The ongoing pandemic worldwide has created more difficult situations for the working people. The capitalists are trying to ensure that their profits can remain intact by pushing the burden of the health crisis too on to the backs of the workers. Workers are fighting for their rights, for the right to a life of dignity, for their right to livelihoods, for their right to safe working conditions during the ongoing health emergency. We bring you a report of some of the valiant struggles waged by workers in recent weeks.
United States of America
|US Uber drivers protest|
Transport workers have been actively fighting for safe working conditions during the pandemic. As early as March 17, 2020 bus drivers in Detroit, USA took action by shutting down bus services throughout the city, and won their demands focused on safe working conditions – including suspension of fares, rear door entrance, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for drivers. Several Birmingham drivers acted next and refused to work on March 23 to make the transit authority increase safety. They went back to work the following day after having won multiple safety measures, including an order that passengers only use the rear door when boarding and exiting buses, physical barriers around the operator seating area to give drivers distance from riders, and only allowing 15 to 19 passengers on each bus, depending on size of the bus. These workers were followed by bus workers in other states such as Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama. Transport workers have also been fighting to ensure that there are no lay-offs and dismissals of workers.
Taxi operating companies like Uber and Lyft have maintained that the drivers of their cabs are “contractors”, not employees; in order to avoid giving them benefits such as paid sick leave, minimum wages, social security benefits and even the right to unionise. Due to their unrelenting struggles, the State Assembly of California had passed a law recognising them as employees. But the giant companies Uber and Lyft refused to implement this. In order to force them to do so, drivers of Uber and Lyft organised a massive car caravan on May 12, that poured through downtown San Francisco before circling around Uber’s headquarters on Market Street. The drivers demanded that the app-based ride-sharing firm comply with the law, recognising their drivers as workers and giving them the aforesaid protection and benefits.
Truck drivers in the US have been fighting to ensure that they get decent rates for their work and to avoid paying a lot of money to middlemen. Rallies were held in several states including Connecticut, California, Texas, Ohio, and Kentucky, to protest against the drastic drop in rates in the transportation industry during the pandemic. On Mayday, hundreds of truckers lined up their trucks in the area around Capitol Hill in the nations’ capital, Washington D. C.
Workers of the multinational corporate Amazon have been waging concerted struggles to protest unsafe working conditions and to demand better personal protection equipment (PPEs).
Nurses and other health workers in Ontario and other parts of Canada have been struggling to ensure that they are provided with PPEs of acceptable quality, such as N 95 masks, commensurate with the risks that they are exposed to. They have also demanded that in case a health worker falls victim to Covid-19, it should be considered as a work-related hazard and they should get corresponding benefits.
Organisations of unemployed workers have been demanding that the Federal Government in Canada immediately make it easier to get unemployment insurance, and increase the duration of benefits, as well as the actual amounts the unemployed receive. Unemployed workers clearly face a lot of uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in regions where seasonal work is common.
Workers of Disco, Uruguay’s largest supermarket chain, held a one-day strike on May 2, to protest the failure of management to take preventive action to protect them from Covid 19 infection, after a few of their colleagues got infected. According to the Disco Workers Syndicate, four cases were discovered in Punta Carretas, a coastal suburb of Montevideo, two in April and two in May.
In Peru, nurses held a protest on May 1, at the Hospital Belén in the north-western Peruvian city of Trujillo to demand higher wages and better conditions for confronting Covid-19. The nurses live in constant fear of contagion from COVID-19 since they are not provided with personal protective equipment (PPE). They have seen colleagues dying and are living in fear of bringing the virus home to their families.
Workers at a large textile factory in a free trade zone in Barahona in the Dominican Republic have waged a militant struggle since April 28. They were demanding that the management pay them higher wages and implement protective measures suggested by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). These include provision of masks and gloves, physical distancing, checking of temperatures upon entry, and provision of disinfectant gel. They also demanded full wages for the period that production was halted due to measures taken to stop the spread of the pandemic.
Massive protests against the plans of the airline industry to resort to mass sacking and redundancies have taken place in Britain. British Airways announced unilaterally on April 28, that it will make 12,000 workers at the airline redundant. This is almost a quarter of the total workforce! It was immediately denounced as unlawful and immoral by the workers and their unions. They demanded that the threat of redundancies must be immediately withdrawn. The union has pointed out that the sheer scale of the job losses will make the British aviation sector, already very fragile as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, extremely unstable. It will put many thousands more jobs across the country, not just at BA, at risk.
Ryanair announced on May 1 that it is planning to make 3,000 of its workers in Europe redundant and is also planning pay cuts for the remaining employees. The airline workers’ unions have denounced these plans and have demanded that the government force the airlines to retain their workers.
|Brussles bus and tram drivers struggle|
Public transport workers – bus and tram drivers – in Belgium have been on strike since May 11, to demand safer working conditions. They have been demanding that bus passengers must also be required to wear face masks, and that the number of passengers that can be carried should be limited. Several routes of the bus service could not be operated for a few days as 80% of the bus drivers and a large section of the tram drivers stayed off work.
Students joined in to support protesting teachers in Greece outside the parliament in Athens on May 13. The Greek primary teachers’ federation, the secondary teachers’ union and the federation of private school teachers members are opposing plans by the Greek government to bring in remote teaching by use of a camera in the classroom, streamed to pupils at home. These measures are part of the government response to the Covid-19 crisis. Teachers say it would compromise the privacy of pupils who are present in the classroom as the lesson is broadcast. The teachers were also opposing government plans to bring in teacher evaluation measures, increase class sizes and push through school mergers.
Bus drivers from South Africa’s Golden Arrow Company walked out of work on May 7, to protest lack of protection from contracting Covid-19 infection. They picketed the bus depot in Montana in Cape Town, demanding safe conditions at work, after 12 engineers were infected with coronavirus at the central engineering depot. The bus company employs around 2,900 workers throughout the country. One engineer died and at least five others became infected over the last fortnight at various depots. Golden Arrow employees complained that they have had no instruction on safety during the pandemic. They want a representative from the health department to train them. They also demanded that the depots be closed and cleaned thoroughly, and the workforce be tested for infection regularly.
In Port Elizabeth, nurses forced the closure and cleaning of the Zwide clinic after one nurse died from COVID-19 and 11 tested positive. A few days earlier, the staff had forced management to bring in a cleaning company. They later learned that only the pharmacy, where the deceased nurse worked, had been cleaned. The staff also demanded adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Nurses are expected to make one face mask last all day. Two nurses died from the COVID-19 infection at the Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa said infected nurses are expected to go into isolation at their own expense by using up their holidays. Health staff walked out at two private hospitals in Durban, over lack of PPE. At St. Augustine’s on the outskirts of Durban, 45 staff became infected.
Workers at a large biscuit factory called Unibisco Biscuits in Devland, Johannesburg, demonstrated to demand insurance pay during the lockdown period. The government claims it transferred the unemployed insurance fund (UIF) money to the company on April 24, to cover wages during lockdown which began the end of March.
Other African Countries
In Zimbabwe, teachers refused to return to work unless they are provided with free masks and hand sanitiser. Gold miners in Mauritania went on an indefinite strike on May 5, over the lack of safe working conditions under the threat from coronavirus. Miners at the Tasiast gold mine owned by Kinross Canadian Gold Corporation conglomerate are demanding the company abide by labour laws and regulations brought in to combat the pandemic, particularly a 14-day quarantine on new arrivals to worksites.
These are just a sample of the struggle being waged by workers all over the world during the pandemic that is currently underway. They are an inspiration to advance the struggle of the working class for a better world.