worldwide

Coronavirus pandemic threatens lives of at least 1m people at risk from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria
Bryan Dyne, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Estimates from the UN, the International AIDS Society, the Stop TB Partnership and the Imperial College London (ICL) predict the supply-chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic could lead to at least 1m extra deaths caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as resources traditionally used to fight these diseases are diverted to combat outbreaks of COVID-19. A majority of these deaths are likely to occur in Africa, where there have been more than 481k cases and at least 11.4k deaths caused by the coronavirus. Countries including South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana and Algeria have been particularly hard-hit. While the total case and death numbers are currently lower than other regions of the world, including Pindostan, India and Brazil, the WHO has repeatedly warned of the dangers of the pandemic in Africa, which has some of the least developed health care infrastructure in the world. At the same time, the virus is claiming the lives of nurses, doctors and other medical workers as they try to fight and contain the pandemic. The situation has also meant that institutions such as MSF, which have in the past provided resources to fight HIV/AIDS, have been forced instead to focus on treating patients with COVID-19. The looming crisis was highlighted by Dr Anton Pozniak, president of the International AIDS Society. He told CNN:

The social-distancing efforts and lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted HIV prevention and treatment programs and put vital HIV research on hold.

His comments were highlighted by the release of the UN Global AIDS Update 2020, which paints a dire picture for the years-long progress in eliminating the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Its models show that, if medical supplies for AIDS are disrupted for six months, there will be between 471k and 673k excess AIDS-related deaths in in sub-Saharan Africa alone by the end of 2021. The report also summarizes the state of the fight against that pandemic over the past ten years. There are currently 38m people living with HIV worldwide, but only 25.4m are currently getting some form of treatment, a gap of 12.6m human beings.

At the same time, there was a 23% reduction of new HIV infections from 2010 to 2019, mostly focused in eastern and southern Africa. At the same time, there has been a rise in infections elsewhere in the world, including a 72% increase in eastern Europe and central Asia, a 22% increase in the MENA and a 21% increase in Latin America. In total, there were 690k AIDS-related deaths in 2019, along with 1.7m new infections worldwide. UN models had estimated that 2020 would have been the first year the number of AIDS-related deaths fell below 500k, to 470k. Instead, the skyrocketing coronavirus pandemic threatens to set back control over HIV by at least 12 years. WHO Dir-Gen Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted at yesterday’s opening of the 23rd International AIDS conference:

A new WHO survey showed access to HIV medicines has been significantly curtailed as a result of the pandemic. 73 countries have reported that they are at risk of stock-outs of anti-retroviral medicines. ARVs are one of the main ways that HIV is treated. They must be taken regularly to keep patients healthy and prevent onward transmission of the virus. The findings of this survey are deeply concerning.

A similar report from Imperial College London shows that malaria epidemics in the same region, sub-Saharan Africa, could spread unchecked in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, causing at least 380k more deaths than expected. Malaria is caused by a parasite primarily transmitted through mosquito bites, which introduces the disease from the mosquito’s saliva into a victim’s blood. Its symptoms include fever, tiredness, vomiting, headaches, seizures, coma and death. There were 228m reported infections in 2018 worldwide resulting in 405k deaths. The disease is most common in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. While it is deadly, the most effective way of controlling the spread of malaria is by distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets. They cost about $2 each, last up to four years and protect on average two people each. There is a large risk that as the pandemic continues to grow exponentially in regions already hard hit from malaria, the supply chains for new nets will collapse. This threatens to double the number of expected deaths caused by malaria. The ICL article projects that in a scenario where the coronavirus is either not contained or suppression measures are lifted, as is the current situation in Pindostan, Brazil, India, South Africa and other countries, the ultimate death toll for the pandemic itself will be on the order of 3.3m.

The coronavirus pandemic has also exacerbated the risk of contracting and dying from tuberculosis. The Stop TB Partnership recently released findings showing that, even if there is some form of lockdown and recovery to halt the coronavirus, there could still be 6.3m excess infections and 1.4m excess deaths of tuberculosis. To quote from the report:

Global TB incidence and deaths in 2021 would increase to levels last seen in between 2013 and 2016 respectively, implying a setback of at least 5 to 8 years in the fight against TB, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

TB is currently the number one cause of death from an infectious disease on the planet and has been one of the most lethal bacteria throughout history. There were about 10m active cases worldwide in 2018, and nearly one in four people are suspected to have a latent TB infection. While it is manageable with antibiotics, it still kills an estimated 1.5m people each year. The pathogen is also one of the more resistant to treatment with drugs. Having tuberculosis also places one at greater risk of dying from COVID-19. In India, which currently has 720k coronavirus cases and more than 20k confirmed deaths, there are about 7,370 new cases of TB and 1,230 new deaths caused by the disease each day. It amounts to about 2.7m new tuberculosis infections and just under 450k new deaths each year. The combination of the two diseases has the potential to produce a public health catastrophe in the country and region of epic proportions. These dangers also exist in large parts of Africa. Nigeria and South Africa have the second and fourth highest death rates of tuberculosis in the world, respectively, and fourth and second highest death rates of COVID-19 in Africa. Indonesia, which has the third-highest death rate of TB in the world, is one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic in south-east Asia, sitting at 65k cases and growing.

Modi government prosecutes anti-CAA protest leaders on bogus terrorism charges
Kranti Kumar, Shuvu Batta, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Narendra Modi and his Hindu-supremacist BJP government have intensified state repression, jailing leaders of the mass protests against the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and charging them with grave criminal offenses. The prosecutions are tied to a foul campaign mounted by the Delhi Police, which works under the direct authority of Modi’s chief henchman, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, to blame “violent” anti-CAA protests for the three days of rioting that convulsed parts of north-east Delhi in late February. This is a monstrous attempt to turn reality on its head. The riots were incited by BJP leaders and their Hindu right allies and targeted Muslims. So blatant is the BJP’s campaign of repression, it has been condemned by the UNHRC. In a statement published Jun 26, a panel of UN experts urged India’s government to immediately release imprisoned anti-CAA protestors. They wrote:

These defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA, and their arrest seems clearly designed to send a chilling message to India’s vibrant civil society that criticism of government policies will not be tolerated.

The UN experts named 11 of those arrested, noting that “one of the most alarming” cases was that of PhD student Safura Zargar, six months pregnant and suffering from Polycystic Ovarian Disease, who was jailed for more than two months under conditions of solitary confinement and inadequate medical care and diet. She faces bogus terrorism charges for allegedly inciting the Delhi communal riots, which claimed the lives of 53 people, 38 of them Muslim. Zargar, alongside millions of people in India, had protested the CAA, a discriminatory law that the BJP government rushed into law in Dec 2019 in what was but the latest in a series of communal provocations aimed at transforming India into a Hindu rasthra or Hindu state, where the Muslim minority will live on sufferance.

The protests, which drew support nation-wide and cut across caste and communal divisions, were particularly spirited in Delhi. Stunned by the sudden emergence of mass opposition, the BJP government responded with violence. They ordered police to attack peaceful protests, storm university campuses and conduct mass arrests. This was accompanied by a campaign of vitriolic speeches in which BJP leaders vowed to violently put down “anti-national” protests, including leading chants of “shoot them down.” Incited by such toxic communal-laden rhetoric, several BJP supporters in Delhi opened fire on anti-CAA protestors. A student enraged by the police violence explained why students were protesting:

What did the students do wrong? They were only protesting! Do we learn just to run machines? We receive an education to make sure that we know to stand with the ones who are wronged. I’m not even Muslim, but I’ve been on the front-lines since day one.

Despite the repression and threats, the anti-CAA protests continued and intersected with growing worker opposition to the BJP government’s rapacious pro-investor policies, raising the prospect that the struggle to defend democratic rights could come under the leadership of the working class. On January 8 tens of millions of workers joined a one-day all-India general strike, specifically advancing the demand the that CAA be repealed. It was in this charged political environment that the riots in Delhi erupted, shortly after BJP leader Kapil Mishra, speaking before a mob of his Hindu nationalist supporters in north-east Delhi, gave police an ultimatum to clear the streets of anti-CAA protests who he claimed “want Delhi on fire.” There is much evidence that the Delhi police facilitated the anti-Muslim attacks, by failing to intervene and in some cases joining in. While Muslims were clearly the victims, the Modi government was quick to blame the “violent” anti-CAA agitation for Delhi’s worst communal violence since the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom that Congress Party leaders orchestrated following the assassination of PM Indira Gandhi. While the clear calls for violence advanced by BJP leaders like Mishra were ignored, the police set about arresting Muslims. In February, according to The Hindu, over 800 people, mostly Muslim social activists and university students, were arrested.

While the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have temporarily halted the campaign of arrests, it resumed in April. Safura Zargar was arrested on Apr 10 by the Delhi Police on charges of “obstructing traffic” during the anti-CAA protests, but as her prosecution reveals, the real reason for her arrest was her leading role as media coordinator for the Jamia (Millia Islamia University) Coordination Committee, a student group formed to challenge the CAA. Zargar was soon released on bail, but re-arrested again less than three days later and charged with terrorism offenses under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Enacted in 1967, the UAPA has been amended multiple times, so as to further strengthen the arbitrary powers of the state and limit the rights of the accused. It sanctions “preventive arrests,” that is arrest and detention without charge, and sets aside such core democratic judicial principles as “innocent until proven guilty.” The latest amendment, made in 2019, gives the state the power to designate individuals as opposed to organizations as “terrorists.” For decades the UAPA has been used to jail political opponents of the Indian governments.

After weeks of delay, the prosecution was obliged to outline the reason for Zargar’s second arrest and the laying of bogus terrorism charges against her at a bail hearing before the Patalia Court of Delhi. The prosecution alleged that she made a speech on Feb 23 in a park called Chand Bagh which immediately led to violence. Her defense pointed out that she was never at the park on this date. The prosecution argued Zargar should be denied bail, claiming they had sufficient evidence to prove her supposed role in violence. The evidence included materials such as glass bottles, a plastic crate containing bricks and stones, and three slingshots. The police attributed these items to Zargar, despite the fact that the materials were sourced from a case file that was different from hers. In short, the police presented materials without any connection to Zargar as evidence of terrorism. Furthermore they tied her alleged speech, with the alleged materials of violence, supposed witness statements which were not fully reviewed, and the actions of protestors to block a road together as proof of a “larger conspiracy to disrupt the normal functioning of the city.” The court sided with the prosecution, denying Zargar’s bail application twice. At the second hearing, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana railed against her, despite the obvious trumped-up character of the terrorism charges, saying:

When you choose to play with embers, you cannot blame the wind to have carried the spark a bit too far and spread the fire. A larger conspiracy is discernible, and a second investigation to unravel the entire conspiracy sounds not only logical but perfectly legal.

In a similar tone the Delhi Police argued against Zargar’s bail, despite her condition as a pregnant woman with a pre-existing illness, writing in a submission to the court:

39 deliveries have taken place in Delhi prisons in the last 10 years.

For over two months Zargar was confined to Tihar Jail in the midst of COVID-19. Finally, due to a public and growing international outcry over the inhumane treatment of the pregnant and sick Zargar, a High Court conceded on Jun 23 that she should be released on bail. However, she is confined to Delhi and the police and prosecution continue to insist she was a “key conspirator” in the riots that were in fact fomented by the BJP leaders and their allies. In another case, the Delhi Police have filed a 700-page report and a chronology of the Feb 23-26 riots that purports to show that it was anti-CAA protestors who incited the riots. Moreover, it traces this back to the very first anti-CAA protests in Delhi, when demonstrators blocked a road on Dec 13, claiming that the anti-CAA agitation was intrinsically “violent” throughout. In the police’s version of events, the speech by Mishra and the provocative statements of other BJP leaders are nowhere to be found. Modi and the BJP, despite recklessly pushing forward in recent weeks with the “reopening” of India’s economy even as the number of COVD-19 cases has exploded to more than 700k, continue to use “COVID-19 guidelines” as a justification for political repression. When students staged a protest against the jailing of Zargar and other anti-CAA protest leaders, police made mass arrests on the grounds that they were violating social-distancing measures.

Nigeria’s COVID-19 cases surge as oil price slump deepens social crisis
Stephan McCoy, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has seen a surge in coronavirus infections with Lagos becoming the epicentre of the virus, recording 11,045 cases. As of Jul 5, the country had recorded nearly 29k confirmed cases and 635 deaths, a more than six-fold increase following the government’s reopening of the economy at the end of March, just a few weeks after imposing a lockdown. The state governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, sought to provide false hope, stating that 90% of COVID-19 cases would go on to recover, a claim refuted by the fact that active cases (16,017) remain significantly higher than recovered cases (11,562) in the country, and similar world statistics. This has forced the governor to reconsider the reopening of churches and mosques. Sanwo-Olu said:

We have concluded that we cannot proceed with any form of reopening for places of worship until further notice.

He also postponed the reopening of schools until Aug 3, saying that, as Lagos was the “epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, with about 44% of the total number of confirmed cases nation-wide,” schools would not immediately reopen. Nevertheless, the government remains fully committed to lifting all lockdown measures. Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika announced that airports would begin reopening on Jul 8. Flights between Nigeria’s two most populous cities, the capital Abuja and Lagos, will resume first. Airports in Port Harcourt, Owerri, Maiduguri and Kano will reopen on Jul 11. Domestic flights in other parts of the country will resume on Jul 15. But he said:

Passengers looking to travel out of the country will have to wait a bit longer as the dates for the restart of international flights into and out of the country will be announced later.

The reopening of the economy, despite warnings from medical and other health care experts, comes amid a collapse in the price of oil. Nigeria’s main export used to provide about 90% of foreign exchange earnings and 80% of government revenues. This was reduced to 50% last year, compounding the country’s already weak economy. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has opened its books, publishing its 2018 annual report for the first time in its 43-year history, in a bid to prevent its break-up and to attract investment as oil prices slump and revenues are predicted to fall by 80%, with the shift away from fossil fuels and the impact of the pandemic. The company, a joint venture between the federal government and the transnational oil companies, including Shell, AGIP, Exxon Mobil, Total and Chevron, which in practice control it, holds outright leases on most of the country’s oil reserves. It has been mired in allegations of corruption.

In March, the government responded to falling oil prices by slashing petrol subsidies, fuelling mass opposition to wider budget cuts. The government has also announced plans to cut health care spending at a time when the system is already under acute strain due to the pandemic. Funding for local, primary health care services is to be cut by more than 40% this year, affecting immunisations, child-care, maternal health-care and family planning services. The IMF, which agreed to a $3.4b loan, half of the $7b requested, predicts that the Nigerian economy will contract by 3.4%. The naira has fallen steeply against the dollar, with the Nigerian Central Bank devaluing the currency by 5.3%, now trading at ₦380/$. Last March, it had devalued the currency from ₦307/$ to ₦360/$. Last month, the bank announced plans to unify its multiple exchange rates, which the IMF has long called for. The naira also trades widely on the black market and is sold to companies and individuals at varying rates. The $3.4b IMF loan increased government debt by 15% to $79.5b compared with $69b in 2019. According to the Debt Management Office, this is made up of $28b in external debt and $52b domestic debt and is unsustainable. According to Nairametrics, the government spent 99.2% of its first-quarter revenues this year on debt servicing. The country’s global rating is at risk of being downgraded, as its debt-to-revenue ratio rises to 538%, up from 348% last year.

The travel bans, lockdown and social-distancing restrictions on day labourers and trading have led to a steep rise in the price of goods and services. Inflation, which stands at more than 12%, the highest in two years, is impacting heavily on the 87m Nigerians living in extreme poverty. Food inflation has risen to 15%, particularly for such basics as bread and cereals, potatoes, yam, and other tubers, oils and fats, fruits, fish, and meat. Pharmaceutical products, medical services, hospital services and passenger transport have also seen steep price increases. The economic crisis and worsening situation have provoked opposition in the working class, particularly among public sector and health care workers. In the Cross Rivers state, civil servants went on strike on Jun 29, despite opposition from the Trade Union Congress. The workers demanded retirees be paid benefits dating back to 2014, the implementation of promised promotions, rescinding the deletion of genuine employees from the payroll and the immediate addition to the payroll of 2k employees recruited in 2018 who have not been paid. Despite threats from the government, backed up by the TUC, workers did not show up to work. Doctors at the University Teaching Hospital in the Niger Delta Bayelsa State have also been on strike, demanding an end to the disparity in earnings between doctors working in federal and state-owned health institutions, enhanced hazard allowances, upgraded equipment and action to end staff shortages. In Ondo state, nurses and doctors at the University of Medical Sciences Teaching Hospital Complexes in Akure began indefinite strike action on Jun 24 over a lack of PPE and the non-payment of wages. National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives members are also demanding PPE. In Lagos, doctors are planning to go on a three-day strike on Jul 13 over a lack of PPE, no pay and training.

Nigeria faces unrest and conflicts in several regions. The decade-long insurgency by Jihadis in the largely Muslim north-eastern states has killed thousands and displaced more than 2m. It has created a massive humanitarian emergency and spread to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, and is deepening the crisis. In the last month, there have been attacks in Borno state killing at least 100 people, including 20 soldiers, and injuring hundreds more. President Muhammadu Buhari issued a sharp criticism of his top security chiefs for their failure to contain the Jihadis, Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province, which are themselves riven with conflicts and supported by other jihadist organisations such as AQ and Al-Shabaab. The brutality with which the security forces have suppressed the insurgents has worsened the plight of civilians in the region and prompted the rise of civilian vigilante self-defence groups. The country has seen an upsurge in violence between herders and farming communities spreading from the central and north-western provinces southward with militant Islamist forces in the north-east, over dwindling resources in a region whose fertility has been drastically affected by climate change. This is in addition to the long-running discontent and militancy in the Niger Delta, the oil-producing region.

Macron administration announces new French cabinet
Will Morrow, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Incoming French PM Jean Castex announced the 31 members of his ministerial cabinet last night at 7 pm, three days after the Macron administration announced a cabinet reshuffle and the resignation of outgoing PM Édouard Philippe. Since Castex’s appointment on Friday, it is already clear that the new cabinet will be charged with an escalation of the anti-working-class policies of the previous one. It is overseeing the Macron administration’s deconfinement policy and an ending of any restrictions on business activity during the coronavirus pandemic. Economically, it is charged with completing major attacks on social programs including pensions, education, unemployment assistance and social care, under conditions in which hundreds of billions of euros have been made available to support big business and the banks during the pandemic. Prior to the cabinet announcement, on Sunday, Castex made a highly publicised visit to police headquarters in the working class La Courneuve suburb north-east of Paris, where he told police:

I have come to show the support of the government of the Republic. I know that you expect actions from us. They will come. You expect from us recognition and support. They will be without fail.

He asked police to report to him whether there were “areas where you are not able to go.” The statement of blanket support for the police comes after a wave of mass protests internationally against police violence, including demonstrations of several tens of thousands in Paris, triggered by the murder of George Floyd in Pindostan. The French protests have additionally demanded justice for the killing of 24-year-old youth Adama Traoré in 2016. The selection of Saint-Denis was particularly provocative, as it is among the most notorious areas of police harassment of predominately poor and immigrant working-class youth in France. The Macron administration is sending a clear signal that it will maintain its brutal police crackdown on mounting social protests against its austerity program, and that the police will continue to enjoy virtual immunity.

Yesterday, Castex announced that the new interior minister will be 37-year-old Gérald Darmanin, a member of the conservative Republicans, replacing Christophe Castaner, who backed violent police crackdowns on “yellow vest” protests and rail and public sector strikes last year, but triggered opposition among police during the George Floyd protests by stating that the government would not tolerate clear cases of racism from police officers. The police unions, which are bastions of support for the far-right National Rally, organized protests against Castaner, who walked back his statements within days. The other major ministries of defence, education, health-care and finance all remain unchanged. The ministry of culture will be run by Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, who was the minister for solidarity and social cohesion under the right-wing administration of Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007-2010. Castex gave an interview to the Journal de Dimanche published over the weekend to indicate the direction of the government, in which he stated:

The coronavirus epidemic has demonstrated the urgent need to regain our economic sovereignty. It will be necessary to go further from the reforms begun already under Macron. We are not in a political break from what has been done, but we must show that we know to face up. And that obviously requires a development of our methods.

He signalled that the pension cuts imposed this winter would be intensified, and that he would be working closely with the trade unions to implement this austerity program, saying:

To say that we will re-examine a subject does not mean to turn back. It means showing how we can adapt to new circumstances which are painful. For example, the crisis has sharply worsened the deficit of our pension system. I wish to restart the dialogue with the social partners, this is indispensable. At minimum, we must set a new social agenda. I open my hand to the trade unions and the employer organizations so that we may move forward together.

Due to the pandemic, the Macron administration had temporarily postponed the pension cuts, which triggered mass railway and public sector strikes in December and January. The cuts include raising the effective retirement age by two years and introducing a points-based system that will allow for a continuous reduction in real pension levels. Castex indicated he intends to proceed with these cuts rapidly, in addition to cuts in unemployment assistance and the “dependency” program for carers. Castex himself has a long track record. Between 2005 and 2007, he spearheaded the Sarkozy government’s reform of the hospital system, which included the introduction of the “Pricing-per-action” hospital model. This transformed the public hospital funding model so that all their funding was based on the number of operations performed, with each operation priced at a set amount. This reform had a devastating impact on the health-care system, pushing public hospitals to send home patients immediately after their operations, and compelling the closure of hospitals that were ruled “under-performing.” In an interview with the regional press on Thursday, Macron declared:

We cannot be a country which wants its independence, its social, economic and environmental reconquest, and be a country where we work less throughout our lives.

Macron has already declared that there will be no increases in taxes on business or the wealthy to pay for the more than €500b in bail-outs throughout the coronavirus pandemic, 80% of which was given in loan guarantees to corporations. In other words, the hundreds of billions handed over to the corporate and financial elite is to be paid for by a stepped-up assault on the pensions, social programs, jobs and wages of the working class. This is under conditions of a social crisis of historic proportions that is developing in France and internationally in the midst of the pandemic. Already, mass lay-offs of tens of thousands of workers have been announced, including by Airbus, Air France, Renault and Sanofi, which are predicted to result in the destruction of tens or hundreds of thousands of additional jobs. Various estimates show hundreds of thousands of jobs in the retail sector are likely to be permanently wiped out. There is no constituency for this programme in the working class. The right-wing daily Le Figaro warned of a social explosion of opposition in the working class against this programme, writing:

The social impact of this crisis makes one’s back run cold. The ground is more ripe than ever for a social explosion. The revolt of the ‘yellow vests’ in the Winter of 2018, and the recent fight against the pension reforms, which the president intends to place under work this summer, have left indelible traces in public opinion. We can fear the worst if a larger portion of the population mobilises, beginning with the youth who have already seen themselves sacrificed, hit by the economic and social crisis. A spark could provoke a flame.

Germany’s Commerzbank plans to cut 11k jobs
Gustav Kemper, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

In common with many other businesses, Germany’s Commerzbank is using the coronavirus pandemic to implement pre-existing plans to restructure and shed jobs. More than 11k of the bank’s total staff of 40k, and 400 of its 1k branches, are slated to be cut as part of a new round of austerity. The Commerzbank executive, financial investors, the German government, the European Central Bank, the works council and the trade union Verdi have all been haggling behind the scenes for months over plans for a massive restructuring of the financial institution. When Commerzbank CEO Martin Zielke announced in September last year that 4.3k jobs and 200 branches would be cut, Verdi signaled its agreement in principle. Stefan Wittmann, Verdi trade union secretary and member of the supervisory board of Commerzbank, spoke out against a reduction of staff in branches, but was not opposed to job cuts in administration. The issue was not “whether” but “how” to implement these cuts, he explained to the business newspaper Handelsblatt.

Approval on the part of the trade union stimulated the bank’s shareholders’ desires for even bigger returns. They declared that the savings package was far from sufficient, prompting a group of financial institutions led by Pindo financial investor Cerberus, which holds 5% of Commerzbank, to call for a much larger package of cuts. The ECB’s banking supervisory authority also pressed for steeper cuts. According to reports from Bloomberg, the German government, Commerzbank’s largest single shareholder since the 2008 financial crisis with a 15.6% stake, commissioned an expert opinion from the Boston Consulting Group, which recommended a cost reduction up to three times larger than the target set by the Commerzbank executive. Commerzbank CEO Zielke then drew up new savings plans, which according to press reports are expected to eliminate over 11k jobs and 400 branches. The proposal was to be presented to the supervisory board last Wednesday.

In order to save face, the employees’ representatives in the Verdi trade union requested a postponement of the meeting on the grounds that they had not been informed about the details of the cuts package. This is a gross deception on the part of the union. Verdi occupies several seats on the supervisory board of the bank and is well-informed about all developments. In the past, the works council and union have always been involved in job cuts within the bank, repeatedly declaring that such measures must be carried out in a “socially acceptable” manner. This was the case after the takeover of Eurohypo in 2005, the purchase of Dresdner Bank in Aug 2008, and the financial crisis of 2008-09. Once again they are playing the same game. Uwe Tschäge, chairman of the general and company works council and also deputy chair of the supervisory board, told Handelsblatt that he would not stand in the way of job cuts as long as they were “socially acceptable.” He said:

There must be no compulsory lay-offs. We will fight for this.

Commerzbank must choose an “appropriate period” and make sufficient money available for part-time work for older employees, and other similar measures. Tschäge said he wanted to be able to understand why and where management was cutting jobs. He expected the federal government, as a major shareholder, to support him in ensuring that employees were “treated decently.” According to Tschäge, it is important “that the bank remains stable and can continue to develop even after the restructuring,” meaning that it once again generates more profit!

Verdi functionary Wittmann complained that the trade union was not “on board” when the government, represented by state secretary for finance and former head of Goldman Sachs in Germany Jörg Kukies, negotiated with the leadership of Commerzbank and financial investor Cerberus on cost reductions. The German government, which has been Commerzbank’s largest single shareholder since the 2008 financial crisis, has not the slightest intention of standing up for the interests of the company’s workforce. It is seeking instead to implement drastic measures to support the standing of the bank, which runs the accounts for around 30% of German foreign trade and is market leader in German corporate banking. The aim of the government and financial investors is to secure the bank’s capital, which has shrunk by 30% since the beginning of the year due to the fall in share prices caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In so doing, they are not taking the interests of the employees into account.

The union’s campaign aimed at raising hopes in the federal government is utterly fraudulent. Last year, on the initiative of finance minister Olaf Scholz, the government advocated the merger of Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank to create a strong German “financial champion.” At the time, Verdi spoke out against the merger and celebrated its subsequent failure as a “victory” that would secure jobs. Now it is clear that this was only meant to lull the workforce into a false sense of security. Even back then, investors demanded massive job cuts at both institutions, irrespective of the outcome of the merger talks. Deutsche Bank then commenced slashing a fifth of its workforce. Commerzbank, which still had about 40k employees at the end of March, now plans to cut 10k jobs. Despite this, Verdi is continuing to deceive its members by raising hopes for support from the government and the SPD. Tschäge recently said:

I also expect support here from the federal government as a major shareholder. The SPD, in particular, must work toward this goal as part of the coalition.

Verdi is playing the same game in the aviation industry and in the closure of the Galeria Kaufhof Karstadt stores. It makes futile appeals to the business and political forces with whom it works closely behind the scenes. At the same time, the union strictly rejects the mobilization of the working class and a genuine fight to defend jobs. The grand coalition government of conservative parties and the SPD is the most right-wing and anti-working-class government since the Federal Republic of Germany came into existence. The last time the SPD filled the post of chancellor, in a coalition with the Greens, the party created a huge low-wage sector by introducing miserly Hartz IV welfare payments as part of its Agenda 2010. Under Merkel, the SPD went on to support an increase in retirement age, the ruination of the health-care system, the bankrupting of the Greek working class by a strict austerity policy, and a massive increase of military spending. The staff of Commerzbank, which according to trade union figures is still 30% organized by Verdi, must draw the consequences from past experiences, break with the union and take action themselves. In order to defend jobs, independent action committees must be set up to join forces with all workers in the finance industry and other sectors across national borders, on the basis of a socialist program. The secret talks behind the backs of workers must be stopped, the accounts of the banks must be opened up and the institutions expropriated and put under the control of the working class. Such a bank must serve the needs of the people, not profit maximization for financial investors. To implement this strategy, it is necessary to build the SEP as a mass party of the working class.

Worker at German meat processing plant dismissed for sharing critical video
Marianne Arens, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

The mass infection at the Tönnies meat processing factory in North Rhine-Westphalian (NRW), where over 1,500 workers became infected with COVID-19, has become a symbol of the ruthlessness with which employers and politicians are exposing the working class to the risk of the pandemic. A video was made public early on showing how protection against the coronavirus at the Tönnies plant in Rheda-Wiedenbrück was being disregarded. Now the whistle-blower who shared the video is having to fight for her job in court. The worker said:

Thousands of people are all sitting around one table. That’s Tönnies. How can you protect yourself here?

The video that circulated on the internet with this comment has circulated around the world. It shows a view into a canteen, where hundreds of employees sit and eat close to each other at the tables: Keeping their distance is impossible. The video was taken by the employee of a catering company that runs the canteen at Tönnies. In the meantime, the worker has been banned from the factory, sacked without notice, and is currently fighting for her job at the Bielefeld Labour Court. This treatment of a courageous worker, who should have received a prize as a whistle-blower, is of a piece with the actions of employers and politicians of all stripes. To keep business going and make a profit again, they are prepared to do anything, covering up and playing down the extent and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in factories and businesses.

At the same time, the pandemic is running out of control worldwide, and the number of new infections is also rising again in Germany, where the total number of people infected with coronavirus is approaching the 200k mark. On Sunday, 196,335 cases of COVID-19 were officially registered, although the number of unreported cases is high because there is still little testing. More than 9k people have died of the virus so far, 21 of them in the district of Gütersloh, where Tönnies is located. Almost 500 people in this district are still ill, with incalculable consequences for their entire lives. Three of them are still being given artificial respiration in various hospitals. More and more children and young people are also becoming ill with COVID-19. Although over 80% of those who die of coronavirus are senior citizens over 70, they make up only 20% of the number of people who fall ill. Since the beginning of June, one fifth of all those who fall ill are children and young people in the age group from 0 to 19 years old. This is related to the fact that schools and day-care centres have reopened under unsafe conditions. Last week, the number of new infections in Germany rose by almost 40% compared to the previous week. An analysis by the Guardian, based on data from Oxford University, puts Germany among the 10 countries where a second wave of infection is feared and expected.

Above all, people who work and live in precarious conditions are those being affected. The coronavirus outbreaks of recent weeks in high-rise buildings in Göttingen, Magdeburg and several housing estates in Berlin bear witness to this. Politicians and the authorities are reacting to this by quarantining people out of sight, suppressing information and keeping quiet. The daily news hardly reports such outbreaks, whereas every relaxation of the protective measures and the opening up of holiday areas is extensively celebrated. The latest statements by Armin Laschet (CDU), NRW state premier, are also significant. At his press conference on Jun 30 he admitted he had relied on the principle that companies would take “personal responsibility.” In other words, he left it up to the employers whether and how they protected their employees from COVID-19. Laschet repeated his absurd assertion that the lifting of the lockdown and the opening of businesses in Germany had not provoked a new outbreak of the infection, but that the infections had mainly been brought in from abroad, mostly by returning holiday-makers. Laschet emphasized that the NRW state government would decide on the reopening of Tönnies “according to regulatory actions.” The time for cooperation was over, he said. “We will now proceed strictly according to law and order,” which only suggests that law and order had not been applied previously.

The Tönnies scandal has not only exposed the CDU and the close ties between the state government and the meat baron, but also the SPD. Former SPD leader and federal economics minister Sigmar Gabriel was on the payroll of Clemens Tönnies as an adviser from Mar to May 2020. He is said to have received €10k/month plus daily payments and expenses. During his time as economics minister, Gabriel had described the operation of notorious subcontractors as a “disgrace for Germany,” and especially the conditions at Tönnies! But he is suspected of having held a protective hand over the slaughterhouse giant even back then. Bild-Zeitung quoted a letter by Robert Tönnies, nephew of the company boss and co-owner of the company. In it, he accuses Gabriel of having saved the meat company from a €1m fine imposed by the Federal Cartel Office, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economics. In the letter, Robert Tönnies asks whether Gabriel’s fee can be understood as “retrospective reward for advantages enjoyed by the company during the time of his government activity.” Gabriel categorically denies the accusation.

Meanwhile, in East Westphalia, Tönnies and the media are trying to play down the conditions that led to the mass illnesses. The video by the caterer, it is said, was already in circulation on Mar 28, and not in April, under conditions of general lockdown. What a pathetic argument! It had been known at the latest since the end of February that the highly contagious pandemic was also raging in the country and spreading at breakneck speed. The curve of infection cases also rose exponentially in Germany. The horrific images from the overcrowded hospitals in northern Italy had been circulating since mid-March at the latest, and on Mar 22, the state of NRW issued a decree that a minimum distance of 1.5m must be maintained at workplaces as well. Several Romanian workers have confirmed in a film by broadcaster ntv.de that they were unable to maintain such a distance at Tönnies, even during the pandemic. One worker told his family that he had to work even when he was already sick. Another former Tönnies worker described how cramped the factory was until the very end. She reported:

In a space of only 2m, four of us stood at the conveyor belt.

Canada’s migrant workers protest lack of COVID-19 protections
Matthew Richter, Roger Jordan , WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Hundreds of migrant workers and their supporters joined a series of protests across Canada Saturday against the horrific working conditions they confront amid the coronavirus pandemic. At protests in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver participants demanded that workers be granted full immigration rights, and denounced the federal Liberal government and its provincial counterparts for their failure to protect migrant workers, refugees and undocumented workers from COVID-19 and the pandemic’s economic fall-out. Thousands of migrant and undocumented workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic have no access to emergency support, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which pays a modest $2k per month to recipients for 24 weeks. Protesters criticized this state of affairs, carrying signs that read “Status for all” and “We are all essential.” A demonstrator in Montreal attacked the federal Liberal government’s pledge to offer permanent residency rights only to migrant workers with jobs in the health care sector. Describing the proposal as “unfair,” Floriane Payo, an asylum seeker from Cameroon who worked in a call centre until it closed in April, said:

We are all essential workers.

The protests reflect mounting anger among migrant workers and the population more broadly over the horrendous conditions that migrants workers admitted to Canada under various “temporary worker” programs confront, especially in the agricultural and meatpacking sectors. Over 800 migrant farmworkers from Mexico and the Caribbean have been infected with COVID-19 just in Ontario, and three of these, all from Mexico, have died. The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit published a media statement on their website last Wednesday confirming 191 cases at a single farm in Leamington, Ontario. Approximately 8k to 10k seasonal workers are employed across 176 farms in Windsor-Essex County. Figures cited by Santiago Escobar, a United Food and Commercial Workers representative, and the Mayor of Leamington, Hilda MacDonald, suggest that as many as 2k undocumented migrant workers are employed on farms across the county. Migrant workers account for 31.2% of all agricultural workers in Ontario. Many are brought to the country by agri-businesses under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

The SAWP, which has long been promoted by Conservative and Liberal governments alike, allows for the super-exploitation of Latin American and Caribbean workers who are paid poverty wages and are accorded few legal protections. It is part of a gamut of “temporary worker” programs that have been greatly expanded over the past two decades to meet the needs of employers. These programs serve to supplement Canada’s highly restrictive immigration system, which prioritizes business labour market demands. Indeed, so pro-employer is Canada’s immigration system, Trump has touted it as a model, as have leaders of Germany’s far-right party, the AfD. Countries that are eligible to send workers to Canada under the SAWP include Mexico and the Caribbean countries of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. Many of the workers hail from impoverished rural communities and rely on their wages to support extended families back home.

As is the case with other Canadian “temporary worker programs,” the immigration status of those who come to Canada under the SAWP is tied to their employment, meaning that they can be deported if they are fired or lose their jobs. This oppressive situation has facilitated the flourishing of ruthless exploitation, as employers can threaten workers who protest against poor conditions and abuse with the loss of their right to remain in Canada, along with their jobs.
Concerns over employers’ manifest failure to provide a safe working environment amid the pandemic compelled the Mexican government to announce last month that it was stopping Mexican nationals from travelling to Canada under the SAWP. The Mexican ambassador to Canada, Juan José Gómez Camacho, told the Canadian Press in an interview that at least 300 Mexican migrant workers had fallen ill with the virus, having contracted it via community transmission. Only after a worthless assurance from PM Trudeau that Ottawa will consider changes to the program did the Mexican government agree to lift the travel ban. Trudeau said on Jun 17:

We know that there are many issues that require looking at, from living conditions to the fact that they’re tied individually to particular companies or employers, to various challenges around labour standards.

Trudeau of course did not explain why it took a halt in the supply of cheap-labour from Mexico for his government to even acknowledge issues with the SAWP. And if truth be told, his admission was motivated not by concerns about the workers’ plight, but with safeguarding the lucrative profits of Canada’s agribusiness sector. Ontario’s hard-right, Doug Ford-led provincial government has also made clear that ensuring the smooth running of farms and other workplaces is its top priority, regardless of the impact this has on workers’ health. In late June, the Ontario government announced:

Positive asymptomatic workers (may) continue working as long as they follow the public health measures in their workplace to minimize the risk of transmission to others.

The new policy, cynically referred to as “work self-isolation,” was presented as necessary to maintain agricultural production and other “critical” business operations. In reality, it will ensure that many more worksites become COVID-19 hotspots. The Ford government also released a three-point plan to curb the spread of the virus in the farms and greenhouses of Windsor-Essex County. It calls for on-site testing, granting protections afforded by the Employment Standards Act to migrant workers and limited access to workplace compensation benefits, including the CERB for migrant workers who have made at least $5k in the past 12 months. Given that large numbers of migrant workers only recently arrived in Canada for the 2020 growing season, many will no doubt fail to meet the $5k minimum earnings hurdle. A press release from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), an umbrella organization consisting of local advocacy groups, exposed the absurdity of the claims by Ford and other members of his government that social distancing and other public health measures can be effectively enforced in the agricultural sector. The MWAC cited many violations of workers’ rights. These include outright wage theft, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), inability to socially distance while at work and in the cramped accommodations provided by employers, and employers’ ability to coerce and threaten migrant workers because of their precarious legal status.
Workers are crammed—often six or eight to a room—into unsanitary bunkhouses and old motels, where cockroach and bedbug infestations are common. The close quarters and unsanitary living conditions are a perfect breeding ground for the highly contagious coronavirus.

Last weekend’s protests were only the latest in a growing number of demonstrations driven by these miserable working and living conditions. On Jun 28, two protests were held in Leamington, a major agricultural area in Windsor-Essex County. A caravan of vehicles organized by Justice for Migrant workers drove by several farms, honking in support of migrant workers. The volunteer-run organization consists of labour organizers, educators and migrant workers. One of their main demands is the granting of full permanent resident status to all migrant workers. Leamington is at the heart of the largest concentration of greenhouses in North America, comprising 1,969 acres. Crops grown in the area include cucumbers, peppers, flowers and tomatoes. Historically, Leamington was a major centre of tomato production, supplying the local Heinz factory, which closed in 2014. The attempt of the UFCW and other unions to pose as defenders of migrant workers’ interests is deeply cynical. The trade unions have for years waged chauvinist Canadian nationalist campaigns against workers admitted to Canada under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. They have regularly sought to whip up anti-immigrant sentiments among native-born workers by urging governments to slash the number of TFWs allowed into Canada. Rather than blaming the capitalists and successive right-wing governments for worsening working conditions, these campaigns place the blame on the migrants themselves. The UFCW has also proven time and again that it has no intention of waging any genuine struggle to protect workers’ interests. At the huge Cargill meatpacking plant in High River, Alberta, which is largely staffed by immigrant and super-exploited temporary foreign workers, the UFCW ordered workers to return to their jobs even though close to 1k COVID-19 infections had been reported at the plant, and three deaths had been linked to the outbreak. The local UFCW president denounced job action to defend workers’ health and lives, on the grounds that this would be illegal under the state-designed, anti-worker collective bargaining system.

Nearly 200k jobs lost in the UK amid pandemic
Robert Stevens, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Nearly 200k jobs have been lost in the UK in just over three months. According to research published Monday by the Daily Mail, 59 major companies have shed more than 195k jobs since lockdown began in March. Workers have been laid off particularly heavily in the retail, travel, hospitality and manufacturing sectors. In the last days, the high-end retailer Harrods, as well as Café Rouge, Bella Italia and Topshop owner Arcadia have announced a further 14k redundancies, with at least 10k going in just two days, on Jul 1-2. On Monday, sandwich chain Pret a Manger announced that 30 of its shops will close permanently, with the loss of 1k jobs. The Centre for Retail Research revealed that 24,348 roles have gone at insolvent UK shops and businesses so far in 2020. These include brands that had a presence on the High Street going back decades, such as Laura Ashley and Debenhams. Others making thousands redundant include Monsoon, Accessorize, Cath Kidston, Quiz and Victoria’s Secret. The 2,123 stores of 38 large and medium-sized retailers forced into administration in the first six months of 2020 is already more than the total in the whole of 2019 (2,051 stores run by 43 retailers).

This year’s administrations affect 49.2k workers, with 45.5k employees affected last year. With the Johnson government allowing cafes and restaurants to fully reopen from Jul 4, Pret has reopened 339 out of its 410 UK shops. The UK cafes are part of 550 outlets that Pret operates globally employing 13,000 staff, including 8k in the UK. Along with the job losses at the 30 stores, the number of workers in Pret’s other shops will be reduced due to sales being down 74% on last year. Pret chief executive, Pano Christou, told the Financial Times that the firm faces a “significant restructuring of the business” and that job losses “could be 1k+” unless it reached sales of 50% to 60% of pre-coronavirus levels by September. Pret closed two shops in the north east of England last week, in Newcastle and Gateshead, with the loss of 28 jobs. In a further cost-cutting measures, Pret “has also put its 30k sq ft central London office on the market” and “will look to relocate to a more suburban London location.” The company is struggling to pay rent on its shops, with the newspaper noting it had “paid 10% of its March rent bill and 30% in June” and “would be negotiating with the chain’s more than 300 landlords individually.”

Pret’s announcement followed SSP Group, which runs rival food-to-go chains Upper Crust and Ritazza. The group plans to axe 5k jobs, more than half its UK workforce. Another two parent groups, The Restaurant Group that owns the Wagamama cafe chain, and the Casual Dining Group, which owns Café Rouge, have announced 4.6k job cuts between them. The UK’s oldest department store chain, John Lewis, warned last week that it plans hundreds of job losses, with some of its stores to remain permanently closed. The Daily Mirror reported:

One of two head offices in Victoria, normally home to 450 staff, will reportedly close under plans to encourage flexible working.

Managing Director Michael Ward of Harrods, the “The World’s Leading Luxury Department Store,” told staff by memo that due to “devastation in international trade” and the “ongoing impacts of this pandemic, we as a business will need to make reductions to our workforce.” Around 700 jobs will be lost at the London store, equating to 14% of its 4.8k workforce. The Clarks shoemaker is to cut 700 jobs worldwide over the next 18 months, with 100 to go at its Street HQ in Somerset where it was founded in 1825. Fashion firm Mulberry will axe around 500 jobs. Collapsed furniture store Harveys is making 240 redundancies. Even larger job losses are taking place at Oasis and Warehouse, which have gone into administration with 200 immediate job losses and 1.8k put at risk. Shirt-maker TM Lewin is to close all 66 of its UK shops, with most of its 700 workers laid off. The firm, founded in London in 1898, is to take all its sales online.

On Monday, Rugby Football Union announced it would reduce its workforce by nearly a quarter, with 139 jobs at risk. It cited projected losses of up to £107m due to the pandemic. Further job losses have been announced in manufacturing. Last month, rail manufacturer Wabtec announced that up to 450 jobs were threatened at its rail refurbishment factory in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, opening up a 45-day consultation period for redundancies. The famous Flying Scotsman locomotive was built on the site. On Sunday, Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ union leader Mick Cash said:

The company have now said that it will actually make 760 posts redundant, including all 682 manual graded staff, still cutting the 450 posts from the workforce but forcing the remainder into newly created posts with different contracts of employment and associated terms and conditions.

The plant is owned by the Wabtec Corporation, based in Pittsburgh, Pindostan. The employees in Doncaster are part of a global workforce of 27k spread across 50 countries. The firm has an $8b turnover supplying components and services to the rail industry. Magellan Aerospace is proposing to shed 100 jobs and close one of its two sites at Poole and Bournemouth, where it employs around 250. Magellan is headquartered in Canada and produces parts for the aerospace industry, primarily for Airbus and Boeing. It is imposing the cuts due to the knock-on effect of cuts at Airbus, which is shedding 15k job cuts worldwide, with 1,727 to go in Britain. Far more job losses are being planned by the corporations. Many thousands who have already lost their jobs were being paid 80% of their wages under the government’s furlough scheme. This will come to a tapered end beginning next month and withdrawn altogether in October. These corporations have already received £25.5b from the public purse to pay wages. According to a poll by Opinium, 44% of 500 businesses signed on to the furlough scheme said they intend to make more staff redundant when it ends. The survey found 65% of medium sized firms employing between 50 and 249 workers expect redundancies. The one constant in the massive wave of job losses is the refusal of the pro-corporation trade unions to fight in defence of a single job. Their main gripe, even when they bother to comment on the gutting of workers livelihoods, is that they are being denied a role in imposing the redundancies, as is the case with the Communications Workers Union and British Telecom. At Wabtec, RMT leader Mick Cash complained:

Additionally and even more outrageously, the company has stated that if it does not achieve its aims through consultation and negotiations with the union, then it will dismiss all staff and re-engage those it needs to continue the business.

Dozens of immigrants drown in eastern Turkey’s Lake Van
Barış Demir, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

After the removal of coronavirus restrictions, a boat carrying dozens of immigrants believed to come from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran sank in eastern Turkey’s Lake Van on Jun 27. So far, rescue workers have only recovered bodies of 10 migrants. But it is believed that the boat still at the bottom of the lake was carrying at least 60 or more people. While local residents have claimed that more than 100 immigrants might have lost their lives, at least 11 people were arrested about the incident. This tragedy is not the first. Last December, seven died and 64 others were rescued when a boat sank carrying refugees and immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Migrants reportedly are forced to travel by boat over Lake Van to bypass police checkpoints on land. Van, a city on the Iranian border, is a transit point for immigrants fleeing war, persecution and poverty from Central and South East Asian countries that have been devastated by imperialist interventions. Many immigrants travel through Turkey as a transit country and then follow the Aegean Sea route through Greece in hope of reaching Europe. Last week, the Turkish Coast Guard Command also rescued 35 migrants and is still searching for four others after their boat capsized off the coast of Ayvalık in Turkey’s western Balıkesir province near the Aegean Sea, opposite the Greek island of Lesbos. Turkey’s state-owned TRT Haber claimed that the rubber boat carrying the migrants was punctured by the Greek Coast Guard, who also removed the fuel tank and pushed migrants toward the Turkish coast.

In early March, Turkey opened its gates for migrants wanting to cross to Europe, accusing the EU of failing to keep its promises in a 2016 migrant deal. Turkey’s attempt to use refugees to blackmail the European NATO powers into backing Ankara’s war aims in Syria led to a new crisis on its western border. The Erdoğan government indicated that Ankara would no longer block some 3.5m Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands of more immigrants from leaving the country for Europe. At that time, refugees took to boats on the Aegean Sea, marching to the Greek and Bulgarian borders. Heavily armed police and military units intervened against helpless refugees who have fled the conflicts in the Middle East to seek refuge in Europe. With EU support, Greek soldiers fired tear gas at refugees including women and children and even used live ammunition, killing and injuring several on the border. After Mar 11, when the first case was traced in Turkey, the Erdoğan government long continued to encourage immigrants to go to the border with Greece. However, the government suspended this policy temporarily after a meeting between Turkish and EU officials in early March amidst a growing COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, leaving them to their fate during the pandemic across Turkey. In early June, the International Organisation for Migrants in Turkey’s emergency coordinator, Mazen Aboulhosn, stated:

The COVID-19 epidemic hit migrant and refugee communities in the larger cities such as Istanbul, Izmir and Gaziantep particularly hard. Hundreds of thousands of migrants were among the first to lose their jobs, causing an immediate financial burden for them and their families. Many are still not able to afford food, medicine and health-care.

Studies reveal the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate health and social impact on migrants. Fully 63% of refugees have had difficulty getting food during the pandemic, and more than 88% reportedly had no employment, compared to 18% before the outbreak. While the Health Ministry has still refused to make public the full coronavirus data in Turkey, there is little information about the health situation facing millions of refugees and immigrants who lack basic social rights in the country. Today, the coronavirus pandemic is not under control in Turkey or elsewhere in the world. As a result of the policies of “normalisation” and the return to work in the interests of the ruling class, the number of daily cases has risen more than 1k again. Immigrants, who live in crowded houses or packed like sardines in vehicles, are one of the largest risk groups. The camps, often funded by the EU and lacking basic sanitation, are in grave danger of succumbing to COVID-19.

The plight of asylum seekers in Turkey and Greece is the product of the EU’s brutal policies. A rotten deal between the EU, Turkey and Greece in Mar 2016 established Greece as the EU’s jailer of refugees and obliged the Erdoğan regime to ensure that refugees from the war zones in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan will not make their way to Europe. The agreement mandates that all refugees entering Greece via “irregular” routes, making the dangerous journey via boat from Turkey to Greece, will be deported back to Turkey. Only those who can prove that they would be persecuted in Turkey can obtain asylum in Greece. Once in Greece, they are interned until their applications for asylum are processed. Most are denied and sent back to Turkey. The nearly 5m refugees and immigrants who live in Turkey amount to a significant fraction of the approximately 79.5m refugees fleeing imperialist war and poverty around the globe. It is a critical task of the international working class, in particular in Turkey and Greece, to defend refugees. They must be released from detention camps, receive medical care, and obtain full democratic rights including citizenship rights. They must have the right to settle in the country of their choice and study, live, and work as they please.

Scientist warns Istanbul earthquake could kill hundreds of thousands
Ozan Özgür, WSWS, Jul 7 2020

Speaking to the daily Cumhuriyet on Jun 29, well-known geologist Professor Naci Görü warned that no preparations are being made for an expected earthquake of magnitude at least 7.2 in Istanbul that could kill hundreds of thousands. Earthquake experts internationally agree that an earthquake of at least magnitude 7 is likely in the next 10 years in Istanbul. The scientist was asked:

What would Istanbul look like if there was an earthquake with a minimum magnitude of 7.2?

Görü replied:

That’s our concern. For example, there is an earthquake report published by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. If it were me, I would not have published it. It must have been made by our very optimistic friends. It clamed there would be 14k deaths after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Istanbul. This is not true. A simple account: there are 1.6m buildings. Let’s reduce all mortal cases to 1% in Istanbul. This means 16k buildings. Suppose that each building has four floors. It means 64k floors. If we think two apartments on each floor, it means 128k apartments. Put four people in each apartment, does it exceed 400k?

Blaming successive central and local governments for the neglect of earthquake risks not only in Istanbul but across Turkey, he criticised massive government construction projects like the Istanbul Canal, Istanbul Airport, highways and bridges, built in the interests of big business, for blocking necessary measures against earthquake risks. He said:

This government was not the only one responsible for the failure to take action regarding the earthquake. So were the previous ones. Neither canal projects nor airport projects, nor bridge or road projects are more important than this country’s massive death toll in an earthquake. Ask the scientists, if you do the things they draw attention to, you cannot stop the earthquake, but you will reduce the damage. Perhaps you will reduce it to 100 deaths, instead of losing 10k lives. So is not this the biggest project? Why don’t you do it? What are you waiting for?

Three months before the earthquake in the eastern Turkish city of Elazığ in January, Görü had warned of the earthquake risk in the area, calling for immediate action. A 6.8 magnitude earthquake on Jan 24 left 41 dead and more than 1.6k injured. Turkey is an earthquake-prone country, many of whose cities are built on active faults, and has a disastrous earthquake record. Last month, there were several earthquakes of magnitude between 4 and 5.5 across Turkey. In the 1999 Marmara earthquake, official reports said about 18,000 people lost their lives and more than 25,000 were injured. Some unofficial reports estimate that the real death toll was 50,000 and there were 100k injured. A 2011 earthquake in the eastern province of Van left more than 600 dead and nearly 4.2k injured. All the research carried out especially after the 1999 earthquake show that the anticipated earthquake on the North Anatolian Fault Line will likely be at least magnitude 7.2 in the Marmara Sea, off Istanbul. This would cause a disaster not only in Turkey’s biggest city, but also in neighboring industrial cities such as Kocaeli, Bursa and Tekirdağ. Nonetheless, the ruling class and governments from all establishment parties have done nothing against this coming disaster in Istanbul, where 16m people live, or almost 20% of the Turkish population. Instead of preparing for a massive earthquake that scientists have warned about for years, social resources have been transferred to the capitalist class. In fact, the death toll from the next massive earthquake in Istanbul could be a product of not a natural catastrophe but a social crime committed by the Turkish ruling class.

The Erdoğan government undoubtedly bears the main responsibility for this great destruction and death danger facing millions of workers. Not only was Erdoğan president since 2002, but he was mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1999. Until the 2019 local elections, Istanbul has been governed by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). In all these years, while national and local authorities changed construction plans for Istanbul to allow real estate companies to build massive building and gain billions, nothing was done in preparation for the earthquake. In 2011, Turkey’s finance minister said the government had spent earthquake taxes (about 46b to 48b Turkish liras) collected since 1999 on double highways, health care and education, not on preparing for earthquakes. However, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who was supported by the far-right Good Party, the Kurdish-nationalist Peoples’ Democratic Party and numerous pseudo-left groups in the Mar 2019 local elections as an “alternative” to the AKP, does not have a different earthquake policy from his predecessor. Instead of performing concrete work like the urgent renovation of buildings in working class neighborhoods, İmamoğlu focused on determining gathering areas for the population and how to do initial damage analysis immediately after an earthquake.

For years and especially in Istanbul, “urban transformation” campaigns have been a way to drive working-class residents from the city centre and build luxury residences for the affluent. The purpose is not to protect residents from earthquakes, but to boost profits for construction firms and enrich the wealthiest layers of society. Due to this irrationality of capitalism, thousands of new, earthquake-resistant apartments remain empty in Istanbul and other cities, while hundreds of thousands of people live in old buildings that are death traps and will likely collapse in a future earthquake. Natural disasters, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and global pandemics such as COVID-19 have mainly hit the working class, which constitutes the vast majority of society, and poor sections of the middle classes, due to their miserable living conditions. On the other hand, a tiny privileged elite of billionaires and multi-millionaires wallow in wealth and live in castle-like houses. The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has clearly demonstrated that defending humanity against natural disasters, climate change and the pandemic threat requires a level of planning and global cooperation that capitalism can never achieve. A massive plan of public works is necessary to reconstruct cities across the world threatened by natural disasters, such as Istanbul, based on scientific planning and the highest level of security, to provide everyone with the fundamental right to safe housing. The implementation of this solution requires the conscious struggle to transfer political power to the working class, struggle for international socialism, based on planning global economic life based on social needs, not private profit.

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