On this May 1, the Indian working class is in brutal shock from the COVID-19 pandemic which has so far taken over lives in India since last year. While the deadly disease can affect anyone, it has had the most catastrophic effects on the poorest segments of society.
With more than three quarters of India’s health care system in private hands, the costs of receiving adequate health care are too prohibitive for most workers and, as a result, in large areas of the country they have simply had to endure the hardships. alarming damage caused by the coronavirus.
The effects of the ill-conceived and heartless lockdown imposed by the Narendra Modi government last year, which led to massive factory and office closures, have been more damaging and sweeping, with unemployment reaching unimaginable levels. by 24% in April 2020.
The Modi government has made people believe that the pandemic has receded by the time of the arrival of 2021. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Health have repeatedly declared that the pandemic has been defeated in India. They also said the vaccines would be available to everyone soon and that would protect them in the future.
This turned out to be a monumental mistake. The second wave of the pandemic – predicted by almost all scientists – has hit India in the deadliest fashion, with daily cases increasing to a blinding level of almost 4 lakh every day. More importantly, the disease has spread across the vast hinterland even as people run out of steam for oxygen, medicine, transport, hospitals, and even deprived of the last dignified rites.
Fearing to impose a lockdown after last year’s heartbreaking experience, the central government has shifted responsibility for tackling the pandemic to state governments who, in turn, are whimsically declaring restrictions of this or that. guy – somewhere there are weekend closures, somewhere at night. curfews, etc.
But, just like last year, no attention or thought is given to the most crucial question, life or death, facing working class families: how to sustain themselves when incomes are cut off, or conversely, how can you save yourself from the virus if you are forced to work even in the midst of the raging pandemic?
Provide economic support
The Joint Platform of Central Unions, made up of 10 central unions and several sectoral federations, has published one of the most ambitious and important demand charters for May 1. Among other issues, it demands that all families (who do not pay income tax) receive direct financial support of 7,500 rupees per month for the coming months to make up for the loss of income they are doomed to. suffer as a result of the pandemic. and / or the restrictions imposed because of it.
In addition, the Joint Platform demanded that all families receive 10 kg of food grains per person for the next three months.
These two requirements, while minimal, will help the country’s vast workers, as most of them depend on daily income through forced labor, and fall ill or have to stay home due to COVID r
It also happened last year, causing widespread distress and hunger. Last year the government distributed a measly Rs. 500 per month to all Jan Dhan account holders, who are only a fraction of the poor. The government had also released an additional 5 kg of food grains per person last year for a few months. Once again, this was very insufficient and in any case, it left millions of people aside.
The request for the joint platform is therefore much more complete and will be able to provide some support to the vulnerable population, already very weakened by the flawed policies of the last year.
Requests for May 1, 2021
Here is the full charter of the Joint Platform’s request:
Speed up vaccine production and ensure free universal vaccination within a defined timeframe. Ensure a free supply of oxygen in crises as in the current situation.
Make sure hospital beds, oxygen, and other medical facilities are adequate to deal with the COVID surge.
3. Discard the pro-company discriminatory anti-people vaccination policy
4. Strengthen the public health infrastructure, in particular by recruiting the necessary health personnel.
Any order under the Disaster Management Act issued by an authority imposing movement restrictions, curfews, etc., must accompany a strict order to all employers and those affected prohibiting dismissals, pay cuts and evictions from residences, etc.
6.Remove the anti-worker labor codes and anti-people farm laws and the electricity bill.
7. Stop privatization and divestment.
8. Cash transfer of Rs 7,500 per month for all families not subject to income tax.
9.10 kg of free food grains per person per month for the next six months.
10. make sure non-COVID patients receive effective treatment in public hospitals
11. Make sure that protective equipment, equipment, etc. is available. for all healthcare and frontline workers and those engaged in pandemic management work, including ASHAs and Anganwadi employees, as well as comprehensive insurance coverage for all
Fight against the pandemic
It is appropriate to note in this charter all the requirements for a better equitable management of the pandemic. The unions demand that the production of vaccines be accelerated and that universal and free vaccination be carried out within a specific timeframe.
This may seem obvious to any reasonable mind – but unfortunately, in India, the central government has shifted the production and sale of COVID vaccines to private manufacturers who plan to sell the vaccine at exorbitant costs to state governments.
The Serum Institute of India, the giant claiming to be one of the world’s largest vaccine makers, sells its Covishield vaccine (the same as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine) to state governments at Rs.300 per dose while Covaxin’s Bharat Biotech will be sold by them to the States for Rs. 400 per dose. For private hospitals, the price will be Rs. 1,200. This makes Indian vaccines one of the most expensive in the world.
Covishield is priced at 1.78 euro (Rs 160) in Europe and $ 4 (Rs 300) in the United States and Bangladesh; at Rs. 237 in Brazil; and at Rs. 226 in the UK, according to the Joint Platform. This is yet another example of how the Modi government allows the private sector to profit from the misery of the people.
In addition to universal and free vaccines, the Joint Platform also calls for public health infrastructure to be strengthened (through public spending), for new trained staff to be recruited in hospitals and health centers, for oxygen supply to be increased and insured for all who need it.
Importantly, he also demanded that ASHA workers and anganwadi workers / helpers, who constitute the vast health workforce in the villages and urban residential settlements of workers, receive adequate protective equipment and insurance coverage. to carry out the crucial work of public awareness, guaranteeing primary health and nutrition, by liaising with primary and secondary health centers, which they have been doing tirelessly for a year.
Prevent job losses and evictions
The joint platform also raised the crucial demand that the use of the Disaster Management Act to impose restrictions on movement or closure of workplaces should be such that it simultaneously ensures that no worker is not at risk of losing their job, that wages for the period during which work is stopped are paid in full and that landlords do not evict tenants for not being able to pay rent for the period during which they do not earn.
These demands were also raised last year, but the refusal to accept them led to the agonizing mass return migration last April, where migrant workers returned home to remote villages in the hundreds of thousands, many of them died on the way.
In a move beyond imagination, the Modi government took advantage of the pandemic period to pass several laws that would put workers’ jobs and incomes at risk. He also passed laws to privatize agriculture and cede the food grain trade to private traders. These measures would increase job insecurity and lower wages, while forcing farmers and agricultural workers to become slaves to big business.
Sadly, a government that is happy to allow pharmaceutical companies to make superb profits in the face of this most dire situation has few qualms about allowing employers to engage in massive cutbacks and landowners in massive evictions. That is why trade unions must fight to protect the fundamental right to life of workers.
May 1 muted – but the resolution is firm
This May 1 or Labor Day may be even more muffled than last year, because this time the destruction caused by the pandemic is much greater and adds to the misery of the past year. Workers in small groups are expected to hold the traditional hoisting of red flags at the gates of factories across the country. There will also be online meetings.
As the May 1 demand charter notes, the fight continues against the privatization of public sector companies, for the abolition of anti-worker and anti-farmer laws, and for economic justice.
But the struggle to save the country’s population from the sting of the pandemic is closely linked to the struggle for economic survival. And this May 1 will be for committing to achieve both – with determination and energy.