let the poor die

Former Australian PM Tony Abbott: Let the elderly die for corporate profits
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Sep 4 2020

Abbott delivering his address to the Policy Exchange think tank

In an address to the British Policy Exchange think tank earlier this week, former Australian PM Tony Abbott branded any measures to tackle the spread of COVID-19 as a “health dictatorship” and called for the elderly to be left to die from the virus. Abbott, who held the highest political office in Australia between 2013 and 2015, sketched out a homicidal program that would not have been out of place in Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Its essence was a call for governments to explicitly adopt a policy that would lead to tens or hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths and to remove any obstacles to corporate profit-making activities. The former PM gave unvarnished expression to the socially-criminal response to the pandemic by governments internationally. He nevertheless complained:

Not enough politicians are thinking like health economists, trained to pose uncomfortable questions about the level of deaths we might have to live with.

Abbott cited figures, for which he provided no evidence, claiming that the Australian government was spending up to $200,000 to prolong the life of each elderly COVID-19 patient by as little as a year. The clear implication was that such basic health-care was not a good investment. He repeated the familiar refrain of capitalist politicians throughout the pandemic, warning that the cure could not be worse than the disease. Abbott couched his reactionary proposals in pseudo-philosophical musings such as this:

In this climate of fear it was hard for governments to ask ‘how much is a life worth?’ Because every life is precious, and every death is sad, but that has never stopped families sometimes electing to make elderly relatives as comfortable as possible while nature takes its course.

In this case, letting “nature take its course” means subjecting the elderly, and other vulnerable individuals considered surplus to the requirements of big business, to an agonising death by denying them medical treatment. Abbott was very explicit about the purpose of his statements. It was above all necessary, he insisted, for workers to return fully to their places of employment. Abbott warned:

People once sturdily self-reliant (are) looking to the government more than ever for support and sustenance, a something-for-nothing mindset reinforced amongst young people spared the need of searching for jobs.

This, he said, risked “establishing a new normal,” where ordinary people expected governments to assist them. In other words, the main issue is for workers to be on the job, so that surplus value can be pumped out of them, regardless of the danger to their lives. Even minimal unemployment benefits must be wound back, as part of a broader austerity offensive against the working class. Abbott attempted to justify his proposals by concluding:

Fear of falling sick is stopping us from feeling fully alive.

The limited media commentary on Abbott’s speech has focused on the undeniable right-wing proclivities of the former Liberal Party politician. He was a protégé of B A Santamaria, a reactionary ideologue who helped split Australia’s pro-capitalist Labor Party in the 1950s, declaring that it had been over-run by communists. Abbott’s entire political career has been associated with nationalist militarism, anti-immigrant xenophobia and anti-communism. Others have noted the apparent hypocrisy of Abbott, a fervent Catholic who has invoked the “sanctity of life” to oppose abortion and euthanasia, coming out in favour of what amounts to state-enforced “euthanasia.” It is hardly a revelation, however, that Abbott, like his colleagues in official politics, secular and religious alike, worships first of all at the altar of profit.

Much of the coverage has missed the main point. What Abbott was outlining has already been carried by capitalist governments around the world, including in Britain, Pindostan and Australia, whether they are led by establishment parties of the “right” or the supposed “left.” Abbott, who is in line to become a trade envoy for the British government, has been promoted by PM Boris Johnson. The British government responded to the pandemic by adopting a policy of “herd immunity,” allowing COVID-19 to spread unchecked throughout the country, because of the impact on big business that lockdown measures would have. This included a mass culling of the elderly in aged-care homes, which Abbott now lauds and promotes. The WSWS, moreover, has previously documented the fact that the Policy Exchange think tank where Abbott spoke is the scene of high-level discussions of the British state and the Conservative Party, along with its Pindo ally.

It is notable that Abbott has come under fire from Britain’s “liberal” press, including the Guardian, who have denounced his putative position as a trade envoy. Demonstrating the selfish concerns of the upper-middle class, they have passed over Abbott’s homicidal speech, instead condemning his record of misogyny and homophobia as incompatible with their fixation on individual identity. By this they have signalled that they have no fundamental opposition to the policy of “herd immunity.” The implications of Abbott’s speech for domestic Australian politics have also received scant attention. The entire Australian establishment, including the official media, the governing federal Liberal-Nationals and Labor opposition, and the various state administrations, have centred their response to the pandemic on the same back-to-work and “reopening of the economy” campaigns that have been carried out by their counterparts internationally.

While they did not explicitly adopt the program of “herd immunity,” all Australian governments, Liberal-National and Labor alike, rejected expert medical advice in April which called for a policy aimed at eliminating coronavirus transmission. This, they claimed, would be too costly. The financial press published “death calculi” along the lines of Abbott’s speech, weighing the cost of treatment against its impact on profits, and invariably concluding that the latter would need to take priority. As has happened elsewhere, the premature lifting of lockdown measures beginning in May has resulted in a new surge of the pandemic, centred in the state of Victoria. There, the state Labor government of Premier Daniel Andrews rejected calls from epidemiologists for immediate workplace and school shutdowns as daily case numbers soared. Mass outbreaks have occurred in aged-care homes.

This is the direct outcome of the corporatisation of the sector by federal governments, Labor and Liberal-National alike, over decades. Minimal health precautions were rejected by many of the private operators, while staff are primarily low-paid casuals without any medical expertise. State Labor authorities prevented the hospitalisation of residents infected with COVID-19, instead consigning them to treatment that amounts to palliative care. Thousands have been infected and hundreds have tragically died. It was only when Victoria’s hospital system threatened to be completely overwhelmed that Andrews implemented “Stage Four” restrictions, involving the closure of Melbourne’s retail sector, the resumption of online learning and some restrictions on other workplaces. Those “Stage Four” measures are set to elapse in less than a fortnight.

Abbott’s speech was a carefully-timed intervention. The former PM retains close ties to the federal Liberal-National government and the Murdoch press, which are the forces spearheading a stepped-up campaign for the lifting of virtually all remaining COVID-19 restrictions. It was hardly a coincidence that the day before Abbott’s speech, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg gave a series of interviews demanding that lockdown measures be overturned in Victoria, to provide businesses with “certainty.” Signalling yet again the bipartisan character of the pro-business response to the pandemic, Andrews immediately promised to present a “road map” out of the restrictions this Sunday. Being worked out in secret with the representatives of ten industry groups, it will undoubtedly involve the sort of workplace and school reopenings that resulted in the last resurgence of the virus.

School and college outbreaks make Iowa the Pindo COVID-19 hotspot
Benjamin Mateus, WSWS, Sep 4 2020

Fort Dodge, Iowa

Iowa has become typical of the front line of the pandemic—a tempest brewing, with cases soaring while the political and corporate establishment turn a blind eye to the devastating public health crisis and initiate policies that will make it even worse by intensifying the back-to-school and back-to-work campaign. With over 67k cumulative cases, the seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in Iowa has been steadily climbing. However, the tracking of cases has been mired in willful and calculated ineptitude. With a positivity rate of 18.5%, it is a clear indication that the number of cases throughout the state is far higher than reported by authorities. As of Sep 2, there have been 1,126 total deaths attributed to the infection in a state with a population of only 3.2m. Local news reported yesterday that a special education teacher from Des Moines Public Schools died from complications of COVID-19 infection. The teacher, yet to be identified, worked at Ruby Van Meter School for the intellectually disabled. It remains unclear where the teacher contracted the virus. However, Governor Kim Reynolds is demanding that districts open schools for 50% in-person instruction, regardless of the deadliness of the infection, with utter disregard for the lives of the communities being put at risk. On a per-capita basis, Iowa leads with the highest number of COVID-19 cases of any state in the country. With 232 new cases per 100k population, it is almost triple the national average of 88 per 100k. According to the federal coronavirus task force:

Community transmission continues to be high in rural and urban counties across Iowa, with the increasing transmission in the major university towns. Mask mandates must be in place to decrease transmission.

Additional recommendations included the closing of bars and restaurants across 61 counties, which Governor Reynolds has chosen to disregard publicly, limiting the shutdown to major towns. After the July days when COVID-19 cases peaked at more than 70k per day in Pindostan, predominately across the sunbelt states, by August, there were indications that the virus was surging into rural Midwest and Great Plains states. Presently, the seven-day moving average across Pindostan has gradually declined and settled to approximately 42.5k daily cases. Similarly, since the end of July, about 1k people are succumbing to COVID-19 each day. Pindostan will surpass the 200k-fatality milestone by mid-month. At a candid moment that put her in bad stead with the Trump administration, Dr Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, warned early in August:

To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus. If you’re in multi-generational households, and there’s an outbreak in your rural area or your city, you need to consider wearing a mask at home, assuming that you’re positive, if you have individuals in your households with comorbidities.

Specifically, rural regions in states like Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota are being identified as new hot spots. Still, due to a lack of infrastructure and accurate reporting, the scope of the outbreaks remains challenging to estimate. The positivity rate for these states ranges from 13.6% to 22.2%, indicating a significant unidentified community transmission. Meatpacking plants are notorious for COVID-19 infections, and Iowa counties with the highest rates of infections are also home to these economic centers of rural food processing. Workers in these plants and their families are facing the difficult decision to send their children to school. Dr Megan Srinivas, an infectious disease specialist from Fort Dodge, Iowa, told the Daily Nonpareil, a local newspaper that serves Council Bluffs, Iowa and the south-west counties:

Meatpacking plants present a unique challenge to fighting any pandemic including COVID-19. Plants represent a mixing pot. COVID-19 doesn’t recognize county lines, and carpooling across counties is commonplace for these workers.

Despite the attempt by the media to racialize the pandemic, more conscientious researchers are identifying the connection between socioeconomic index and rates of COVID-19 infection. These plants are run by the labor power of migrants and refugees, African and Central American workers, a high-risk population already given the predilection with poverty and health comorbidities of obesity, diabetes and hypertension. These same low-income laborers live in multi-generational families who depend on the paychecks that keep the lights on at night. The vulnerability of these areas is compounded by the returning university students who will usually double the population of small towns and cities during the academic year. These students also provide critical economic stimulus to small businesses and commerce that barely eke out a living and have faced significant financial hardship during the last seven months of the pandemic. Many of the state’s many small colleges are in proximity to the meatpacking and processing plants. Prestige Foods sits on 160 acres of Iowa farmland with over five miles of conveyor belts, 100k sq ft of kill floor, and 20k sq ft of freezers. Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area is also home to a Tyson Fresh Meats plant. The Waterloo, Fort Dodge, and Eagle Grove school districts are home to several small communities in driving vicinity. Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, and the University of Iowa in Iowa City, accounting for almost 70k university students, are within an hour or two of each other, creating a vibrant network of communities perfect for a highly contagious pathogen.

According to the Iowa public health department, Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, was on a seven-day streak of triple-digit increase of new cases. Since the first day of classes on Aug 24, there have been at least 1,142 cases of COVID-19 just at the university, including 220 new cases last Wednesday alone. University officials have set aside close to 300 rooms at residence halls for quarantine and isolation purposes. Protests and sickouts have ensued with students challenging the university’s deadly decisions to hold in-person classes. Story County, home to Iowa State University, has a positivity rate of more than 41%. As of Aug 31, an additional 503 people tested positive. Black Hawk County, home to the University of Northern Iowa, ranks fourth out of 99 counties with the highest COVID-19 cases. What is happening in Iowa is only the worst example of a nationwide process which has seen many other states and universities become flashpoints over the last month, from the University of North Carolina to Notre Dame to the University of Alabama and numerous colleges in Arizona. Some 25k cases of COVID-19 have been reported at colleges and universities across 37 states. The leading Pindo epidemiologist, Dr Anthony Fauci, publicly urged university boxtops not to send infected students home, telling NBC Today on Wednesday:

Keep them at the university in a place that’s sequestered enough from other students. But don’t have them go home, because they could be spreading it in their home state.

It begs the question, why were they placed in this predicament in the first place? Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Bloomberg:

It’s going to be kind of this rolling fire, with certain flare-ups that occur in different parts of the country at different times. This is a virus that’s established itself into the population.

This assessment is true as far as it goes, but virus conflagration is by political choice and not by mere accident or incompetence. That is why Dr Scott Atlas has gained the ear of President Trump, who normally scorns the advice of scientists. Dr Atlas’s credentials, unfortunately, do not include the study of infectious diseases or public health, which accounts for his popularity at the White House. A senior fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution, Dr Atlas has been pressing to institute a broad policy of herd immunity disguised hypocritically as a policy focused on protecting a small population of at-risk individuals to minimize the risk to the rest of the population. Trump told Fox News on Monday:

Once you get to a certain number, we use the word herd, once you get to a certain number, it’s going to go away.

This means a murderous pogrom in which state officials decry the impossibility of mandates, dashboards and statistics are manipulated, medical and public health guidelines change to suit political expediency, all in the name of the financial markets that have seen a return to their pre-pandemic highs. Every effort to save lives, protect communities, and create a cohesive response to COVID-19 is thwarted, and in this regard, the drive to open schools is the reverse of the lockdowns that prevented so many infections and saved countless thousands of lives.

Drive to play college football continues, as evidence mounts that games could be “superspreader” events
Andy Thompson, WSWS, Sep 4 2020

University of Iowa football stadium

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage through college campuses, dozens of major college football programs are moving forward with their plans to hold the regular fall season. To date, only the Big 10 and Pac 12 conferences have postponed their seasons, after facing an incipient rebellion from players. A handful of independent schools, which are not affiliated with any conference, have cancelled their seasons. The other “Power Five” conferences, the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and South-Eastern Conference, all still plan on having their fall season. That means that 77 out of the 130 major college football programs will hold their season in the fall. Since the beginning of the fall semester, there have been at least 26k COVID-19 cases reported at over 750 campuses, with at least 64 deaths in colleges and universities. Schools have rapidly become epicenters for the pandemic. The close-quarter dormitories and in-person classrooms are the ideal conditions for the virus to spread quickly among young people, who are more likely to be asymptomatic carriers.

There have large outbreaks among college football teams, despite athletes having access to exclusive facilities and health staff. Defending national champion Louisiana State University had at least 30 players on its team test positive for the virus over the summer. At one point last month all but four of the team’s offensive linemen were quarantined due to exposure. The previous year’s champion, Clemson University, saw an outbreak of 37 cases, which is about one third of the team’s roster. Both schools are moving forward with their games scheduled later this month. In many areas games are being planned while their campuses are in a state of disaster. Several schools, including the University of Illinois and the University of Mississippi, are seeing huge COVID-19 outbreaks only a few weeks after schools we reopened. Most notable is Iowa State University, where the test positivity rate is over 28%. Ames, Iowa where ISU is located, was recently ranked the highest in the country for COVID-19 cases per capita. Despite the stark figures, ISU’s administration held onto plans to play their next scheduled game on Sep 12 with 25k fans in attendance. When Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds was asked by reporters about plans for the mass gathering during a global pandemic, she responded:
If you don’t feel safe, don’t go.

The decision to cancel in-person attendance at the ISU stadium came only after hundreds of students and teachers at the nearby University of Iowa staged a sickout to protest unsafe in-person classes. ISU only canceled the normal attendance in the stadium in an attempt to head off a social explosion and protest from students. However, they are continuing to hold the game in an empty stadium, and it will be broadcast on television. Even still, this will involve hundreds of people working in close proximity, including both teams, coaches and supporting staff. Given the inherently physical nature of the sport, there is no reasonable way to prevent transmission between players. The danger to players and the wider community goes further than the virus itself. A recent report from Penn State’s director of athletic medicine, Wayne Sebastianelli, found that 30% to 35% of Big Ten athletes who tested positive for the virus had myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that can be deadly when untreated. This new finding only adds more risk to the health and lives of players, fans and ultimately the entire population, if the games are to go forward. In an interactive article on ESPN titled “Mapping College Football Crowds and Covid Risks,” writer Kyle Bonagura explains how football stadiums, should they be opened to fans, have the potential to spread the pandemic not just on college campuses and in their immediate surroundings, but across entire states and even the country. The article was based on an analysis of anonymous cell phone data of fans that attended games last year. Bonagura found that within just 24 hours of the start of a football game fans returning to their homes traveled several hundred miles away from the stadium. At just one game in Nebraska examined by Bonagura, fans traveled from southern Florida, Chicago, Oregon or Connecticut.

Despite the risks, many schools still plan on holding games with fans in attendance. Most schools including Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech have said they will “only” allow 20% to 25% capacity crowds at their stadiums. However, given the extremely large capacities of many college football stadiums, this still amounts to around 20k to 25k people. While some schools have announced plans to hold games with no fans, others are biding their time and have not yet announced any plans, leaving open the possibility of playing in front of crowds. Even at limited capacity the games could become a super-spreading events. Under normal circumstances, attendance at games for top programs are equivalent to the populations of small cities. When the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium is full it is equivalent to about 5 percent of the state’s total population. The University of Michigan brags that its stadium, which has the largest capacity in the western hemisphere, becomes the state’s 7th largest city during games. While both schools are members of the Big 10 and therefore have postponed their seasons, similar conditions exist elsewhere. Outside of the Big 10 and Pac-12, there at least 12 college football stadiums with capacities of at least 80k, and five with capacities of more than 100k.

In spite of its sham status as an “amateur” competition, college football in Pindostan is big business, with billions of dollars in television, advertising and ticket revenues at stake. The enormous costs associated with fielding competitive teams have something of the character of a cancerous growth on ailing public university budgets, as they have long functioned to siphon resources and institutional attention away from academics. In most states, the highest-paid public employees, by orders of magnitude, are college football coaches at the state’s major universities. At some universities, alumni donations to the athletic department even exceed donations to the actual schools. But more is involved in the drive to play the season than revenue. To postpone or cancel the season would seriously undermine the nationwide back-to-school campaign, spearheaded by the Trump administration but supported by politicians from both parties across the country. If college football cannot be played safely, what justification can there be to expose millions of students to infection? On Tuesday, Trump announced that he had had a discussion with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren to push for a reversal of the conference’s decision to postpone its season. According to Trump:

The call was very productive, about getting Big Ten playing again and immediately. And let’s see what happens. He’s a great guy. It’s a great conference. Tremendous teams. And we’re pushing very hard.

Last week reports emerged hinting that the Big Ten and Pac-12 are trying to backpedal on their commitments to postpone their seasons until the spring, and might try and resume their season shortly after Thanksgiving. To this Trump responded in a tweet:

No, I want Big Ten, and all other football, back — NOW.

The Big Ten issued a statement after the call with the president in which it said:

We are exhausting every resource to help student-athletes get back to playing the sports they love at the appropriate time in the safest and healthiest way possible.

While there has been no official change in policy from the Big Ten as of yet, there is immense pressure from the White House and other financial interests to resume the football season as quickly as possible.

Quebec teachers denounce unions for their complicity in reckless school reopening
Louis Girard, WSWS, Sep 4 2020

Millions of students across Canada are going back to school this week and next, returning to unsafe and overcrowded classrooms as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the country and internationally. The back-to-school drive has one overriding aim: to force working parents to return to work so they can resume generating massive profits for big business. It is being jointly orchestrated by the provincial governments, Liberal, Conservative, Coalition Avenir Quebec, and NDP, and by the Justin Trudeau-led federal Liberal government. Among its most ardent promoters is Quebec Premier François Legault and his “Coalition for Quebec’s Future” government. Legault has refused to offer worried parents the alternative of e-learning, insisting it be reserved only for children with a doctor-certified medical condition. After a spike in COVID-19 cases this week, including at many newly reopened schools, Legault blamed the public for ignoring social-distancing rules and vowed to keep the schools open even as teachers and students fall sick. He declared:

Above all, I do not want to close the schools.

In Quebec, the epicenter of the pandemic in Canada, the Ministry of Health is refusing to provide official updates on school-related COVID-19 cases. But according to data compiled by a Montreal father on the covidecolesquebec.org website, more than 30 schools in the province have already had at least one positive case. Across the province, workers, parents and medical experts have expressed deep concern about the government’s school reopening plans. A group of parents has sent a formal notice to the Ministry of Education to demand the implementation of online school learning. Politimi Karounis, a member of this group, said he has received thousands of messages from parents who are concerned about their children going back to school. Sarah Gibson, a mother of two teenage girls in a Montreal suburb, launched a petition to demand the plan be revised to provide an online-learning option, reduce class sizes, and incorporate other science-based safety measures. To date more than 30k people have signed the online petition. Refuting the government’s lies, the text accompanying the petition states:

It is increasingly clear that children are as contagious as adults.

The text draws attention to airborne transmission, in the presence of often antiquated ventilation systems, as an important vector for the spread of the virus. And it stresses the need for regular testing of students and school staff. A group of 150 doctors, epidemiologists and other scientists have signed an open letter to the Legault government denouncing the reopening of schools. The letter states:

The current back-to-school plan in Quebec needs to better consider all the available scientific evidence to prevent outbreaks in schools, to avoid jeopardizing the safety of our children, teachers and parents, as well as, to prevent a resurgence of SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) in our community.

In Quebec, as in the rest of Canada, the trade unions have been working for decades with the ruling class to impose capitalist austerity. Today they are fully collaborating in the back-to-work campaign, merely making timid criticisms of the premature return to school in order to camouflage their collaboration with the authorities. But workers, in all fields of activity and on an international scale, are beginning to draw lessons from the treacherous role of the unions. Comments posted to social media by Quebec teachers underscore that they are searching for an alternative to the union bureaucracy, which has no intention of protecting the health and safety of education workers. Particularly significant are the trenchant criticisms of the Autonomous Federation of Teachers, a union that claims to be “more militant.” These include the following comments, each from a different teacher:

I thought my union was mobilized, but I was wrong! There is no ventilation system in our schools, no reduction in ratios, no visors, no Plexiglas, no windowless classrooms, and on top of that, at the secondary level we have to disinfect ourselves every time we arrive in a new classroom.

Our unions? Forget it! We have to mobilize ourselves and then kick them out!

I’ve always been the first one to defend the FAE, but I don’t understand. High school teachers will be teaching in windowless, poorly ventilated environments. I’m speechless and very disappointed!

It’s not a matter of demanding answers, what we need is action! We have been denouncing this problem for the past six months right here in connection with Covid and we ask you not to let the government expose us to this additional danger. The new school year has already begun and all I still see is a ‘wait for some to die’ attitude.

The SEP insists that the only way to stop the homicidal reopening of schools, and save lives, is for the working class to take matters into its own hands through the establishment of safety committees made up of rank-and-file workers, independent of and opposed to the pro-capitalist unions. Such rank-and-file committees must demand the immediate closure of schools until the pandemic is contained, as well as a massive increase in public education funding to ensure that all students have access to online education and necessary support services, including mental health, special education and food security. The ruling elite will inevitably claim there is “no money” to implement these demands. Workers must respond by showing that resources are plentiful, but they are being diverted to further enrich the corporate-financial aristocracy. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the federal government, Bank of Canada and other government agencies have funnelled hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout funds into the financial markets, banks and big business to ensure the investments and profits of the rich and super-rich. The fight against the reckless and premature reopening of schools must be combined with the political mobilization of the working class and the preparation of a counter-offensive in defense of human lives. That is why rank-and-file safety committees in schools must make a broad appeal to all workers, educators, school bus-drivers, custodians, maintenance and other support staff, as well as construction, health-care, logistics, food, retail and restaurant workers. In Pindostan, where thousands of infections among teachers and students have been reported across the country since schools reopened in late July, several groups of teachers have taken the decision to establish rank-and-file safety committees. This example must be followed in Quebec and across Canada. We urge all school staff, parents and students who agree with such a program to contact us.

Coronavirus assistance for university students in Germany: a calculated fraud
Lisa Lachlan, WSWS, Sep 4 2020

Students demonstrate for greater assistance in Bonn, Jun 8

A law passed by the German parliament on May 7 promising support for students and the sciences during the coronavirus pandemic has proven to be a “calculated fraud,” as correctly assessed by the WSWS on Jun 13. It is in fact a blatant attempt to make students pay for the crisis. Since June, angry and indignant posts have been mounting on social media from students accusing the government of ignorance and inaction, disregarding the needs of roughly a million students in need of assistance. Most of the criticism is directed toward the so-called “stop-gap aid,” stipulated in the law to be paid from an “emergency fund” of €100m. Students who lost their jobs during the months of March, April and May because of the pandemic and who are facing existential need can apply for a subsidy of €100 to at most €500 for the months of June, July and August. The applications must be submitted to each university’s Studentenwerk, state-run non-profit organisations for student affairs at German universities. Students who lost their jobs before March and were unable to find new employment because of the lockdown are automatically excluded from funding, regardless of whether or not they are threatened by existential need. Likewise excluded are students whose bank accounts contained more than €500. In a Jun 16 tweet, one student commented:

In Germany you are considered poor with an income of 781 Euro per month. Unless you are studying, then [Education Minister] Anja Karliczek says that with €500 in the bank you are so rich that you can’t get state support.

It is entirely clear that topping up accounts capped at €599 changes nothing in the existential situation confronting many students. Amanda Steinmaus, executive member of the FZS (Free Association of Student Bodies), commented on the organisation’s website on Jul 2:

In almost no university town can you make ends meet with that. Then there are the costs from the previous months. And the assistance is only for June, July and August. The Corona crisis, on the other hand, has no end in sight.

That alone would explain the anger and disgust of many students. On the one hand, the €100m in “stop-gap aid” provided by the federal government is a pitiful sum that could support at most 66,666 students for three months at €500/month. In June alone, 82k applications were submitted to the emergency aid fund. The level of need, as Steinmaus made clear, lies well above that:

According to a survey, a million students during the Corona crisis are in serious financial need.

The application process is handled by each university’s student union and is a huge administrative act. Just for software with which students can apply for the stop-gap aid, the Ministry of Education paid €325k. An additional €25 processing fee is applied to every application. Because a separate application is required for each month of support, the administrative costs are trebled. Disbursements only reach students after long waiting periods. The first applications were processed on Jun 29. Soon after the application process started, it became clear that the intention of the federal government was not to help students out of a financial emergency with stop-gap aid. Of around 82k applications, roughly half were rejected. One common reason given for the rejection was that the pandemic could not be blamed since the student’s employment had been terminated before March, or students were given the automatic response that the application was rejected due to illegibility or incomplete documentation. There are increasing reports in social media from students whose applications were rejected although their accounts were negative or under €10 and without further indication of which documents were illegible or incorrect. One student complained on social media:

I myself meticulously and completely scanned in documents for hours. The Studentenwerk and the hotline of the ministry of education wouldn’t tell me why I was rejected.

In the meanwhile, it has become known that the application software has had problems uploading and opening the required documents. Roughly half of the rejected applications are affected by this issue. Despite the faulty software, students receiving rejection notices cannot submit further documents and as such lose their right to any aid. Moreover, the application system does not allow changes to information provided in the previous month’s application, meaning that a rejection in June almost automatically results in a rejection in July. This is a deliberate failure to provide assistance on the part of the federal government. In this way, the government is squeezing more money out of the working class to finance bank rescues, the artificial inflation of the stock market and massive armament programmes.

In light of this, it borders on audacity that Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) explained the high rejection rate by claiming that many students might possibly have withdrawn their application for stop-gap aid because they no longer need the money. Exactly the opposite is the case. At the end of July, the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (a significant state-owned development bank) reported receiving 22k new applications for student loans totaling €641.6m since May. This will have devastating consequences for many students since the “interest-free” loans for students, which in addition to the €100m “stop-gap aid” represent the heart of the “emergency aid” for students, are essentially normal KfW loans that have existed in their current form since 2006 and have to be repaid with high interest. Here, too, it becomes clear that Karliczek is not interested in helping students, but rather in building up student loans as an alternative to BAföG (subsidised government loans for students) in the long term. As in the United States, students will then start their careers with a huge mountain of debt. In the last eight years, the number of students who are supported by BAföG has decreased by 26%. In 2019, around 489.3k students received these subsidised student loans, that is 17% of all students. In 2012, it was around 671k or 26%.

The systematic nature of the cost reductions implemented in recent years is becoming apparent to millions of people in the course of the COVID-19 crisis and palpable for those directly affected. It is a fatal mistake to believe that appeals to the federal government can change its ruthless policy. As the current situation shows, the federal government has not made BAföG quickly and unbureaucratically available to students in need, even though the annual BAföG budget has not been exhausted. The fzs notes that the BAföG fund currently contains €900m that are being withheld from students. Many students in need will be forced to drop out of their studies in the coming semester in order to apply for basic security [Grundsicherung], since students are not entitled to Hartz IV unemployment benefits. Early dropout figures are already available for Berlin. According to the Senate Chancellery, there were around 4.6k dropouts in 2019. In 2020, there have already been 5.5k, around 20% more than in the previous year As in all areas of society, the coronavirus pandemic exposes the reality of social inequality at Germany’s universities. It is the result of the same policies that are jeopardising the lives of millions of people to harvest profits from the economy and accelerate the redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top of society. Students must see the blatant attacks on equal access to education in relation to the criminal reopening of schools, massive job cuts in the auto, aviation and other industries, and the hasty and irresponsible resumption of production that are endangering the lives of millions of people. Students and workers must combine their protest with the struggle for an international socialist perspective.

India sets world record for daily coronavirus infections
Wasantha Rupasinghe, WSWS, Sep 4 2020

India reported a disastrous 83,883 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, the highest daily total of any country since the pandemic began. When taken together with a death toll increasing by approximately 1k/day, it is manifestly evident that the Indian ruling elite has failed abysmally to contain the pandemic. Successive governments, including those led by the Congress Party and supported by India’s twin Stalinist parties, the CPI & CPI(M), limited health-care spending to 1.5% of GDP or less. The ill-prepared, ten-week nationwide lockdown imposed by the right-wing government of PM Narendra Modi, beginning on Mar 25, had devastating social consequences for hundreds of millions of workers and their families, while failing to halt the pandemic’s spread. This was above all because the ruling elite failed to use the time gained by the lockdown to invest in the country’s chronically underfunded health-care system, and establish a strong network of testing and contact tracing to combat the virus. Additionally, it refused to provide and organize anything beyond token financial and social support to impoverished workers and rural toilers. The central and state governments subsequently exploited the social crisis to launch a back-to-work campaign that began in late April and went into high gear at the start of June, so as to enable big business to resume raking in large profits. The return to work has triggered a sharp and ever-expanding rise in infections, with the number of confirmed cases rising by almost 500k in June, 1.1m in July, and just shy of 2m in August.

Even as the spread of the virus continues to accelerate, Modi and his BJP government have made it clear there will not be another countrywide lockdown. In fact, the government is continuing to ease restrictions. Last week it unveiled its Unlock 4.0 plan, which is now being implemented with the support of the state governments. Under Unlock 4.0, poorly ventilated subway trains will be permitted to run for the first time since March starting from Sep 7. As of Sep 21, sports, social and cultural gatherings with a maximum of 100 attendees will be allowed. The guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs say that states are no longer permitted to impose lockdowns outside of containment zones without the Centre’s permission, a provision that all but rules out widespread lockdowns ever being re-imposed. In addition, state governments are prohibited from sealing their borders. As governments move to abandon the last remnants of any public health restrictions, active coronavirus infections across India have risen above 800k. According to official figures, which are widely considered to be a vast underestimation, 68,584 Indians have died from the virus. On Thursday, the authorities reported 1,043 deaths in the preceding 24 hours. In August alone, India reported close to 2m COVID-19 cases, which is the highest number any country has recorded during any month since the pandemic erupted in China last January. August also saw a surge in death from the virus with 28,859 fatalities, a 50% jump from the previous month’s toll.

Like the Trump administration, Indian authorities have tried to explain away the exponential growth in COVID-19 cases by attributing it to increased testing. While it is true India has dramatically scaled up its testing over the past two months, its testing rate still remains one of the lowest in the world. As of Sep 1, India had performed a mere 32.13 tests per 1k people. This is less than half the rate of South Africa, and eight times lower than Pindostan. Medical experts have repeatedly stressed that the official figures only provide a pale reflection of the pandemic’s true impact. In an interview with the website Wire, Professor Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, noted on Monday:

The true number of infections could be as high as 30m. We are only picking up about 70k to 80k, or 15% of that and missing 85%. In the days and weeks ahead, the number of infections is going to rise. Considering India’s under-investment in its health system for decades, the cost of that is really catching up to us. We don’t have primary care (due to) inadequate investment from the government. And the cost of that will be borne by the people.

The entire ruling elite has now embraced the murderous policy of “herd immunity,” which allows the virus to spread unchecked with the claim that eventually it will exhaust itself by running out of people to infect. Advocates of this policy, including senior government advisors, have openly admitted that this will result in a death toll in the millions. However, the ruling class considers this a price worth paying to protect the profits and wealth of India’s billionaires and corporate elite. The virus has spread so widely that infections have even been detected on the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands (A&N), which are located over 1k km from the mainland. At least 10 infections have been recorded among members of local tribes, who live in extreme poverty and isolation and are thus very vulnerable to the virus. The pandemic has also put millions of patients at risk who suffer from other major diseases, like diabetes and heart conditions. Sameer Gupta, an interventional cardiologist at the Metro Hospitals and Heart Institute in Delhi, told the IndiaSpend website on Aug 26 that COVID-19 is damaging patients’ hearts, and those with a pre-existing heart condition are especially at risk of succumbing to the disease. He also stressed that “recovered” COVID-19 patients are returning to hospitasl with stress cardiomyopathy, a temporary weakening of the heart muscle, and myocarditis, a weakness of the heart muscle due to inflammation.

The ruling class, however, is much more concerned by the threat to their wealth from the deepening economic crisis, which Modi is proposing to overcome by implementing a fresh wave of investor-friendly “reforms,” including the gutting of labour laws and a fire-sale of public sector enterprises. Data released by the National Statistical Office on Aug 31 showed that India’s GDP fell by 23.9% in the April-June quarter. This was the largest decline of any major economy, according to Bloomberg. India’s 28 state governments have slashed spending and, as their financial positions worsen, many are delaying paying state government workers. According to one estimate, the shortfall in revenue from the Goods and Service Tax has reached 2.35t rupees ($32.18b). In a calculated move designed to enforce spending cuts, the BJP government has withheld paying the states their designated share of GST revenues and Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has told them to make up for the shortfalls by borrowing from the Reserve Bank of India under its “special borrowing window.” Several states, including many led by the opposition parties, have rejected the government’s proposal, urging the central government to borrow the money and pass it on to the states. However this dispute is resolved, the revenue shortfall will result in increased burdens being placed on the workers and rural toilers through intensified austerity measures.

Conditions for the vast majority of workers are already disastrous. Immediately after Modi declared the COVID-19 lockdown in March, more than 100m workers in the so-called informal sector, mostly migrant workers from far-away rural districts, lost their jobs overnight. Many relied on food hand-outs from charities to survive because the government provided them with little more than famine rations. Workers employed on a permanent basis have also not been spared. New data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, an independent body that measures and tracks economic indicators, estimated that 18.9m permanent jobs were lost between April and July. Despite the escalating social disaster produced by the spreading of the virus throughout the country, India’s mainstream media is giving it little attention. Instead, it has focused on the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput, a famous Bollywood actor, which took place in mid-June. Media outlets have also intensified their efforts to whip up a bellicose Indian nationalist atmosphere over the ongoing India-China tensions along the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border between the two countries. The corporate media’s indifference to the mass suffering and death is in line with the callous and ignorant attitude of the Indian ruling class as a whole. This is true not only of Modi’s ruling Hindu-supremacist BJP, but also of the opposition parties, including Congress and the various regional and caste-based bourgeois parties.

The global campaign to reopen schools and the international strategy of the working class
Evan Blake, WSWS, Sep 4 2020

The drive to reopen schools has become the focal point of the class struggle in countries throughout the world. The attempts by the ruling elites to force teachers and students back into classrooms, in order to force parents back to work producing profits, has been met with growing resistance by educators, parents, students and the broader working class. The drive to reopen schools is already having catastrophic consequences in spreading the COVID-19 pandemic, which is raging out of control globally. Each day over the past two weeks, roughly 260k people have been infected and 5.5k people have died worldwide due to the criminally negligent policies pursued by governments. The worst-hit countries, including Pindostan, Britain, Brazil, and Sweden, are led by boxtops consciously seeking to develop “herd immunity” based on mass infections and deaths. Pindostan, at the center of world capitalism, provides the sharpest expression of the international drive to reopen schools. Since early July, the Trump administration has issued near-daily proclamations insisting that all schools reopen, from declaring that “science should not stand in the way” of reopening schools to branding educators “critical infrastructure workers” to threatening to divert funding from public schools that do not reopen to private, parochial and charter schools that do. Most recently, Trump has enlisted Scott Atlas, a fellow of the right-wing Hoover Institution at Stanford University, to provide official sanction to the homicidal campaign.

The model country that Atlas points to for Pindostan to emulate is Sweden. Last month, it was revealed that Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, explicitly promoted keeping schools open in order to facilitate the development of “herd immunity.” As a result, the number of deaths from COVID-19 in Sweden is over nine times higher than its neighbor Finland. Adopting this policy in Pindostan could kill millions. On Monday, Atlas visited Tallahassee, Florida, where he urged Thug Governor Ron DeSantis to be even more aggressive in reopening schools. Already, 1.1m Florida students have resumed in-person learning, undoubtedly contributing to the 9.2k new infections among children in the second half of August. There has been a 191% increase in children infected since Jul 9, before schools reopened. At least 611 children have been hospitalized in the state, and eight have died. Equally beholden to Wall Street, the Demagog Party and its backers in the teachers unions are in full agreement with the campaign to reopen schools. Their only difference is that instead of using blunt force, they advance the fraudulent claim that reopening schools can be done “safely,” with cosmetic safety measures. On Monday, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew announced an agreement with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to force hundreds of thousands of students back into classrooms in the largest school district in Pindostan, based on wholly inadequate safety measures that will do nothing to prevent the spread of the virus across the city and region. In a campaign speech Wednesday, Biden declared:

President Trump may not think this is a national emergency, but I think going back to school for millions of children and the impacts on their families and the community is a national emergency. … President Trump still doesn’t have any real plan for how to open our schools safely. He’s offering nothing but failure and delusions. … failure to make sure educators and administrators have the equipment, the resources and the training they need to open safely under the circumstances we find now.

The NYT, the mouthpiece of the Demagog Party, published an opinion piece Wednesday by Nicholas Kristoff in which he urged:

Putting aside the health impact, we also know that low-income children suffer disproportionately not only from the virus, but also from school closures. … Given all this, the advice of the Pindo Academy of Pediatrics seems right, that we do everything possible to allow children to safely resume in-person learning…. There will be some places in Pindostan where coronavirus prevalence is so high that in-person schooling will have to be suspended, but that should be the exception. It’s absurd that we have allowed liquor stores, gyms, gun shops, restaurants and marijuana dispensaries to operate while keeping schools shut.

The same ruling-class policies are being pursued worldwide, with disastrous results for the working class. In Brazil, the country with the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths after Pindostan, fascist president Jair Bolsonaro is relying on state and local politicians to reopen schools across the country, including his ostensible opponents in the Brazilian Social Democratic Party. Within the first week of classes resuming in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, outbreaks of COVID-19 erupted in 36 schools. In Britain, the Boris Johnson administration is not requiring teachers or students to wear face masks in classrooms. Similar to the Demagogs in Pindostan, the Labour Party under right-wing Blairite ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer fully supports the campaign to reopen schools, while offering toothless criticisms. The German political establishment began reopening schools in early August as part of a broader reopening of the economy, which immediately caused outbreaks across the country. Plans are in place to reopen schools across Europe, including in Italy and Spain, the hardest-hit countries in the initial months of the pandemic. Schools reopened throughout France Tuesday, sending 12m students back into classrooms while the pandemic is once again spreading throughout the country. In Russia, schools reopened nationwide on Tuesday, the same day the country surpassed 1m COVID-19 cases. Officials are taking no precautions and are not even requiring teachers or students to wear face masks. Putin stated Tuesday that there are no plans to transition to fully online learning in the event of outbreaks in schools.

In each country, these policies are provoking enormous opposition. Hundreds of protests have taken place worldwide to denounce the reopening of schools. Well over 100 Facebook groups have formed to oppose school reopenings, attracting hundreds of thousands of members world-wide. Educators, parents and students have begun to establish independent rank-and-file safety committees in Pindostan, Germany, Britain, and Australia, and there is growing sentiment for nationwide and even international strike action. A survey of over 200 British educators and parents conducted by the WSWS recently found that over half of respondents said they would participate in a general strike to halt the reopening of schools. This Saturday, the SEP (UK) is hosting an online meeting to organize the widespread opposition to school reopenings, which has drawn wide interest. In Germany, a public meeting organized by the SGP last weekend attracted hundreds of teachers, students and parents from across the country. Students in Dortmund, Germany recently founded a committee at their school to organize opposition to school reopenings and fight for safe teaching conditions. The Datafolha research institute recently found that 80% of Brazilians oppose reopening schools, while 60% recognize that this policy will “severely aggravate the pandemic.” There is huge support for nationwide strike action, which would dovetail with an ongoing postal workers’ strike, but the National Confederation of Education Workers (CNTE) and other unions are doing everything they can to prevent this from taking place.

The Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee in Pindostan, formed three weeks ago, has quickly become a pole of attraction for those opposed to school reopenings. Hundreds of educators, parents, students, and other workers throughout the US and internationally have participated in two online meetings hosted by the committee. Last week, the Duval County Educators Rank-and-File Committee was formed to organize the immense opposition of educators in the Jacksonville, Florida region, while similar committees are being formed in New York City, Detroit, Texas, Hawaii, and other cities and states across the country. Faced with a global campaign by the ruling elites, who are intent on reopening schools and accelerating the spread of the pandemic, the working class must be guided by a global perspective. While the teachers’ unions in every country promote nationalism and subordinate the interests the working class to the needs of the profit system, the pandemic is an international crisis that can only be addressed through the globally coordinated struggle of the working class. The central task facing educators, parents, students and the entire working class is to build networks of rank-and-file safety committees in every country, to mobilize the collective strength of the working class as an independent social force. The reckless reopening of schools must be halted, and the vast resources squandered on the bail-out of the corporate and financial oligarchy must be redirected to provide state-of-the-art technology for remote learning, universal testing and the provision of income protection and high-quality health care to all those impacted by the deadly contagion. The SEP in Pindostan and its sister parties in the IC4I are fighting to fuse the growing movement of the working class with the political perspective and program of world socialism, that is, the rational and democratically planned reorganization of society to meet human needs, not private profit.

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