No layoffs! Cut workweek with no cut in weekly pay!

Spreading layoffs, shutdowns deepen crisis facing workers

By Terry Evans
December 28, 2020
Nurses strike Dec. 1-2 at Montefiore hospital in New Rochelle, New York. Bosses refuse to hire more nurses, meaning there isn’t enough staff to provide needed health care during pandemic.
New York State Nurses AssociationNurses strike Dec. 1-2 at Montefiore hospital in New Rochelle, New York. Bosses refuse to hire more nurses, meaning there isn’t enough staff to provide needed health care during pandemic.

A spreading second wave of government-ordered lockdowns on production, retail, restaurants and other stores is worsening the crisis conditions inflicted on working people by the bosses and their governments.

Small shopkeepers are being crushed and mass unemployment is deepening competition among workers for jobs. Employers seek to use this to impose wage cuts and increasingly unsafe working conditions, as well as to stifle workers’ resistance.

Where workers do stand up and fight back against bosses’ attacks on our jobs, wages, safety and health, they provide an example to millions facing rising hardships.

“We don’t have enough staffing so we can’t take adequate care of the patients,” striking nurse Melissa Rickets told CBS News at the picket line at Montefiore Hospital in New Rochelle in New York during a Dec. 1-2 strike. As the number of people needing treatment for COVID-19 surged, hospital bosses pushed already understaffed nurses there to care for more and more patients, as they are doing around the country.

The Montefiore nurses — and hundreds more at Albany Medical Center — are setting an example, fighting for a new contract with more jobs and more safety equipment, to defend the health of both hospital workers and patients (see article on front page).

While many workers are discussing how to stand up to the bosses’ attacks, millions are laid off and hiring has ground to its slowest rate since April. These conditions have a dampening effect on struggles. It will take a rise in employment to create more favorable conditions for workers to acquire increased confidence to fight to defend themselves.

Since the pandemic began, some 3.8 million temporary layoffs have become permanent, and 60% of small businesses closed during this period have shut for good. More restaurant owners will be driven out of business as a result of recent bans on indoor dining by governors in several states.

The real extent of the persistent and massive unemployment workers confront is hidden by the small decline in the official government jobless figures in November. The government pretties up these figures by not counting those workers who’ve given up looking for work or have exhausted their unemployment benefits.

The real depth of crisis is shown by the number of fresh claims for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which includes workers classified as self-employed. It rose to 427,609 for the week ending Dec. 5, nearly 50% over the previous week. Barring a bipartisan move by Congress to extend this program, these benefits run out Dec. 31. With more states enacting lockdowns unemployment will only get worse.

The only real exception is hiring at Amazon, Walmart and other huge retail outlets that are looking to cash in on the expansion of workers’ shopping online.

Despite a federal moratorium on evictions, also due to expire at the end of the month, landlords have already filed 150,000 petitions to throw tenants out of their houses in 27 cities. In St. Louis, landlords got automatic eviction orders through courts organized by “video conferencing,” where tenants had difficulties logging-in to the “virtual hearing.” Those cast onto the streets remain on the hook for all unpaid rent.

Cut the workweek with no cut in pay

“Workers and our unions need to fight for a shorter workweek with no cut in our take home pay,” Rachele Fruit, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate in the special election in Georgia, told the Militant. “We need 30 hours work for 40 hours pay. This would prevent more layoffs without workers losing wages.

“And our unions need to fight for a government-funded public works program at union-scale wages to create jobs for millions, building schools, housing, hospitals, and other things workers sorely need,” Fruit said.

While the lack of jobs is the biggest challenge working people face, the way lockdown measures are implemented hits workers in other ways. Last month the chief judge in New York state halted all jury trials until further notice. More than 400 defendants who have been in jail for over two years without the opportunity to go to trial and confront their accuser and seek to clear themselves, remain incarcerated indefinitely.

Bosses put profits over health care

State governments prepared for the predictable rise in the numbers of people requiring hospital treatment in the only way capitalist politicians can — by safeguarding the profits of hospital, nursing home, pharmaceutical and heath insurance bosses while doing little to meet the critical need for more intensive care unit space, medical workers, drugs for treatment and supplies of the recently approved Pfizer vaccine.

With the numbers requiring care in New Mexico’s hospitals tripling since early November, authorities there imposed “crisis-care” standards Dec. 10, canceling all “nonessential” surgeries and rationing treatment for COVID-19 patients. Doctors and other medical workers will be left to perform triage, deciding who receives care and who is left to die.

While a lengthy rollout of a vaccine has begun in the U.S. and some other countries, Pfizer, Moderna and other big drug companies are determined to prevent competitors from acquiring their formulas. In order to reap superprofits from their ownership of patents they seek to maintain their monopoly on the vaccine’s production. Governments in Africa say they’ve been told they won’t receive vaccination until the second half of 2021.

The World Trade Organization will hear a proposal Dec. 16 from the Indian and South African governments to waive patents and trade secrets on coronavirus vaccines. The proposal would allow the manufacture of generic versions.

The capitalist rulers in the U.S. and U.K., and officials in the European Union, say they will vigorously fight the request. Capitalist morality puts private property rights and profits far ahead of the health of working people worldwide.