Fever

A Short Summary of Global COVID-19 Struggles

By Angry Workers of the World

We, first of all, have to admit the very random character of this summary, as the amount of strikes, riots, protests has been massive. Rather than pretending to present a complete picture, we want to make a few points, illustrated by examples. We call internationalist comrades to take part in our collective effort to share information about these struggles beyond the headlines, in order to be able to intervene:

1) The ruling class knows what’s at stake

In a Bloomberg article a commentator alleges that the current peak-period of the COVID-19 pandemic might see a temporary lull in protests in regions which have witnessed fierce protest movements (Sudan, Chile, Iraq, etc.). After this lull, the economic impact of the pandemic, which, according to the ILO will result in severe cuts in the income of 1.25 billion people, will intensify and spread these class movements. 1

We can see a slow shift in the state’s reaction from the “containment of Corona” to the “containment of unrest,” such as when the state in Italy sent troops towards the south of the country fearing mass looting 2, or the state in Portugal banning strikes as part of the emergency measures. 3 In France and in Germany, the states changed the legal regulations and allowed the extension of the working week in the so-called key sectors from 48 to 60 hours. In Brazil, the state allows companies to reduce working hours and wages by 50%. 4 In central sectors like agriculture, the state is taking over the supply-management and social quarantine of labor power, by recruiting additional seasonal migrant workers, such as in the case of Germany and Italy 5; by considering the recruitment of students and laid off workers in the UK 6; and by considering state-sanctioned wage cuts in the USA 7. State measures and the reaction of bosses have already led to an increase in disputes with agricultural workers, such as in Italy and Spain. 8

2) Strikes of industrial workers are at the forefront of collective working class reactions to Covid-19

The most crucial revelation of the COVID-19 crisis is the fact that we don’t live in a “post-industrial” society, dominated by “immaterial labour” and that strikes as a collective weapon of workers are not a relict of the past. Most of the collective reactions of workers to the crisis were strikes of largely manual workers in the essential industries. Initially, these strikes were mainly about the lack of health and safety. In the last two weeks, we have seen strikes of waste and waste water workers in France, the UK and the USA 9; wildcat strikes at the Royal Mail in the UK 10; walk-outs of more than 10,000 construction workers in the USA 11; strikes in packaging plants in France 12; supermarket workers in Brazil and the USA 13; Amazon workers in the USA, following France and Spain 14; automobile workers in the supply-chain in the USA 15; and food processing and fast food workers in the USA and wildcat strike/mass sick leave in the UK. 16 In the centre of these strikes were hospital and care workers, which went on strike in the USA, India, Pakistan, Russia and Greece. 17 These strikes happen on top of a high rate of absenteeism, such as in the German cleaning sector and in the UK food processing sector which have reported sick rates up to 40%.

3) Some of the strikes moved from reactions in individual companies to joint company actions, independent from the union apparatus

Here the main examples are strikes in the automobile sector in Mexico, which occurred on a mass scale 18 and spreading strikes in call centres in Brazil 19. There have also been smaller “spontaneous” strikes, such as in the case of workers of two separate companies walking out in Illinois, USA. 20 These organic expansions of strikes will create important links for the disputes to come.

4) Some of the strikes go beyond the initial and immediate demand for health and safety and address the question of wider control

In Chicago, USA, hospital workers protested against the management’s planned decision to close down an emergency department in a poorer part of town, a troubling decision considering that most victims of COVID-19 in the US are poor working class people of color. 21 In Chicago, nurses refused to work unless management would hire more workers. 22 Earlier in the pandemic General Electrics workers in the USA, who normally produce jet engines, protested and demanded production be shifted to medical equipment. 23 In Marseille, France, workers at McDonalds transformed the fast-food restaurant into a food distribution hub for the local working class area. 24 These are real experiences where workers question the usual and most fundamental power structures. The “return to work” will be the next point of contention, and we can already see how bosses and unions try to manage this conflict-prone issue, e.g. in the case of an agreement between FIAT and the unions in Italy. 25

5) Some of the strikes happened in a wider social environment which will risk the stability of the political regime

Here we have seen strikes in the mining sector in Iran 26; textile workers in Myanmar 27; and textile and electronics workers in Turkey (who also beat up their bosses). 28 It is not unlikely that the economic fall out of the COVID crisis, in combination with such strikes, will rattle those regimes who have been under fire recently anyway.

6) Strikes will increasingly move from the ‘health and safety’ issue to the issue of wages

There is news that many companies are failing to pay full wages to workers and that, for example, 30% of workers in the USA and Canada have fallen behind when it comes to rent payments. 29 The question of wages and outstanding bills become more central in the coming weeks. We can see first glimpses of this in recent strikes of dock workers in China 30 and factory workers in Argentina. 31 The “means of production” of the company will become the main collective asset of workers in order to enforce wage payments, perhaps including workers who might not be directly employed by the company. Here one focus will be wages, another will focus on the question of housing, as we see an increase in squatting, e.g. in this case in Santa Cruz 32 and by domestic servants in Delhi 33, who are taking over the empty apartments of their bosses.

7) Workers in the informal sector confront the ‘lockdown regime’ and the mafia-state moves in

We can see a certain division appearing in the form and target of struggles depending on whether workers are directly employed or whether they depend on the informal sector, such as street markets or small enterprises. In the latter case, the state and the police enforcing the lockdown become the target, as “lockdown” means no income for these workers. We have seen riots of informal migrant workers in Surat, India 34, proletarian youth in Iraq 35, and protests of market stall workers in Kenya. 36 The police brutality against marginal workers has also increased in the western countries, such as the police killing of young proletarians in Beziers, France 37, and Anderlecht, Belgium 38, causing riots in the latter case. As a result, a division of labour is emerging between the official state force, which aims at general “law and order,” and the mafia-state, which takes over basic welfare functions and tries to expand its influence within the lower sections of the working class, such as in Italy and Mexico. 39 The consequence has been “looting” and collective reductions of prices, such as in Honduras 40, which will not be a sufficient response to the lack of food combined with state violence. Still, the recent wave of prison mutinies, from the USA, Argentina, Lebanon, Iran Mexico to Russia show that the repressive arm of the system is fragile. 41

8) We need a debate about working class strategy under the current circumstances

AngryWorkers, as a political collective, encourages a collective debate about “revolutionary strategy,” which addresses the main questions which these current struggles have thrown up:

• how can the struggles within the essential sectors extent their scope along the global supply-chains that they form part of?
• how can struggles in the essential sectors address the material needs of marginal sections of the working class?
• how can regional differences and divisions imposed not only by state borders, but by different levels of development be overcome?

We have written a working paper for discussion and propose we debate the paper in confrontation with the actual struggles we currently see.

The working paper can be found here:

angryworkersworld.wordpress.com/2020/04…/

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1
www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020…

2
www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/04/06/ita…

3
www.marxist.com/coronavirus-shatters-il…

4
www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/03/20/bra…

5
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1248306…
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1249224…

6
twitter.com/MediocreDave/status/1248530…

7
www.npr.org/2020/04/10/832076074/white-…

8
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1248533…
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1245359…

9
www.wmar2news.com/news/coronavirus/wast…
www.ouest-france.fr/nouvelle-aquitaine/…
www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseysid…

10
twitter.com/ShellyAsquith/status/124823…
twitter.com/NSSN_AntiCuts/status/124571…

11
twitter.com/OvetzRobert/status/12463387…

12
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1248935…

13
twitter.com/Feverstruggles/status/12479…
twitter.com/OvetzRobert/status/12479552…

14
twitter.com/TeddyRedder/status/12478835…
twitter.com/Dch1United/status/124704909…

15
twitter.com/labornotes/status/124611878…

16
www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04…
twitter.com/contre_capital/status/12484…
twitter.com/FAUGewerkschaft/status/1249…
twitter.com/OvetzRobert/status/12462392…
www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/devon…
angryworkersworld.wordpress.com/2020/04…/

17
twitter.com/OvetzRobert/status/12457354…
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1245412…
twitter.com/WSWS_Updates/status/1248341…
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1247566…
twitter.com/WSWS_Updates/status/1246754…

18
twitter.com/WSWS_Updates/status/1247555…

19
feverstruggle.net/2020/04/02/call-cente…/

20
twitter.com/contre_capital/status/12474…

21
labornotes.org/blogs/2020/04/why-are-th…

22
twitter.com/libcomorg/status/1247420725…

23
www.vice.com/en_us/article/y3mjxg/gener…

24
www.revolutionpermanente.fr/Un-McDo-mar…

25
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1248622…

26
twitter.com/OvetzRobert/status/12468600…

27
twitter.com/contre_capital/status/12465…

28
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1246371…
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1245628…

29
twitter.com/colefwebber/status/12478954…
twitter.com/adam_tooze/status/124827195…

30
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1245627…

31
twitter.com/PersonalEscrito/status/1248…

32
twitter.com/scimc/status/12491343766732…

33
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1248167…

34
twitter.com/contre_capital/status/12488…

35
twitter.com/WorkersIraq/status/12478433…
twitter.com/WorkersIraq/status/12457727…
twitter.com/WorkersIraq/status/12472372…

36
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1245427…

37
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1248870…

38
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1248870…

39
twitter.com/VFelbabBrown/status/1248949…

40
twitter.com/TerTerEtLiberte/status/1248…

41
www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/10…
twitter.com/KING5Seattle/status/1248098…
twitter.com/enough14/status/12486134457…
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1248151…
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1248619…
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1246713…
twitter.com/WorkersAngry/status/1246327…
twitter.com/VitalistInt/status/12490494…

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