Coronavirus in Argentina: capitalism at odds with workers’ health and wellbeing

The Argentine comrades of Corriente Socialista Militante discuss the economic and social impact of the coronavirus. The workers cannot be made to pay for this disaster! They will not die so the bosses can continue to enrich themselves!

Read the original in Spanish

We are living in strange times. The events of the past few weeks have coincided with the anniversary of the Great Depression on 9 March 1929. And now the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened to tip humanity into a new economic and social catastrophe.

Life as we knew it merely two months ago has been turned on its head, and we don’t know for how long. The situation is changing day by day: a new reality is beginning to manifest. Borders are closed, public services remain at very basic levels, public transport, trains, buses and planes are out of operation until further notice. Factory performance measures are below usual capacity.

Humanity is faced with a novel situation, where the historic crossroads between socialism and capitalist barbarism becomes ever clearer. The corrupt system of private ownership of the means of production, along with governments whether reactionary, or so called ‘progressive’, bear total responsibility for the pandemic and the resulting chaos and fear that has resulted from it. The lies, suffering and repression bind humanity to poverty and destitution.

Stock markets collapse day by day, and on Thursday 19 March, major shares fell in value once again. The start of the trading day saw a new turbulent session on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Dow Jones was down 2.9 percent in the early stages. The S&P 500 dropped 2.7 percent and Nasdaq, 1.3 percent. Volatility indices continued to reach record highs. Dow Jones later fell 1.2 percent. Wednesday 18 March was a day filled with huge losses. Dow Jones, which ended up plunging 10 percent, closed with a drop of 6.3 percent.

Just three days ago, oil plummeted almost 25 percent: its lowest level in 18 years. European and Asian stock markets sank close to 6 percent. Wall Street fell over 6 percent. Argentina’s country risk surpassed 4,000 points, its S&P Merval Index took a dive and ADRs dropped.

The London Stock Exchange, as with Dow Jones and FTSE, fell in value by over 25 percent. Meanwhile, the global economy came to a halt. Unemployment rises continuously in many countries. The Managing Director of the IMF has warned of an upcoming reduction in the forecasts for the global economy, whilst economies facing enormous difficulties, such as the Italian economy, may slip into a recession.

Argentinian shares fell 28.4 percent in the New York Stock Exchange. Against the backdrop of the tumultuous fall in oil in the US (-25 percent), YPF recorded the highest drop. This took place as the New York Stock Exchange plummeted over six percent.

banker with graph socialist appealStock markets collapse day by day, only socialist revolution can put an end to this anarchy / Image: Socialist Appeal

Capitalism is suffering a crisis of global proportions. The ruling class attributes this crisis to the novel coronavirus. However, the virus is simply bringing to the surface the mounting poverty and contradictions that have accumulated over decades within the capitalist system. These issues have become more noticeable since 2008.

Global capitalism, and Argentinian capitalism as a local expression of the system, is headed for disaster, and only we the workers can stop it.

Again, millions in the country and the world are confronted with a choice: socialism or barbarism. Only the socialist revolution can put an end to the calamity of a system which has led us to abject ruin.

Health conditions

Health conditions in Latin America differ across the continent. If we were to look at the Southern Cone, the amount of hospital beds to patients during a pandemic such as this puts Chile in a difficult situation. If we look at the spread of the pandemic to Chile, we would expect a total of around 100,000 cases, 15 percent of which (15,000 patients) would require in-patient oxygen therapy and 5 percent of which (5,000 patients in critical condition) would need an ICU bed with a respirator.

However, Chile has around 1,000 ICU beds available which would be needed for at least 70 days, as this is how long the epidemic is expected to last. “The public healthcare system has 592 beds available, but we can add another 1,000 or so from the private sector and repurpose other beds to bring the total up to 1,500,” said Senator Guido Girardi of the Democratic Party (PPD).

According to Argentina’s Ministry of Health’s integrated health information system (2018), the country has 4.5 in-patient beds per thousand people. Most of the spaces are located in Buenos Aires (7.1 per thousand) and the provinces of Córdoba (5.9) and Buenos Aires (5). Fewer than the 8-10 beds recommended by WHO.

“The resources available to the Argentinian healthcare system are reserved for the most severe cases.” Dr Rosa Reina, chairwoman of the Argentinian Society of Intensive Care (SATI), dictates that potential patients must exhibit the following symptoms: “difficulty breathing, hypoxia (oxygen deficiency in the blood), low blood pressure and cyanosis, among other symptoms.” Reina lists approximately 950 intensive care units in the country. There are 3-4.5 beds available per thousand, equalling about 160,000 beds. “The gap is due to the number of available healthcare staff, especially nurses, which has resulted in a reduction of active beds,” she explains. (Infobae 20/03/2020).

What’s more, 40 percent of the population live in sometimes abject poverty. This poverty has persisted without a remedy for decades and has intensified under Cambiemos (Macri’s party voted out of office in December 2019).

Proposing this segment of the population engages in social distancing is laughable; overcrowding is part of their daily experience. They are malnourished and are faced with serious environmental sanitation issues. They do not have a sewage system and are in poor health. Globally, deaths are predicted to reach the thousands, and the government is not providing the resources necessary to improve the situation.

Capitalists in crisis

Undoubtedly, capitalists are attempting to profit from the coronavirus pandemic by any means possible and continue to worsen the population’s living and working conditions.

In Argentina, a series of measures have been proposed in advance, mostly in the public service sector. Classes have been suspended, borders closed and public events called off. Some are working from home. A number of provinces have also had quarantine measures implemented. Some of them after being heavily affected by dengue fever, such as Chaco and Corrientes. In the case of Salta and Jujuy, this was necessary after a few infected inhabitants broke quarantine. But we are firm in our belief that this has nothing to do with the behaviour of the individual, but rather the collective actions taken.

It is mainly in the private sector where production continues as it did during the economic and social crisis before, which is now being aggravated by the pandemic. The private sector threatens workers, it fires them outright and it forces them to carry out tasks beyond their responsibilities.

The International Labour Organisation noted that 25 million more people are expected to be unemployed once the COVID-19 crisis ends.

The tasks of the working class

We workers know from experience that the big bosses do nothing to ease our suffering, which the COVID-19 crisis continues to worsen.

We should take on the tasks which only we can ensure the success of, and thus become the masters of our own destiny.

We cannot sit on the fence and maintain neutrality. The government hopelessly tries to strike a careful balance; it fails in its endeavours, even more so during crisis. The interests of the worker and the boss conflict with each other and cannot be reconciled.

In times of social and economic crisis and during a pandemic, we advance the slogan of total stoppage. Only essential and emergency services should remain in operation. All the public and private resources of big business must be taken to ensure that demands for more hospitals, beds, artificial respirators, medical staff and nurses are met. We must safeguard wages and jobs, factories which have closed down should be expropriated and put to use by the factory workers. We must dispense with foreign public and private debt once and for all.

We cannot allow the capitalists to make us spend the following days in quarantine as if it were an extended holiday, nor must we accept lay-offs or wage cuts.

The working class must take control and encourage people to mobilise in order to deal with this emergency and the crisis of capitalism. Workers must organise emergency services themselves to ensure that they and their families follow quarantine guidelines, that they have access to food and transport, that they can defend their democratic rights, etc. We cannot trust in the capitalists and bosses to defend the lives of millions of workers. The state always adopts measures which, regardless of whether or not they are beneficial for the worker, are aimed primarily at protecting the property of businesses, bankers and landowners. This is the bourgeois state’s essential nature.

In Argentina, the poorest 10 percent of the population owns approximately 1.5 percent of all wealth, whilst the richest 10 percent holds 32.8 percent. We the workers create this wealth! We built this world up with our own hands! Now is the time to make use of these resources to safeguard our wellbeing.

Let one thing remain clear: it is only by working against the capitalists, their private ownership of the means of production, their profits and their privileges, and by forming a government of workers will we be able to overcome not only COVID-19, but the ruling class which dragged us into this crisis, at the lowest possible cost.

It is imperative that we move towards the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy in order to plan it not out of greed or to benefit the few, as has been the case thus far, but to direct it to fulfil the urgent needs of the only ones who create the wealth: the workers.

We need to build a labour party, a revolutionary party, capable of implementing this programme.