May Day in this pandemic-time

may day

Deaths, pain, starvation and uncertainty overshadow the working people in this May Day. The world’s working classes witness the world capitalist system’s inefficiency and failure as the current pandemic ravages countries.

Reports from every country tell the same story: following deaths, uncertainty and hunger are haunting the working classes. The number of the unemployed is surging in countries. Major economies are no less brutal in their treatment of working people. Capital is shifting its burden of bankruptcy onto the working classes. Not a single theoretician in the camp of capital dares to defend his master.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has warned: 1.6 billion workers, nearly half of the world’s workforce, are at impending risk of losing their livelihood as the economic consequence of the pandemic. In its latest report (ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work, 3rdedition, updated estimates and analysis, April 29, 2020), the ILO states: Hardest hit are the workers in the “informal economy”. “The first month of crisis is estimated to result in a decline in earnings of informal workers of 60 per cent globally. By region, the expected decline is largest in Africa and Latin America, at 81 per cent. Regarding income groups, it is 82 per cent in lower-middle- and low-income countries, 28 per cent in upper-middle-income countries, and 76 per cent in high-income countries. [….] Around 68 per cent of the world’s total workforce, […] and 66 per cent of own-account workers are currently living in countries with recommended or required workplace closures. [….] As of 22 April 2020, close to 1.1 billion informal economy workers live and work in countries in full lockdown, and an additional 304 million in countries in partial lockdown.” Guy Ryder, ILO chief, had this to say: “For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future.” Citing ILO data, he apprehended a massive rise in poverty levels worldwide, unless governments recognize the need to reconstruct their economies around better working practices and “not a return to the pre-pandemic world of precarious work for the majority.”

In the US, the capitalist country claiming to be the richest, according to Bloomberg, the virus hits the cities forcefully, where the poor have fewer defenses. (March 28, 2020, “Virus erupts in US cities where the poor have few defenses”) Millions of jobless are regular news in the US media. Citing an AARP Public Policy Institute 2019 report, Market Watch said: More than half of US households have no emergency savings account to help them through a crisis (March 28, 2020, “What life is like now for the 3 million Americans suddenly out of work”) Many workers in the US were laid off without severance or benefits. For the millions of Americans without a job in recent weeks, the sharp and painful change brought a profound sense of disorientation. Americans who lost their jobs said they were in shock and struggling to grasp the magnitude of the economy’s shutdown. (The New York Times, March 27, 2020, “‘We have lost it all’: The shock felt by millions of unemployed Americans”)

In the US, The Wall Street Journal reported on April 28, 2020, roughly half of all workers could make more in unemployment benefits than they did at their low-wage jobs before the pandemic hit the country. The WSJ report, “Coronavirus relief often pays workers more than work”, said: “Qualified workers will receive the government payout every week through July, and in most cases, the combined US$978 weekly payout amounts to better pay than what many workers received before the crisis hit.” The average weekly unemployment payment for a laid-off worker will rise to around US$978 once the temporary (13 weeks) US$600-per-week increase from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act kicks in. The added payment is in addition to the unemployment benefits states already provide, which vary widely. However, the US Labor Department statistics show “half of full-time workers earned US$957 or less a week in the first quarter of 2020.” And, of course, many of those still working make less than this as well.

For some, the financial package of support the UK government has defined is tantamount to a 20 percent pay cut on the minimum wage, or, in the worst cases, leaves them to fall straight through the safety net. Some are trying to survive on a pay reduced one-fifth from what they were struggling to make ends meet with a month ago. Many of the “gig” workers, people who have very few employment rights and no job security at all, are facing the daily anguish of deciding whether to continue their work as a driver for delivering food, medicine, etc. (Dr Lisa McKenzie, “Covid-19 is killing the ghost workers of Britain that even the working class doesn’t care about”, Defend Democracy Press, April 25, 2020)

The pandemic has upended the lives of millions of Latin America’s household maids, paid as little as $4 per day with no benefits, leaving them without work or government assistance or effectively trapping them inside the homes of their employers because of lockdowns. One of the maids said: “In Mexico and around the whole world, there isn’t just this one pandemic, there are two: COVID-19 and inequality, and it’s the inequality that has me more isolated than ever.” The first person to die of COVID-19 in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state was a 63-year-old domestic worker in one of the country’s wealthiest neighborhoods, Leblon. Her employer was infected during a trip to Italy, but the maid’s family members said she was not informed that her boss was in isolation awaiting test results. Maria Isidra Llanos, the general secretary of the National Union of Domestic Workers, said many union members make a grim prediction about their future: “If the virus doesn’t kill them, hunger will.” (NBC News, “In Latin America, pandemic leaves household maids with no safety net” April 29, 2020)

Almost similar reports are from other countries. The reports of barbaric sufferings during the, now well-known term, lockdown, make for painfull reading. It’s almost the same from Bangladesh, Ecuador, Ethiopia, the Gulf region, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, and almost all countries having class-biased political systems. Cities witnessed thousands of demonstrating workers demanding unpaid wages; workers moving back and forth confused with employers’ unplanned orders; thousands of starved workers on hundreds of kilometers-journies back to home; workers cramped in shanties. Thousands of words are needed to describe the sufferings as scores of reports are there.

At the same time, everywhere, capital in control of political power plays the same trick: demobilize labor. Capital has the whip hand, which enables it to cash in on the crisis, to the tune of trillions of dollars. It squeezes state power to fatten its moneybag. And, the demobilized labor waits for capital’s “mercy”. But, that “mercy” is not coming.

The anguish and anger, which is already visible, led to some opinions: A social revolution is coming, end of capitalism, an explosion is approaching, etc. type of expectation/forecast. Nevertheless, these all are childish dreams in the immediate future.

Despite widespread suffering, anguish, and anger among people, and exposure of capitalism – its failure, super-active role in creating the pandemic, indifference to life, indulgence with luxury, capitalizing the pandemic to increase wealth, naked manipulation of political power in favor of the exploiting classes – no such “social revolution”, “end”, “explosion”, etc. is coming until and unless the working people, to describe briefly and simply, have their political organization, organization dominates the political stage, and these organizations take command in political fight. No such condition exists in most of the countries. Exploiting classes are pocketing money, trillions of dollars, doled out by their state machines in countries in the name of facing the current crisis/boosting up economies, putting blood into its production and service mechanism. But in countries, organizations claiming to be of the exploited classes haven’t even formulated their demands to get workers their minimum due for keeping alive in these pandemic days. In countries, these organizations can’t even articulate the claims to be made.

Trade unions are not political organizations that the working people can use to carry on the political tasks mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Even, in case of trade unions, in a real sense, the exploiters dominate. The domination comes either in terms of theory, which includes programs, etc. or/and in terms of leadership. Reformism/accommodation of capitalist relations/politics is not beyond capitalism.

Moreover, a good portion of the radical voices accommodates a part of sectarianism in the name of opposing another part and tries to be politically “correct”. This part thrusts itself into a corner while it isolates itself from the main body of the population while bolstering rightist politics and ideals that never question the existing exploiting relations in economy and politics. It’s an amazing position more than a hundred years after the Great October Revolution in Russia trampled all sectarian positions.

To dominate politics, the working classes have to go through a series of political fights. The Great Financial Crisis and the austerity measures that followed the crisis and that were imposed on the working classes experienced no successful resistance other than a number of electoral gains. By contrast, the extreme right/fascists gained more in bourgeois democracies than those left-leaning temporary gains.

Hence, talks/dreams of those “explosions”, etc. will bring no gain. Rather these will do harm. The harm will be inflicted in the form of shattered false hope and dreams, leading to frustration and inactivity, misspent energy, neglecting essential primary theoretical and organizational work without which no challenge to the exploiting system can be organized, adventurism, and providing the exploiting classes opportunities to charge the working classes. The situation, hence, demands careful evaluation.

A May Day leaflet Lenin drafted in April 1904, declared:

“Only the class-conscious and organized proletariat can win real, not sham, freedom for the people. Only the class-conscious and organized proletariat can thwart every attempt to deceive the people, to curtail their rights, to make them a mere tool in the hands of the bourgeoisie.”

It called upon workers:

“Let their [revolutionary proletariat] word spread ever farther afield! Let campaigning for the workers’ demands be carried on ever more boldly! Let the celebration of May Day win thousands of new fighters to our cause and swell our forces in the great struggle for the freedom of all the people, for the liberation of all who toil from the yoke of capital! (Lenin, “May Day”, Collected Works, vol. 7, Progress Publishers, Moscow, erstwhile USSR, 1974)

Today, May 1, 2020, protests marches, demonstrations and strikes including the largest rent strike in nearly a century in New York are organized in countries. These will widen and turn forceful in the coming days paving ways for decisive march by the working people. The current pandemic-situation has brought forth the role of science in the lives of people, while idealism stands silent with no answer to the questions raised every day – a significant development. Essential information and analyses related to economy and politics, science and society, relations in society and between economy, society, environment-ecology, politics and science will reach the working classes. Class-conscious and organized proletariat will further develop political struggles, which will defeat the present exploiting system, and its ideologies. This May Day brings this hope.

Note: According to the ILO, own-account workers are those workers who, working on their own account or with one or more partners, hold the type of jobs defined as “self-employment jobs”, and have not engaged on a continuous basis any employees to work for them,

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.




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