The Inter-American Regional Executive Committee (IAMREC) of Public Services International (PSI) met virtually on April 29. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss and define a work plan to be implemented in the context of the coronavirus pandemic during the remainder of 2020.
PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli opened the meeting by highlighting that post-emergency planning is just as important as prioritizing responses during the crisis. "We will have to look at how to recover our economy, how to profoundly change our mode of production, of consumption; that is, how we live." For example, the drastic reductions in carbon emissions provoked by the pandemic have a direct impact on climate change discussions.
Pavanelli shared some of PSI's global work that has been developed since the start of the crisis. Among these initiatives, she highlighted actions to ensure the protection of workers in the health sector and other groups of workers that are part of the frontline response to coronavirus. Pavanelli also drew attention to the importance of the development of guidelines for working conditions for those that are teleworking. Finally, she talked about the importance of the shape of global supply chains with particular reference to personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies, arguing that countries must have sufficient autonomy to produce these essential goods domestically in order to protect working people and citizens in a pandemic crisis or any other type of emergency.
Pavanelli also noted that the pandemic has exposed the weakness of countries' public health systems which have suffered years of budget cuts and staff reductions. "It is no coincidence that the countries that have gone through neoliberal austerity measures are now facing the same difficulties. Health workers are called heroes, but it is more appropriate to call them victims of this system of globalization," she said. "If we are going to live with the virus for months or years, it is going to affect all areas of our daily lives and will require, for example, more public investment and a greater role for public services."
The PSI secretary general also expressed concern about the "freezing" of the UN system due to the postponement or reduction of its major meetings, while, on the other hand, World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations are continuing. Pavanelli defended the cancellation of foreign debts of the countries of the global South and the reform of the international tax system in order that transnational corporations pay what is fair.
PSI Interamericas co-president Jan Hochadel strongly criticized the position of U.S. President Donald Trump on the pandemic. According to Hochadel, Trump refuses to believe that the emergency is real as he demands the resumption of economic activity and the reopening of schools and does not act to provide the necessary Personal Protective Equipment for frontline workers.
Hochadel noted that health professionals continue to fight for more protection but that, "hospitals are privatized, so states don´t have authority over them, there is no information on number of PPE etc. Our nurses are suffering from anxiety and stress".
Federico Dávila, the other co-president of PSI Interamericas, highlighted the issue of telework as a major challenge for the working class. According to him, although working from home, workers face violence at work, harassment, long hours, work overload, work on holidays and weekends, etc. "The right to disconnect must be discussed," he said.
Dávila also suggested that PSI Interamericas prioritize discussions on climate change by holding seminars, creating a regional working group, and strengthening the Latin American network that already exists on the issue - as well as evaluating the interest in creating a similar network in English.
Both co-presidents of PSI Interamericas highlighted that the health, economic and social crises caused by the pandemic are being dealt with by national states and social organizations and not by markets, despite the terrible example of Brazil and its president Jair Bolsonaro in Latin America.
Finally, Dávila supported that PSI Interamericas act in the face of the threat of external armed intervention in the conflict in Venezuela and suggested actions together with international organizations. "We want Latin America to continue to be a space of peace."
PSI Interamericas Regional Secretary, Jocelio Drummond presented a detailed proposal on the main points of the region's Programme of Action to be implemented throughout the remainder of 2020. IAMREC members then commented on and debated this proposal. These inputs are summarized below:
When acting, it is of fundamental importance to integrate an analysis of what confinement means for gender inequality, gender violence and women's loss of autonomy. PSI should develop a campaign that links the reality of the conditions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic with the deepening of and attention to all types of violence within the framework of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment.
Young workers are the first to face difficulties in a crisis because they have more precarious work and are more vulnerable to layoffs and salary cuts.
We must discuss what model of society we want in the post pandemic period as the capitalist system does not guarantee the life of anybody and in moments of crisis the working class is always the most affected.
It is necessary to put together practical proposals with the PSI position on the issue of telework, taking into account the specificities of each sector. To this end, intersectoral groups should be formed within PSI Interamerica and globally.
In view of the clear and visible failure of the neoliberal model and consequent privatizations that have led to the precarization of employment and the weakening of public services, it is necessary to demand that all of these services be brought back into the public sector.
A common response from governments and employers to any crisis is to cut workers’ wages. Governments must be made to understand and accept that this strategy is completely ineffective.