The following statement by trade union activists in Italy explains how neither the governments’ response, nor the passivity of the Italian mass organisations, have been equal to the task of fighting this public health emergency. The workers will not die on the altar of profit!
We are at the peak of the coronavirus emergency. The government's provisions require us to stay at home. The government has also come out with generic suggestions aimed at ensuring maximum security and protection. These measures are necessary to halt the contagion’s spread. We are faced with a pandemic, as declared by the World Health Organisation.
But the “maximum security” rules don’t apply to everybody. Millions of workers are forced to go to work. All the government’s decrees guarantee that production in non-essential sectors will continue. Workers’ health has been sacrificed on the altar of profit. Disappointingly, the protocol signed on 14 March by the trade unions, together with the employers' organisations and the government, tends in the same direction.
Many workers in essential services are working without safety measures, in many cases without any protection at all. Where protection is available, it often does not meet legal requirements. The situation of healthcare workers is outrageous. Hospitals are turning from places of treatment into centres of contagion. Recent data shows that 8.3 percent of those infected are healthcare workers (double China’s rate). The healthcare system has been dismantled in the last 30 years and now it is literally collapsing.
Following a decree signed on 9 March, healthcare and pharmaceutical workers are no longer quarantined when they come into contact with an infected person. Instead, they are forced to keep working. Workers that are praised as heroes are in practice heavily exploited and seriously endangered.
Even the mayor of Brescia has denounced what is obvious to everybody: the factories, which were not closed have been the main centres of diffusion of the disease in the provinces (Brescia and Bergamo) where the situation is now the most dramatic.
We are trade union leaders, delegates, and workers who, for the reasons explained above, believe the working class must act directly, as has already been happening, with its own means, its own abilities, and with a fighting program, which we explain below. We believe it was wrong to sign the 14 March protocol, which does not halt production, leaves the companies a completely free hand, and introduces only partial, defence measures. Thus, we demand:
1) Safe working conditions in the essential services!. A plan must be drawn up to acquire protective devices such as proper masks, gloves and hygienic hydroalcoholic solutions. The big companies required for this task must be nationalised without compensation and production must be retooled to essential products.
2) Immediately hire all unemployed healthcare professionals! Expropriation without compensation of all private medical institutions in order to cure those affected by the coronavirus. Expansion of the intensive care units, where the number of beds must be increased tenfold.
3) Use extensive testing to prevent the virus’ diffusion! Everyone at risk, not only obviously sick people, must be tested.
4) All public service workers who have come in contact with infected people without proper protection must immediately be quarantined and tested to prevent the disease from spreading. The protocol’s eleventh point, which allows individual companies to decide whether the endangered workers should keep working, must be cancelled.
5) Immediately end production of non-essential goods to ensure workers’ safety and contain the pandemic!
6) Reduction of working hours and a massive hiring programme. Reduction of stores’ opening hours. Lower the workloads faced by transport, logistic and postal workers!
Now, the government is announcing more restrictions. The unions must demand, if necessary through mobilisation and strikes, that the first point of any new decree must be the closure of all non-essential factories, companies and services and the strict application of safety measures in those which need to stay open.
All factories and companies which are not producing essential goods must close, with all salaries continuing to be paid by the company, as happened in Ferrari and others! We must shut down all the workplaces that are not providing essential services. If the bosses do not agree, and it is possible, a strike has to be declared and production stopped. The strikes erupting also in France, Spain, the US, Canada and other countries confirm that the workers understand the situation perfectly well and are not ready to be slaughtered for profit.
We support and take part in every action, even partial, whose goal is to protect workers' health, and we will fight in particular for the "committees for the application of the protocol’s rules" to include workers' delegates, elected and recallable at any time, who can be a thorn in the side of the bosses. We ask that these committees become a place where the workers can impose the sanitisation of all plants and workspaces, as well as the adherence to all safety measures. Workers must be able to stop production whenever there is an immediate danger. Perfect transparency must be maintained in communication with the workers.
At the same time, we do not accept that all responsibility should fall on the workers and their delegates. The trade unions should fully own up to their role, bringing together all the strikes and protests around the central demand of stopping all non-essential activities.
At the end of this period, we must present the bill and recover everything we will have lost in these months of forced leave and layoffs. An unprecedented economic crisis is approaching, and the workers must not pay for it. When this pandemic is eradicated, it will be thanks to the professionalism of the people working in research and healthcare. It will have been a tragic and dramatic experience, which will have made even clearer what a catastrophe capitalism is.