May 1, 2020: The pandemic is a matter of class!

Statement from the Bloque Latinoamericano Berlin (Latin American Block)

This year May 1st is commemorated and celebrated in the midst of a global state of emergency. All over the world, many different activities and marches have been modified or cancelled. In the case of Berlin the so-called „Myfest“, created by the capital with state complicity to cancel and depoliticize this day of worker struggle, will have to be cancelled.

However, not everyone loses with the pandemic: worldwide, the mega companies have continued to profit from this unfortunate situation. Amazon, one of the most evident expressions of the inhumane and exploitative character of digital capitalism, reports huge profits while its founder, tycoon Jeff Bezos, resists to provide his employees with minimum sanitary conditions to have a safe working environment. Zoom Video is another company that has taken advantage of the current situation, offering free video conference services for a limited time, while making use of its users‘ data to profil them and then share said information with other mega-companies such as Facebook. The capital continues to violate the rights of both precarious workers and the average worker. Other companies in the gastronomy area for example are still active in the most delicate period of COVID-19 without even guaranteeing their workers health and safety measures. Who hasn’t seen food distributors working without protective masks?

The working class is at the centre of the devastation of the pandemic: unsanitary housing, overcrowding, scarce resources, miserable wages, collapsed public services, precarious work and living conditions imposed by working in unsafe conditions. And if there is any doubt, we ask: What groups make up the majority of the infected besides the elderly, if not the working and migrant class? And on whom do the most serious concerns fall in the case of infection? On people without access to medical treatment and without financial conditions to survive unemployment while they recover. Just through the news about people affected by COVID-19 in places such as the United States, Mexico, or England it is clear that the lack of necessary equipment (such as respirators and stretchers in hospitals) potentiates hegemonic systems of categorization, through which it is decided who will have access to treatment. One of the criteria for exclusion is pre-existing health conditions. However, this institutional ableism does not affect everyone equally, but rather those who are precarised in the first place.

These examples are enoughe to reflect the obvious: the global pandemic crisis is also, and above all, a question of class. This is experienced throughout Latin America, and in the most stark way in Guayaquil (Ecuador), where it was the members of the exploiting and privileged class who (once again) brought an epidemic from Europe to irresponsibly infect their employees, who attended residential and condominiums to serve them. The ensuing health disaster is a clear consequence of cuts in public spending imposed by neoliberalism in recent years, a trend in most Latin American countries. The liberal discourse of celebrating health workers and other „essential workers“ as heroes is only an expression of the hypocrisy of a system that permanently disregards and discards peasants, educators, nurses, doctors, cleaners, caregivers and other proletarians in favor of those who produce nothing but exploitation and inequality.

We, from the Latin American Block, recognize the multiple meanings that May 1st has for so many people, situated in their identities and oppressed by different systems of patriarchal, racist, ableist and class inequality. Aware of this intersectionality, we commemorate Labour Day, saluting it as a global symbol of struggle against capital, against exploitation and against discrimination, also (and even more so) in times of COVID-19.

This new turning point in history gives us another argument for urging the need to change the world order: the capitalist order. There can no longer be any doubt that it is the essential and invisible jobs that actually sustain life on the planet: the work of peasants to obtain food, the work of the service sector such as supermarkets to continue providing many basic needs, the health sector despite cut or stagnant budgets, the education sector, the care services sector which continued working 24/7, even online. Also at the household level, reproductive work has not stopped, most of which falls on feminized bodies, and which in these times is exacerbated by the indispensability of care and support for people and housing. How much of the productive work really depend on the reproductive work (paid or unpaid) which is often not taken into account and which the capitalist system has taken advantage of?

Social struggles must always take place (also) in the streets. On this occasion we do not celebrate May 1st by marching, aware both of the need to take care of ourselves and of the fact that the system is using this situation as an opportunity to promote its truly authoritarian and repressive character. However, we continue to question this labor system and seek ways for our collective actions to promote radical change in it. And to the streets, we shall return!