JOINT STATEMENT BY THE PAKISTAN TRADE UNION DEFENCE CAMPAIGN (PTUDC) AND REVOLUTIONARY STUDENTS FRONT (RSF)
The Coronavirus pandemic across the world has unleashed a situation where societies are being shut down, healthcare systems are crumbling, heavy restrictions are being imposed and conditions are taking sharp turns. Pakistan is also facing the same situation. It has exposed historical incompetence of capitalism even in the most developed countries on an unprecedented scale. Amid the outbreak, there is not a single country where the healthcare system can handle a fraction of the Coronavirus patients. Advanced Capitalist countries, from the United States to Europe, are facing a severe shortage of hospital beds, masks, medicines, ventilators and other medical and personal protective equipment (PPE). It lays bare that the current capitalist system with an abundance of advanced technology, natural and industrial resources and manpower has subjected humanity to helplessness, destitution and destruction. The ruling class is also exploiting Covid-19 as an excuse to implement repressive, discriminatory and/or unconstitutional measures to curb basic human rights and crush the working-class and their movements. Bosses around the world are now using coronavirus as a smokescreen to unleash more attacks on the workers with wage cuts, forced dismissals and austerity measures.
This pandemic can prevail for a longer period which means that the current uncertainty can go on for several months. The mortality rate of Coronavirus is reported from less than 1 per cent in South Korea to 7.9 per cent in Italy, according to The Guardian A large study in China found that about 80 per cent of confirmed cases had fairly mild symptoms (defined as no significant infection in the lungs). However, given its extremely speedy spread, it may slay millions of people and situation can be worse in underdeveloped countries like Pakistan. Some experts are also warning about multiple waves of the pandemic, with later ones more deadly than the previous. Being infected with Coronavirus does not mean sudden death. But it is important to maintain courage, optimism and patience because there is no exact vaccination or cure yet available against this pandemic. According to available statistics, no special treatment will be required in 80 per cent cases while 15 per cent of patients may recover with minor medication. It is estimated that, in the long run, at least 70 per cent of human beings will be infected with the virus, in the absence of vaccine humanity may develop an immune response. But this collective immunity will come at the cost of numerous deaths. States are in a panic, they are trying to slow down the spread by lock-downs in order to buy some time. At this time there are many potential ways, this can go and we need to prepare ourselves for any possibility.
Lockouts and other such measures are being put in place in order not to overload the already crumbling and ruined healthcare systems. In the meantime, a cure or vaccine may be discovered that will end the pandemic or make it as harmless as possible.
As these lines were written, more than 800 confirmed cases of Coronavirus surfaced in Pakistan, the actual number of cases would be a lot more. The Government feared a massive reaction from millions of workers who would be unemployed and starve in case of a shutdown. They were also hoping to get away with an unannounced lockdown so that they don’t have to support the poorest sections of the working class including the daily wagers while the plans are already being made to bail out the capitalists with hundred of billions of rupees in tax breaks and other means.
But with the growing outbreak, the Military had to announce a countrywide lockdown on March 23rd after days of wavering by the Prime Minister Imran Khan. The army is now being deployed in the whole country. Ali Wazir, a Marxist Member of National Assembly organized the lockdown of his District of South Waziristan on March 22nd while the Provincial Government of KPK was awaiting orders from Islamabad. This is probably the first lockdown from below anywhere in the world, with many trade unions in different countries are threatening strike actions to enforce the quarantine.
Despite the horrible socio-economic conditions and workers losing their livelihoods, at this a shutdown may be the only way to slowdown the spread of the Coronavirus and to keep the lives of working classes safe.
But our conditional support is subject to the following demands.
- All private health service providers including hospitals, pharmaceutical manufacturers, pharmacy chains should immediately be nationalized. The state should immediately announce a comprehensive national plan to deal with the pandemic.
- Personal protection gears to Doctors, Nurses and Paramedical staff must be provided immediately. If required they should be imported on expedited basis. The state should make arrangements to manufacture them in the country and nationalized all the necessary industries.
- There is a severe shortage of ventilators. At least one hundred thousand ventilators should be imported immediately which also can be used after the pandemic.
- Ensure that there is no shortage of Coronavirus test kits. These kits should be imported in sufficient numbers.
- Free testing, quarantine and treatment facilities in all towns and cities of Pakistan.
- Government buildings, as well as large private buildings (banquet halls, empty villas, hotels, conference halls, etc.), should be converted into quarantine and field hospitals without any payment of public money.
- Repudiate all imperialist loans and ban the import of all luxury products except for urgent needs and divert all foreign exchange to purchase essential medical and protective equipment.
- During the lockdown, free and uninterpreted supply of essential food supply to daily wage and informal workers and the poor. Electricity, gas and water bills should be waived and house rents should be paid from State exchequer.
- No Employer to be allowed to lay off or stop the wages of any worker. In case of violation, all property of the owners should be confiscated.
- Immediate recruitment of medical professionals to meet severe staff shortages.
- All private banks, financial institutions and insurance companies should be nationalized to obtain capital for these initiatives.
- The fight against the Coronavirus Pandemic should not be left to the market forces and strong central planning and nationalization should be used for this.
- Instead of bailing out the capitalists, all funds should be spent on public welfare by taxing their profits.
In underdeveloped countries like Pakistan, lockdowns can result in widespread unemployment and economic turmoil and the possibility of mass protests cannot be ruled out. This situation can also lead to complete chaos and destruction of law and order, for which all the blame would go to the rotten capitalist system and its institutions. However, our foremost revolutionary responsibility is the safety of our comrades and the workers. For that, we need to avoid crowds and practice social distancing. Stay at home. Wash hands with soap frequently for at least 20 seconds, especially after returning home. Eat a good diet to ensure immunity against the virus and avoid smoking.
Revolutionaries and the workers must keep their spirits high and determination strong. Every crisis serves to strengthen our scientific belief in the Socialist Revolution. The struggle against capitalism goes on under all sorts of difficult conditions. We shall fight, we shall win!