This year's May Day celebrations are happening in the context of lockdowns imposed by governments to curb the spread of the deadly novel Coronavirus pandemic. As at the 30th of April 2020, the disease had infected more than 3 million and killed more than 200 thousand across the world. As at present, neither a cure nor a vaccine against the disease have been found.
Because the virus is contagious and is spread from person to person, some of the measures taken to contain it include restricting the gathering of people and maintenance of social distancing, as large crowds would make it easier to spread around. As a result, there will not be the usual rallies, marches and public speeches to celebrate May Day across the globe.
Be that as it may, all is not lost as LabourStart in conjunction with most of the Global Union Federations, PSI included, will host a virtual May Day celebration on https://www.facebook.com/pg/labourstart.org/videos/ featuring videos of speeches and stories of workers struggle from across the globe.
While this pandemic has been deadly and has brought the world to a standstill, it has put the workers in the global spotlight.
As PSI we continue to insist that health workers are not martyrs. Safe workers save lives and we continue to demand that workers must be given the proper PPE’s and that infection prevention and control (IPC) measures must be in place.
Firstly, it is the workers, especially the Frontline Healthcare workers who have been in the forefront of the fight against this disease to keep us all safe. Every day we have followed the news and watched on TV’s how they have been battling to save lives, often in overwhelmingly stressful circumstances. Others had to pay with their lives as they were sent into the frontline without even the most basic of the requisite PPE's.
The world owes them a debt of gratitude for the brave fight they put up. But that is not enough. As PSI we continue to insist that health workers are not martyrs. Safe workers save lives and we continue to demand that workers must be given the proper PPE’s and that infection prevention and control (IPC) measures must be in place.
Secondly, this pandemic has reminded the world that it is workers whose labour create the wealth that the rich people so mindlessly enjoy. When stay-home regulations were put in place and workers could no longer participate in the service and production lines, it soon became clear that unlike the common belief of neoclassical economists, the most important factor of production is labour.
The world economy has come to its knees because people could not work. All the accumulated capital cannot do anything if the workers cannot work. It is for this reason that post COVID-19, the workers need to demand a better deal.
While we celebrate the value and contribution of workers, we cannot fail to notice that there has been a bloodbath of job losses in other sectors of the economy. Sectors like the airline, transport, tourism, retail and construction industries were hard hit. Millions of workers have lost their jobs and their livelihoods. Some employers were quick to resort to the option of retrenching even though other avenues could have been explored.
Equally affected are the informal and casual workers who became the first victims of the restrictive measures. For these people, the imposition of lockdowns meant the immediate cessation of any income. This has created a large pool of citizens who are food insecure who have had to depend on social services.
Unfortunately, among these people are foreign nationals who have been closed out of their countries and are not eligible for certain social support schemes and are having to brave the pain and ignominy of hunger. We stand in solidarity with them.
This links with one of the most important lessons that has come from this crisis. According to Dr Kerrigan McCarthy from the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases, society is moving away from an individualistic approach to healthcare because of COVID-19. The response to COVID is a testimony to the power of the collective.
What this means in practical terms is that healthcare is best provided as a public service in the best interests of all citizens. Even the ruling elites who usually travelled to foreign countries must have learnt the importance of a strong domestic health system as they found out that with the closing of international travel they could only depend on national institutions. Going forward, we therefore hope that lessons have been learnt and we will see states investing more in the public healthcare systems.
As states prepare for life after the pandemic, some governments have put in place economic stimulus packages. Labour should seize this opportunity of rebuilding to push against economic order that is structured to favour corporates to one that puts people first.
The fight for the future should not be about how can we go back to normal and advance the neoliberal development model, but about how we build a new model that is based on principles of community, equality and justice.
One of the biggest lessons we should learn a labour is to set our own agenda, rather than be reactive. The discussions and debates for the post COVID-19 crisis economic order are currently taking place. As labour, we need to be at the centre of these debates. We need to have a vision of the world we want and fight for it.
Finally, we reiterate our solidarity with all the workers; the first responders who have had to work under very difficult circumstances, those workers who have had to endure the injustices of unscrupulous employers, the public sector workers whose right to collective bargaining have been compromised by State of Emergencies, those workers who have lost their jobs; the informal traders who can no longer trade their goods and the immigrant workers who have lost their jobs in foreign lands.