Workers march to places of infections and death!

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Workplaces have become places of infection. Yet the government has eased the lockdown and opened the economy and workplaces as of May 1st 2020. It is not as if the government does not know that workplaces are infection hotspots. On 27 April the Minister of Health said: “There is a change in pattern. We are seeing cluster outbreaks in workplaces that were originally identified as essential services”.In the same article, in the Mail & Guardian in which the Minister is quoted, the following is reported: Health officials have identified large numbers of cases in factories and among shopping centre workers, who have been declared necessary to the economy during the lockdown” (My emphasis).

More disconcerting, infections are occurring in pharmaceutical companies. Normally such companies are obliged to take stringent health measures in order to produce medicines. Yet, under COVID-19 where the measures are more stringent, infections have taken place in Adcock Ingram Aeroton and GlaxoSmithKline (in the Western Cape). Many other essential companies, including Clover in Bloemfontein, have also registered infections of workers. With the opening of the economy, millions of workers are going to return to work. They are forced to do so by starvation, no or reduced wages/salaries and the need to settle water and electricity bills, rent, loans, mortgages and other debts.

Why then, open factories and other workplaces?We won’t find an explanation in the science of the pandemic. There are two simple reasons. First, the priority of the government is the protection of the interests of white monopoly capital. This has been the case for the past 25 years of government rule – the austerity budgets, and the worshipping of the credit rating agencies are indicators of this capitalist servility. During the lockdown, we witnessed capital applying pressure on the state to ease the lockdown. The wine growers and exporters did it; the mining bosses did too and got their way.

The second reason is that to combat COVID-19, it requires a huge mobilisation of the wealth and resources of the country in the areas of funds, food, medicines, health and housing facilities. Long-existing chronic unemployment, poverty and underlying diseases necessitate the marshaling of these resources on an unprecedented scale. Make no mistake, the government knows this. Many analysts and medical experts have made many public statements urging the government to do this.

From where is the government to obtain these necessary resources?From white monopoly capital, of course!! Who else owns the banks, the food industry, pharmaceutical industry, and private hospitals and clinics? But this is precisely the problem for the government. To do what is necessary to protect the masses and defeat the COVID-19 virus, white monopoly capital has to be forced to give up some of their wealth and resources. This is what the government does not want to do. Instead the state sends workers to the places of infections, and possible death. It prefers to rely on charity and philanthropy rather than invading the wealthy enclaves of white monopoly capital.

As the working class organised in workplaces and communities, our demand should be:

  1. The reversal of the easing of the lockdown;
  2. The setting up of a comprehensive, emergency plan to provide food, full wages/salaries and mass testing;
  3. The passing of regulations exempting the payment of rent, water and electricity, loans, mortgages and other debts for a period of three months;
  4. Compulsory testing of essential workers who are working;
  5. Provision of PPE including, but not limited to, masks and gloves;
  6. Exposed workers to be quarantined and be on paid special leave of 8 weeks;
  7. Infected workplaces to shutdown and workers paid full wages/salaries;
  8. Free and safe transport to work and back;
  9. Risk Allowance of double pay.

This Opinion Piece article was submitted on 1 May 2020. You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and Karibu! Online (, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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