The world is currently experiencing an unprecedented health crisis. Covid-19 is spreading quickly across the globe: as of January 13, 266,566 cases have been reported including 80,967 in China, 47,021 in Italy and 12,612 in France. The number of deaths is increasing daily, with more than 11,100 dead as of March 20, 2020. As the West watched China from afar and adopted a patronising attitude towards confinement, the construction of new hospitals, and the systematic use of tests, it chose not to react, in total self-confidence. Europe is now the epicentre of the pandemic and the number of deaths in Italy exceeds the number of deaths in China.
A virus, a pandemic, has systemic causes. They are partly linked to various ways of organising the global economy. The great epidemics of the Middle Ages already followed the trade routes from and to the two Indies.
The greed of a few merchants who corrupted the quarantine officers swept cholera over Marseille in 1720. Explanations of this pandemic are already documented, even before it reached its apex. An acceleration of transport practices spreads it almost instantly, and conditions of globalisation have made societies more interdependent from each other. The capitalist contradiction, as Marx wrote, is rooted in the fact that production is socialised while profits entirely remain in private hands. We are more than ever in this situation. The great disturbance of the entire world increases the people’s mutual dependence, while profits are concentrated in an increasingly small coterie of oligarchs, the only ones who are able to avoid the dangers derived from their model.
The economic choices of happy globalisation collide with reality: relocating pharmaceutical industries, and producing masks half-way around the world makes it impossible to respond to a global crisis. The General Confederation of Labour (CGT, one if not the most important labour union in France) advocates the nationalisation of Luxfer, a Clermont-Ferrand factory which, before its closure, was the only European manufacturer of medical oxygen tanks, and is well positioned to supply stocks of such equipment to France and Europe. A Brittany manufacturer of surgical masks has been relocated to Tunisia: leading to consequential shortage of these masks which strikes France at the worst time.
The other cause is the loss of biodiversity. Today, 60% of infectious diseases come from animal-to-human transmission. The extension of agriculture makes contact between domestic and wild species more frequent, and therefore contact with humans also. Proliferation of pesticides and antibiotics disrupts natural responses. Vultures in India, scavengers of the countryside, died by millions, and were replaced by rats and stray dogs, both vectors of rabies. Today, we are caught up in the accelerated weakening of the ecosystem caused by capitalism.
Since March 17, we have been called to remain confined despite the government’s contradictory injunctions: staying at home to halt the spread of the pandemic and at the same time going to work when homeworking is impossible. Many workers continue to go to work (such as construction workers and many others), although it is not an essential task in the current situation. At the same time, in Lombardy, Italy’s most industrialised area, factories continue to operate despite the spread of the Covid-19. Thus, thousands of people continue to be in contact and spread the disease for the sole purpose of making the economy work: it was to protect workers but also the entire population that unions mobilised their members with strikes, in order to shut down factories producing non-essential goods. They also obtained the rehiring of those who were laid-off during that period. It seems contradictory to urge people to go to work while asking them to confine themselves for self-protection and the protection of others.
In this crisis, we are facing the irresponsible attitude of the French government, informed since January but unable to react, as shown by the testimony of Agnès Buzyn, former Health Minister, published in the newspaper Le Monde on March 17, 2020. The shortage of masks and the absence of systematic patient screenings has shown that the government did not understand what was at stake. Indeed, by acknowledging the inability of France to set up a Korean-like system, with systematised testing and confinement of confirmed patients, Olivier Véran, actual French Health Minister, only showed how far back the French healthcare system had regressed. Not having enough tests available, the government finds itself obliged to confine the entire population at the risk of traumatising people socially, psychologically and economically. The total confinement of the population is therefore the direct consequence of its lack of preparation. Added to this are decades of budget cuts, emergency services already saturated before the development of the Covid-19, and the lack of funding for public hospitals which, had they been in proper shape, would have been able to manage the crisis with fewer difficulties.
In addition, to ease hospital access for seriously ill Covid19 patients, surgical operations have been cancelled and hospital blocks reserved at the expense of other important medical interventions. In this period of confinement, the Parti de Gauche or “The Left Party” supports feminist associations calling for an extension of the deadlines for abortion from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Overcrowded hospitals, surgical operations cancelled, the lack of masks in the French Planned Parenthoods and the fear of catching the disease by going to surgeries suggest that it is necessary to remember that women’s rights are often forgotten at times of crisis. The health crisis also increases the danger for women and children being victims of violence: confinement with a violent person considerably increases the risk of becoming a victim of it. The government must treat this problem as a public health issue of the first order. It must put into place an emergency plan, following the Spanish example, to protect the female victims and to prevent the increase in violence that comes with confinement.
Not cancelling the municipal elections given that they require human contact is proof of the government’s inconsistency. Running an election campaign for 15 days, while knowing about the risks, puts everyone in danger. This episode is the perfect illustration of the decision makers’ schizophrenic behaviour: on the one hand, staying confined to avoid the spread of the virus, on the other hand going to the polls to fulfil one’s duty as a citizen. A dilemma faced by tens of thousands of voters who had to decide one way or another.
In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, the government thus decided to hold the first round of the municipal elections on March 15. The context was confused and we could even say dangerous. Didn’t the government decide to close public and meeting places a few hours earlier, after having decided to close schools two days earlier? Given the level of confusion and potential danger, abstention reached a very high level.
The government then decided to postpone to May 15 the first meeting of municipal councils elected in the first round of voting. It now wants a three-month postponement of the second round of voting in the other towns. It is also considering hardening and lengthening the confinement period.
We should be asking ourselves whether we still are in a Situation where republican principles and equality are still upheld when two rounds of voting are so far apart, and so markedly different, from the point of view of the serenity of the electorate, and from a human point of view, material as well as psychological conditions of the citizens. Moreover, an election is not just about to going to the polls. It is a democratic process preceded by a campaign which is about life projects in the community. It is not reasonable to think of holding a second round as if a period which deeply changed the world did not have an impact. Confronted by such a distortion, faced with the health crisis and its instability, it would certainly be wiser and more coherent to cancel the ballots where there was no absolute majority in the first round and to postpone voting altogether. Our Republic, our idea of citizenship and the legitimacy of elected officials could only benefit from such a decision.
On Monday March 16, 2020, Emmanuel Macron described a situation of « war » in a speech impossible to understand, while deploying the means to counter the violent disease, mobilising doctors, caregivers, the police, the army, municipalities, in fact the entire public sector, proved to be a slow process. We are not confronted by any kind of « war », but by a spreading disease resulting from the inconsistency of human action (crowding of animals, globalisation, etc.); it is in no way an armed struggle between states. This linguistic twist is part of Emmanuel Macron’s communication, portraying himself as a leader above criticism, with undisputed powers, whose duty is to fight an evil attack against the country and therefore improve his popularity rating.
Since mid-March, a number of local factories have been converting their textile production into the production of masks to make up for the shortage. This period during which millions of people will be confined can be an opportunity to take care of our loved ones and to relearn the meaning of solidarity. Today, the first catching and suffering from Covid-19 are not only the workers whose production is not necessary, but also the homeless. The measures put in place for these women and men who live on the streets, sometimes crowded as in refugee camps at Porte de la Chapelle in Paris, are inadequate (too few requisitioned sports halls and hotels). These people are frequently arrested because they do not have a permit to go from one place to another. However, the requisition of empty buildings and tourist apartments would be a solution to house these victims of the health and economic crisis and to allow general confinement in the best possible conditions. Their health and the health of the population in general is at stake.
This is a difficult moment, when we must stay home, respect the measures to avoid any further contamination and make the work of state employees, especially those in clinical care, less complex; and we must also pay attention to the economic measures that are taken by the government.
The current period shows the importance of public service, and in particular of the hospital sector and medical research which have been mobilised for a year against the destruction of the health service and for an increase of their budgeted means. In a recent speech, Macron seemed to be back-tracking by calling for « the welfare state » and thanking the mobilised employees fighting the disease on the front-line. He then entered into a communication battle as he also brought up the issue of nationalisations without referring to any specific measures. Emmanuel Macron and the government are using a form of double-talk aimed at reassuring us about social and economic policies (by protecting the population and sending to work those who keep the economy going); these methods are perceived as senseless.
While the states are experiencing a health crisis comparable to the Spanish flu, the measures that are adopted point to a political construction which shows its limits: the European Union. In fact, step by step, national borders have been re-established within the Schengen area at the initiative of Germany and the 3% limit on deficits the States had committed to with the Stability Pact is also questioned. The European Union we knew will certainly not be the same after Covid-19 because all the measures put in place to achieve the so-called European cooperation are struck down by unilateral decisions.
This crisis is made worse by a financial crisis (which is not only due to Covid-19). Once again, instead of closing the stock markets to avoid an economic crash, many governments keep them going even if it means injecting public funds. While the past few weeks have demonstrated the need to give workers a hand (with the self-organisation of small enterprises to provide masks, or supporting Italian workers on strike to obtain the temporary closure of their factories); instead, the Senate, in order to « save » the economy and the financial sector, takes advantage of the stupor and votes on bills to end the 35-hour week and allow companies to force workers into paid holidays during the confinement period. No time limit and no end-dates for these measures have been included. These rights have been granted thanks to struggling workers and cannot possibly questioned again for the sake of a race for economic recovery. Such policies would have catastrophic long-term impacts on the labour code already affected by previous legislation, without providing the means to mitigate the political decisions slowing the country down over a number of weeks. It is the welfare state that allows public services to operate today. We must keep it while fighting for solidarity and to protect our rights. There is a need to adopt a logical and strategic investment policy for hospitals and for research, to provide both with the means to react to crises by hiring; to provide them with salaries increases, and not just during crises; and last but not least to provide them again with the democratic means for their own internal organisation.
Eco-socialism for the common good.
The environmental causes of the crisis have been mentioned above. This is another capitalocene crisis. The economic organisation of the world makes societies more interdependent but also more sensitive to disturbances in the complex equilibrium. Hopefully, once the crisis has passed, we will not have an immediate return of the mantras of the globalised economy: « growth », « openness », « circulation », « deregulation » on the pretext of reviving the economy. Eco-socialism is the solution. It is about promoting an ecological transition, taking into account environmental and social realities. We are the architects of this solution via our platform” The Future in Common” which does not oppose ecological policies to social policies. Our responses will restore coherence. The “green rule” explained in our platform and the common good are inseparable.
Faced with the great disturbance of the world, ecologically absurd and dangerous in times of crisis, relocation is the only solution for the future. The multiplication of small-scale distribution circuits makes it possible to ease the burden of environmental and economic conversions capable of giving employment to all in territories built on a more human scale. In doing so, a strong public sector must be rebuilt with massive financing. The hospital sector will need more than emotional comments made by government officials praising the daily ‘Clap for carers’; it must actually be rebuilt from the ground up. Employees and emergency room collectives have already been suggesting solutions for the past several months in their mobilisations; they must now be given the proper means to practice their craft.
Eco-socialism is obviously not a fall-back measure. It calls for planning and international mutual assistance to face the challenges of restructuring the economy. That is why we want to launch an international debate on the meaning and organisation of eco-socialism once the health crisis has passed.
No one knows how long the confinement period will last. In the meantime, we must respect the recommendations of the medical profession. Stay home! Once again, we would like to send you our best.
However, let us not interrupt our meetings. Take the time to share news with comrades; the new technologies are changing the relationships we have in a crisis.
Let us not forget solidarity because of confinement. Humanitarian aid associations still need us, we can help them, in various contexts, while respecting health crisis rules.
But we also have a cultural and political battle duty. Our deputies in parliament have issued calls for the follow-up to the health crisis not to become a pretext for a new shock doctrine. Social and worker rights must not be sacrificed on the altar of productivity. France Insoumise has proposed 11 emergency measures, they must be shared and discussed.
Via your networks and contacts, please share the calls of health workers who recall the struggles and the constant opposition of the past months. We must also hammer home the message that the pandemic is a systemic crisis. The world of tomorrow will not come out of it unscathed; it is up to us to rebuild it for the common good.
Take care of yourself!
Traduction : Jean-Claude Simon et Pierre Mourier