A Look back at one Year of the Pandemic

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The year 2020 was a year of crisis, even apart from the pandemic. An economic crisis ignited in February 2020 from the legacy of the 2008 subprime crisis and a power struggle among oil-producing countries. This economic crisis would have had tangible consequences even without Covid-19, but was amplified because of the uncertainties of the pandemic.

At the same time, the response of most states to the pandemic was a poorly disguised redistribution program - the most vulnerable segments of society, temporary workers, low-wage workers, bogus „self-employed“ workers, workers on zero-hour contracts and temporary contracts or in semi-legal employment were given little or no protection, while corporations were massively propped up. As a result, the rich have benefited massively: At the end of 2020, the 300 richest inhabitants of Switzerland possessed 707 billion francs combined- more than ever before. On the other hand, many low-income earners fell into the debt trap.

 

State failure

In this crisis, the state response to the pandemic and economic crisis also failed. The Federal Council's words that solidarity was now called for fell flat without any actual action on the part of the government. In the area of labor (and unemployment), the crisis only aggravated already existing problems. Workers were simply abandoned. Those people who were already screwed are now deeply in trouble. While industries with strong lobbies like aviation are being saved with billions, the masses of workers on call don't get a cent. People who have to work undeclared because of racist laws stand in miles-long lines in front of the food banks. They can hardly defend themselves against their bosses, because they are threatened with deportation if their work is discovered. The latter also applies to the bogus “self-employed” on construction sites, in the cleaning sector, etc.

At the same time, it is striking that the essential professions in this crisis are also characterized by the fact that they are carried out by the despised and disadvantaged in this system: Working class people, migrants, women. Whether it is in the health sector, transportation, retail, cleaning, etc.. It became clear once again that our current society does not value - i.e. pay and treat well - the work that is necessary.

 

Picture: An example of the essential occupations: The need for bicycle couriers increased especially with the restaurant closures. However, the wages are still shitty.

 

The Swiss middle way has failed


Did we at least fight the pandemic? Was "the economy" saved? The Swiss middle way managed to do neither. We have had some of the highest numbers of new infections, hospitals have been at full capacity for months, entire industries are facing extinction, many workers do not know how they will survive the coming months or if they will even have a job. This middle ground also repeatedly leads to contradictory statements or actions by the government.

 

Pandemic control and government

Combating a still unknown pandemic can only happen by interrupting human contact as much as possible. Without vaccination, the contagion cannot be prevented, and without medication, the disease can otherwise not be prevented. This is true in every form of society and the only alternative is to accept high death rates.

This does not mean that government measures have to be accepted unquestioningly just because pandemic control is necessary. In the past year in particular, many attacks were made on wage earners, either under the guise of fighting the pandemic, or new laws and parliamentary resolutions were deliberately communicated in such a way that they were lost in the news on Corona. Examples of this are, for example, the restriction on apartment rents relaxed by the Federal Court in November 2020 or the "Federal Law on Police Measures to Combat Terrorism (PMT)" passed by parliament in the fall, which gives security agencies the right to detain suspects "preventively" without evidence and only at the likings of the authorities.

 

Breeding ground for conspiracy theories

For many Western areas, the pandemic is something unprecedented in their lives. It is a threatening situation that does not fit into our narrative of a perfectly regulable environment. The pandemic and its control directly threatens our livelihoods. But not everyone's livelihoods - the rich are no worse off: we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Exactly these inequalities are now a breeding ground for the conspiracy theories, which have also gained massive popularity this year. Be this Q-Anon or “Querdenenken”, they all give "answers" and "explanations" to partly actual problems. That in such a situation, people are looking for answers, is logical and that to the explanations of state and elite in this situation no faith is given, is also comprehensible. The increase in conspiracy theories during Lockdown and afterwards can be explained in this way, among other things.

But we must also be clear that the left also shares responsibility for the rise of conspiracy theories and right-wing sentiment. It has bunkered down in subcultures and purely academic discourse for far too long. If contact with fellow human beings is not sought, it will not emerge. The left is very good at condescendingly assuming that it has the truth and everyone else is ignorant. To then cavort exclusively among the "enlightened" is the easy way out, but not political work. Public opinion will not go in a different direction by rejecting in advance all those who do not use the same words or submit themselves to the required codes. It should be about winning the hearts and minds of as many as possible, and that is a long and sometimes rocky road, but it is the only way to influence public opinion - and if the left doesn't do it, the right is happy about the easy game.

 

Noticeable rise in unemployment

The current situation is also reflected in the unemployment figures. At the end of December 2020, 163,545 people were registered with the RAV. Compared to the same month last year, unemployment increased by 39.5%. Youth unemployment is particularly noticeable, increasing by 42.8% compared to the same month last year.

However, these figures should be treated with caution: The unemployment rate only includes those unemployed who are registered with the RAV. All those who were unable to work and who received short-time work are not included. Likewise, all those who are unemployed, i.e. receive social assistance or live off their savings, are not included in these figures.

Picture: The pandemic has cost many jobs. However, the treatment at the offices is far from the solidarity promised by the state.


Working conditions in the care sector


After years of austerity and cutbacks, the care sector is up to its neck in this crisis. In the media, the poor working conditions that have persisted for years are becoming visible as a result of the crisis. But what is the thanks for the extraordinary performance of the employees in the health care sector? A thank you and some applause seems derisive considering the sacrifices that have been made. Workers reduced contact with their social environment only to sacrifice their health because of even worse conditions. But why? Health care workers bear the consequences of a policy that puts the bosses' profit above all else. But it was not only the care staff who were under severe pressure. The media did not report on the equally hard-working cleaning staff, who are just as much at risk of being infected with the corona virus. In addition, the already physically demanding work was even harder, as the creation of more beds also represented a larger mountain of work. The list of professions that had a huge increase in workload goes on. For example, thousands of tests had to be evaluated by laboratory technicians. Residents do the work that doctors cannot do.

Picture: Despite clapping, hardly anything has improved in care. On the contrary, the situation has become even worse.


But how is this to be financed?

The statement that we do not have enough resources seems like a joke. Especially when the richest get richer, while many have existential worries or suffer burn-outs.

Budget cuts for care in cantonal facilities is related to the (neo)-liberal idea. A cantonal facility should be run like a business. Thus, the most necessary is made that this facility is as profitable as possible or at least costs as little as possible. The public's need for health becomes a commodity with which profit is to be made. In order to reduce costs, as few workers as possible are employed. Thus wage costs can be saved. This is done as long as the staff rises up.

On the other hand, many healthcare companies are also privately organized. There, the logic is simple. If fewer costs are incurred, this increases the profit of the people who own the business.


Only collective answers can be given to all these developments, organized we can achieve that during a pandemic also the workplaces are closed and we receive a living compensation: Alone we are defenseless, together we are strong!

 


Demands

  • Suspension of all non-essential economic activities and all educational institutions until the number of cases is below 500 new infections per day.
  • Financial support of workers and companies by the state, as long as the latter have to close down by official order and necessity.
  • Basic subsistence income (4,000 CHF x 13); until this is introduced, short-time work compensation in the full amount of the normally paid wage for all with wages below the median.
  • Immediate abolition of 0-hour contracts
  • Abolition of temporary work, until then short-time work also for temporary workers
  • high fines for employers in case of bogus “self-employment”
  • Retroactive support for people without residence permit, regularization of Sans-Papiers now!

Free Workers Union Berne | Freie Arbeiter*innen Union Bern

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