Coles’ chilled distribution warehouse in the western suburb of Laverton. Hundreds of other staff were potentially exposed to the virus. Cases have also been confirmed among employees at McDonald’s restaurants in several suburbs. The resumption of face-to-face teaching last month has heightened the dangers. The union and government enforced reopening of schools was accompanied by claims that they were unlikely to be centres of infection. It was carried out in the face of widespread opposition among teachers and parents. At least 30 schools and child-care centres across Melbourne have been forced to close in the past fortnight, after cases were detected among students, teachers and carers.

To cover up its responsibility, the Victorian government is increasingly seeking to scapegoat ordinary people for the growing number of infections. It has vaguely claimed that large family gatherings were responsible for the initial surge, without providing any proof. On Thursday, government officials asserted that 10k people in hotspots had refused testing. Corporate media outlets immediately claimed that they were adherents of conspiracy theories denying the existence of coronavirus. No evidence or further information, however, has been provided. It appears that some of those who refused tests had already recently been examined. Others may have been fearful of being forced to miss work, under conditions in which many employees do not have paid sick leave. Throughout the pandemic, moreover, testing has been highly restrictive. Only recently have people without symptoms been encouraged to get tests, even when they have come into contact with confirmed cases. In the face of the escalating crisis, Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition have further deepened the bipartisanship that has been on display throughout the pandemic. Coalition PM Morrison has publicly congratulated the Andrews government on its response, while the Victorian Labor government has signalled its commitment to the reopening agenda being implemented across the country. The official parties are coming together to ensure the interests of the financial elite. Their lifting of restrictions has been carried out, not on the basis of health considerations, but to create the conditions for a resumption of corporate profit-making. The unity of the political establishment, moreover, is directed against the social and political opposition that governments know their woefully-inadequate and pro-business response to the pandemic is generating.

“Deep cleaning” in Australian schools: Image and reality
Carolyn Kennett, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

A growing number of temporary school closures are taking place in Australia because of COVID-19 infections among teachers and/or students. In the state of Victoria, 32 schools have been closed for “deep cleaning” since the return of all students just over two weeks ago, including 22 schools since last Friday. Despite the concerns of parents and teachers about the safety of returning to crowded classrooms where social distancing is almost impossible to practice, the federal and state governments, both Liberal-National and Labor, have pushed teachers and children back into classrooms as part of the drive by big business to get workers back inside workplaces. Governments promised thoroughly cleaned classrooms, including desks, chairs and other classroom furniture. The reality is that school cleaners have neither the resources nor hours to conduct the cleaning that is needed. Instead a propaganda campaign is being waged via videos and media releases where some high contact areas are being cleaned regularly using casual untrained labour, while the vast bulk of necessary cleaning is simply not being done. Governments are claiming that where outbreaks have occurred, before reopening the school:

All surfaces, furniture and equipment will be disinfected with hospital-grade disinfectant as part of the deep clean.

Yet the longest time that schools seem to close for cleaning is three days, and this is not even enough time for students or teachers to be tested for COVID-19 and get their results back. There is no clear definition of “deep cleaning,” although various websites say it is different from everyday sanitation because it involves tasks and activities of cleaning and disinfecting that need effort, time and the right techniques and products. Cleaners themselves, as well as teachers and parents, are deeply sceptical of the promises of deep cleaning. The large cleaning companies involved are hiring inexperienced and untrained casual cleaners. The WSWS interviewed Tom, who was employed as a casual by one of the four companies contracted to clean government schools in New South Wales. Tom spent seven hours each day working in two schools. His main job was to clean door handles, railings and high-contact surfaces in bathrooms. He was not allocated time to clean desks, equipment inside classrooms or playground equipment. For some time he was the only additional cleaner hired for the “day shift” at a high school with more than 1k students. One Melbourne cleaner told a daily newspaper:

We don’t have enough equipment like proper cloths and dusters. We don’t have enough to make sure it’s safe. The disinfectant that we are using, we run out quickly. We are not given enough gloves or cloths. We aren’t given masks.

A survey of 500 cleaners found that 90% had to rush essential cleaning in order to complete their jobs, 80% lacked essential equipment, 74% lacked correct PPE and 70% had not received face-to-face training. Epping Boys High School in Sydney was one of the first schools to be closed due to a COVID-19 infection. Following the closure, cleaners at the school revealed that due to the understaffing they were only able to clear rubbish on some days, rather than to do detailed cleaning. The cleaners were denied their requests for PPE, including face masks and extra hand washing supplies. One teacher commented on Facebook:

Wiping over the door handles in the middle of the day is hardly inspiring confidence. Imagine how many cleaners and how many additional hours would actually be needed to clean 21 classrooms, computer labs, libraries, staff rooms, toilets etc.

In many schools, teachers and students are expected to clean the desks and equipment in their own classrooms. Teachers are worried about the extra burden being placed on cleaning staff. One teacher posted on Facebook:

Our school cleaner, who used to work from 2 until 6, is now onsite before we come out for recess at 11 and was still there when I left at 5.30 yesterday. She does five hours at another school before coming to us. These are people who are doing a hard, physical job for long, long hours at the moment, with no end in sight. It isn’t sustainable, but they know it will be their fault when this fails.

Another teacher said:

The cleaner at one of the schools I’m at is doing 12-hour days and they have only managed to get one extra person. ‘Deep cleaning’ isn’t happening, as they physically can’t do it.

For all the government promises, inadequate funding has been provided. In Victoria, just $45m has been allocated for “enhanced cleaning” of state schools. In NSW, only $250m has been allocated for cleaning and hygiene products for public facilities, including schools, Technical and Further Education Colleges and all forms of public transport. The NSW Department of Education website claims:

Good personal hygiene, including regular hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting and the use of personal protective equipment are vigorously applied across all schools.

But each school has received on average just four bars of soap and about 10 ml of hand sanitiser per student. Earlier in the year, when COVID-19 infection numbers started to grow, many teachers reported that their schools had no soap available in student bathrooms and hand sanitiser was non-existent unless teachers and students provided it themselves. Teachers were told not to use PPE while at school. By contrast, private schools have received significant additional financial support from the federal government during the pandemic. As small to medium size businesses, they were able to access payments of up to $100k each to assist with cash flow. In addition, the federal government provided them with $10m for hygiene products and extra cleaning services. One teacher noted:

Private sector schools have large teams of cleaners working before the school day, during, and after. Quick responses to requests, high-touch areas cleaned frequently with strong anti-bacterial cleaner, all on top of the usual daily mopping and vacuuming etc.

In public schools, daily mopping and vacuuming is a rarity. The Victorian government guidelines provide for only weekly or twice-weekly cleaning, and daily mopping is only scheduled in bathrooms, canteens and sick bays. The pandemic has highlighted the under-funding of every sphere of education, including the cleaning of schools. The degradation of cleaning in educational facilities through the privatisation of these services points to the incompatibility of the capitalist profit system with the provision of basic human needs—in this case, the hygiene standards necessary to protect the lives and health of teachers, students and parents.

French unions collaborate with employers to impose mass layoffs as COVID-19 crisis deepens
Will Morrow, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

As the international wave of layoffs, wage-cutting and plant closures triggered by the coronavirus pandemic begins in France, the French trade unions are working closely with the Macron government and employers to suppress workers’ opposition to this assault. On Thursday, Airbus management met with the main national unions to discuss their plans to lay off 5k employees nationally. This is part of a global restructuring that will destroy 15k jobs, including 5.1k in Germany and 1.7k in Britain. Of the 5k job cuts in France, 3.5k will come from Toulouse, where Airbus operates five separate assembly lines for five major airplane models. They include 2.4k assembly-line and 900 white-collar positions. Another 484 positions will be cut at the Nantes factory which manufactures the central structural area of all Airbus planes, and another 386 at the Saint-Nazaire fuselage assembly. It is already clear that layoffs will have a devastating flow-on impact on entire regions. According to the Occitanie Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 85k jobs and 800 companies depend upon the airplane manufacturing industry in Occitanie, which includes Toulouse, with estimates of up to 40k jobs immediately threatened. This month, Scalian, one subcontractor, announced plans to lay off 140 of its 225 employees. Airbus has predicted that demand will not return to pre-2020 levels for three to five years.

The trade unions responded to Airbus’ announcement with empty hand-wringing: describing it as “cataclysmic” and “catastrophic” for workers, while making clear that they would do nothing to oppose it. Dominique Delbouis, the Airbus coordinator of Force Ouvriere announced: “For FO, the red line is to reduce this number, which appears to us to be excessive.” He called to prevent all “forced layoffs.” This only means achieving the layoffs by other means, including so-called “voluntary redundancies,” in which workers are harassed and pressured into leaving their job, under conditions of a general downturn in which they would likely not find another job for years. To the extent that Delbouis had any criticism, it was from the nationalist and corporatist standpoint of Airbus itself, warning:

Airbus must have enough resources available to bounce back once the crisis has passed. And it has all the more chance of bouncing back given that it is alone in the world, with Boeing down for the count and the Chinese not yet on the market.

Jean-François Knepper of FO added that the “natural attrition in the group is 6k jobs per year globally,” and called for slowing the restructuring over two years to achieve it via “natural erosion.” In other words, the unions support the framework of mass job cuts in the midst of the pandemic to boost Airbus’ global competitiveness, and the ensuing social devastation that will be wrought on working-class communities. Their aim is to achieve this while preventing an explosion of opposition among their members. To that end, there will be four months of closed-door negotiations on the latest restructuring plan.

An identical role is being played by the trade unions in other European countries. In the UK, a report published by the New Economics Foundation, in consultation with the national Trades Union Congress, revealed that the Unite trade union has already agreed to a “redundancy cap” of 10% of all positions in the aviation industry, equivalent to tens of thousands of jobs. In Germany, Verdi and other trade unions have called demonstrations in support of a government bailout package of €9b for Lufthansa that is tied to the destruction of 22k jobs and cuts to conditions. But the unions’ role in imposing mass layoffs extends far beyond the airline industry. A report published today by Le Monde points to the scale of the social catastrophe that is underway in the clothing retail sector. Procos, an industry federation for specialized commerce, including restaurants, retail and other small trading, has warned that anywhere from 150k to 300k jobs are threatened. These jobs have little to no protections, are low-wage, and many of those who lose their position will be unable to find any work. According to a study conducted by the General Federation of Labour (CGT) union, of the 2,100 retail employees laid off by La Halle between 2015-2017, between 35% and 40% had still not found a job as of February. Dozens of fashion brands have already gone into receivership and will either be repurchased with stores closed and staff laid off or will shut down entirely. These include Camaïeu (3.3k employees), La Halle (5.8k employees), André, Celio, Demart and Devianne, which together employ more than 16k across the country. A key mechanism for implementing the layoffs is the so-called Collective Conventional Rupture created by Macron in the Labour Law in 2017. This law integrated the trade unions even more closely alongside the government and corporations in employer restructurings. Unlike previously, it allowed companies to carry out mass job cuts without even the routine of claiming financial necessity. Instead, all that was required was a signature of approval from the trade unions covering a majority of the workforce, as well as the labour ministry. The unions have already signed off on numerous RCCs in the last month. Last week, Sanofi, the pharmaceutical giant, announced that it will cut 1.7k jobs across Europe, including between 750 and 1,060 in France, which it intends to achieve by two RCC agreements. On Wednesday, the national pilots association announced that its leadership had agreed to an RCC with Air France that will cut more than 400 pilots’ jobs by the end of the year.

Tories resurrect cynical “Clap for Carers” on 72nd anniversary of the NHS
Rory Woods, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

ICU at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, May 5 2020.
(Photo: Neil Hall/AP)

The Johnson government has announced that this Sunday will see the Clap for Carers reinstated to mark the 72nd anniversary of the NHS. They intend to establish an annual event. The endorsement of the initiative by a rogues’ gallery of all five living former prime ministers underscores the cynicism of the occasion. Together with their successor, the Tories John Major, David Cameron and Theresa May, and New Labour war criminals Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have collectively presided over a three-decades-long offensive against the NHS that has brought it to the brink of collapse. During the factional conflict over Brexit, Major famously declared that the NHS was about as safe in the hands of Johnson as a “pet hamster with a hungry python.” Sunday’s “clap” is in fact a slap in the face for health and social care workers who have struggled to manage a crisis Johnson’s government created. It is a calculated insult to the memory of an estimated 400 health and care workers who died of COVID-19 trying to save the lives of others. Clap for Carers came to an end after 10 weeks because workers could no longer stomach the sickening hypocrisy of participating government ministers. What began as a spontaneous act of popular solidarity has now been co-opted by the ruling class, turned into a vehicle for lecturing the workers on the importance of “national unity,” spreading the lie that “we are all in it together,” and providing a fig leaf to conceal the threatened collapse of the NHS. The government has even raised the possibility of handing care workers medals, giving them the same treatment as the cannon fodder sent to be slaughtered in British imperialism’s wars abroad. As one intensive care nurse told a BBC Panorama documentary in April:

Calling us heroes just makes it OK when we die.

One thing not on offer is the money needed to properly fund a health and social care system and workforce that has been stretched past breaking point during the pandemic. The last 10 years saw the lowest-ever funding increase for the NHS in its existence, while the Health and Social Care Act brought in by the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition in 2012 facilitated an unprecedented looting of the service by private companies. Bed capacity was slashed by 30k and the number of ICU beds per thousand people reduced to one of the lowest ratios in Europe. Stocks of PPE were reduced by 40% from 2013. The workforce has been cut to the point where the NHS is suffering more than 110k vacancies. This fragile structure was then hit with the hammer blow of a pandemic, predicted and warned about for years, but turned into a national catastrophe by Johnson’s deadly policy of “herd immunity,” allowing the disease to run rampant for weeks.

Even this crisis has not halted attacks on the NHS. On May 18, Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to consider a pay rise for nurses. A petition of more than 160k people demanding an increase forced parliament to debate the issue last week. Less than 20 MPs out of 650 showed up. The same week, 331 Tory MPs voted down a motion to provide NHS workers with routine weekly testing. The Office of National Statistics recently revealed that health and social care workers are significantly more likely to die of COVID-19. A Royal College of Nursing survey found that 34% of nurses “say they’re still under pressure to care for patients with possible or confirmed COVID-19 without adequate PPE.” Doctors Association UK, the Good Law Project, and the Hourglass charity have launched a legal challenge against the government for failing to instigate an inquiry into health and social care worker deaths.

Two weeks ago, the government tried to prematurely terminate the contracts of student nurses who opted to work for NHS for six months and provide assistance during the pandemic. It was only after a massive public outcry, and a petition of more than 182k people, that the government agreed to honour the contracts. They were forced into a similar U-turn over waiving Immigration Health Surcharge for NHS workers from overseas, but reports show that non-EU workers are still being forced to pay. In a speech on Tuesday promising a “New Deal,” Johnson pledged just £1.5b for hospital maintenance and construction—less than one quarter of the £6.5b maintenance backlog faced by UK hospitals. Now the NHS is to be plunged into a worse catastrophe than ever before by Johnson’s premature ending of the lockdown and drive to reopen the economy. The day before the “clap” for the NHS, Jul 4, has been dubbed as the UK’s own “Independence Day” and “Super Saturday,” with emphasis on the opening of pubs. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine, warned:

The NHS has coped admirably during this period, but staff are exhausted, and the system is very fragile. It would be heartbreaking to see A&Es overwhelmed on the first post-lockdown evening by people who have gotten too drunk or been in a fight.

The opening of factories, schools, and beaches, has already led to a surge in infections in towns and cities throughout the UK, including London, that has already necessitated a local lockdown in Leicester. The second phase of the pandemic will have devastating consequences, especially with the onset of the winter flu season that last November meant bed occupancy rates of 95%. Professor ‘Sir’ John Bell, regius professor of Medicine at Oxford University, has warned of “pandemonium” in A&E departments in the event of a second wave of coronavirus overlapping with a bad flu outbreak. There is also an immense backlog of NHS treatments postponed during the pandemic, with the NHS waiting list expected to rise from 4.2m currently to about 10 million by Christmas. Around 28k heart procedures have been delayed since the beginning of the lockdown, while Cancer Research estimated that 23k cancers have gone undiagnosed and that 2.4m people are waiting for screening, treatment or tests. Around 100k people have so far needed hospital care for COVID-19 in England alone. An estimated 20% to 30% are showing some level of long-term lung damage, leaving them more susceptible to chest infections. This will put impossible pressures on an already exhausted healthcare workforce, with increased incidences of stress, anxiety, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder being reported.

The catastrophe facing the NHS and the working class which depends on it can only be resolved by a massive injection of resources into all aspects of health and social care. But the necessary resources can only be made available through a seizure of the profits and assets of the major corporations and banks and the immediate removal of private, profit-seeking enterprises from the NHS. Such a demand is anathema not only to the Tories, but also the Labour Party. Labour’s ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer and company have spent all their time and energy defending the government and have ruled out any measures to address social inequality or funding shortages. For their part, the trade unions that have allowed the NHS to be destroyed piecemeal for decades are colluding every day with the government and the employers in the same rotten role as policemen of any opposition that develops in the workforce. The life-and-death question of defending and expanding the NHS falls to the working class, acting in its own interests through building independent action committees. These committees must take up a socialist political struggle to safeguard the health and safety of doctors and nurses and secure the resources needed for a fully functioning health-care system.

UK pubs reopen in “Super Saturday”: A criminal act
Thomas Scripps, WSWS, Jul 4 2020

Scene outside the normally busy Leicester Market area during lockdown on Friday

Pubs, restaurants and hotels in the UK will open their doors to the public today for the first time since March, alongside cinemas, museums, hairdressers, outdoor gyms, playgrounds, theme parks and arcades. This is just four days after a local lockdown was imposed in the city of Leicester, amid reports of coronavirus hotspots mushrooming across the country. Cases of the virus have begun to increase again in at least 36 different areas, including 15 London boroughs. The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies admitted yesterday that the “R” (Reproduction) rate of the virus could now be at 1 or higher in all but two UK regions: in London, the Midlands, the North-East and Yorkshire, the South-East and the South-West. In London, the R rate has risen from between 0.7 and 0.9 to between 0.8 and 1.1. A rate of 1 or above means that the virus is increasing again. Today has been marketed by the Johnson government and the media as “Super Saturday.” Its deadly consequences will be revealed in the weeks and months to come. PM Boris Johnson’s call to the nation yesterday to act “safely and sensibly” was naked hypocrisy, a transparent attempt to absolve the government of responsibility for the policy of ending the lockdown and reopening the economy it has been pursuing for the last two weeks. On Jun 23, Johnson announced the reopening in Parliament with the declaration:

Our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end.

Johnson said later that day:

I think it’s great to see people out shopping again, and frankly I can’t wait to go to a pub or a restaurant.

This Thursday, the Treasury tweeted:

Grab a pint and raise a glass, pubs are reopening their doors from Jul 4. #OpenForBusiness.

The relentless propaganda for a party atmosphere brought warnings from health-care chiefs and even the police. Chair of the Police Federation John Apter said:

The announcement of this easing of lockdown has been done in such a way that a head of steam will be gathering between now and Jul 4, which could be seen by some as a countdown to party time.

Dr James Crosbie, National Health Service (NHS) clinical lead for alcohol in the North East of England, said:

The NHS is not in the same place as it was prior to lockdown. COVID-19 precautions mean capacity in the system is reduced at a time when we need to be prepared to both deal with any new cases of the virus and also plan to reduce the backlog of routine cases that have built up.

Despite the government’s efforts, most people remain highly conscious of the threat posed by the virus. A YouGov survey this week found that 70 percent of people would be nervous about going to the pub or cinema. Sixty percent said they would not go to shopping centres and restaurants. But Johnson is hoping to cynically manipulate the frustrations of a minority, in the interests of multi-billion-pound hospitality businesses, but more fundamentally the wider return to factories and workplaces.

The government is opening key centres of virus transmission while the UK is still in the middle of the pandemic. In the absence of mass systematic testing, the national lockdown was the only basis for suppressing the virus and this is being dismantled. Three weeks after reopening nonessential shops and five weeks after partially reopening schools, Leicester became the first UK city to be placed under a local lockdown for an additional fortnight, after recording 944 cases in just two weeks from mid-June—one in 10 of the UK’s reported cases last week. Independent SAGE member and virologist Deenan Pillay commented:

I am expecting there to be a number of Leicesters. The base level of infections going on in the UK is still much higher than it was in other countries in Europe when they started to release their lockdowns.

Independent SAGE is a group of eminent scientists critical of the government’s handling of the lockdown. Johnson’s government, with the backing of the Labour Party, has created the conditions for a resurgence of the pandemic.

Leicester, run by a Labour council, is a case study in the consequences of their criminal policies. According to Public Health England, there has been a significant increase in infected people aged under 19, from 5% of all cases in May to 15% in June, and similar among working-age people. The unsafe reopening of schools and non-enforcement of public health measures in workplaces is to blame. In the week beginning June 8, two schools in the city, Humberstone Infants School and Humberstone Junior School, were forced to close “for the foreseeable future” after several teachers tested positive for coronavirus. They were joined two weeks later by Moat Community College, Herrick Primary and Whitehall Primary. There have been outbreaks at the Samworth Brothers Bradgate Bakery, the Pladis biscuit factory in South Wigston, the Ethically Sourced Products clothes factory and other textile plants. Twenty-eight workers at crisp producer Walkers’s Beaumont Leys site, employing 1.4k, have been infected, with the company admitting to a “steady increase” in cases throughout June.

Young men working in the food processing and garment industries were found by a PHE investigating team to be major vectors of transmission in the recent surge. Last week, campaign group Labour Behind the Label released a report documenting a “shameful” disregard for safety in multiple garment factories across Leicester. The document highlighted instances of non-existent social distancing, and workers forced to come in after testing positive for coronavirus. One factory of 80 workers had 15 people sick with COVID-19 and working. These factories are notorious for their criminal exploitation of mostly immigrant labour. Last year, an investigation by the parliamentary environmental audit committee found it was an “open secret” that many of the 1k or so factories and workshops in the city were paying below the minimum wage, sometimes as little as £3/hr. Many remained open after the lockdown formally closing non-essential businesses was implemented. The owner of one garment factory told the Daily Mail:

We lost so much money during the first lockdown that we cannot afford to close, so we will remain open, regardless of what the authorities tell us.

Leicester’s sweatshops are an egregious example of a process underway across the whole country. PHE stated Thursday that reports of workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 symptoms doubled last week compared to the week before and increased fivefold between May and June. This takes place with the complicity of the trade unions who have kept virus outbreaks hidden from workers and demobilised struggles for safe conditions. Virus hotspots are emerging across much of northern England and in areas of Wales, closely connected with outbreaks in the food processing industry. According to government data, Leicester saw 140 new infections per 100k people in the week to Jun 21, more than 10 times the UK-wide average. Other large population centres (Bradford, Barnsley, Rochdale and Bedford) had rates of between 40 and 70 new cases per 100k per week. In Wales, Merthyr Tydfil, where the Kepal meat plant reported 130 coronavirus cases, had a rate of 177 and Wrexham, where the Rowan Foods meat plant is based, had 75 in the week ending Jun 29. The reopening of pubs, restaurants, cinemas, etc will swell this renewed wave. It gives renewed urgency to the SEP’s call for rank-and-file safety committees in every workplace, independent of the unions, to safeguard workers’ lives and those of their families and communities.

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