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May 1, 2020

The workers’ future


May 1, 2020

Workers and trade unions celebrate May Day every year to pay homage to Chicago’s workers for scarifying their lives to have the right of an 8-hour working day and better working conditions in 1886.

This day reminds us that all the rights workers enjoy today are the result of the struggle and sacrifices of working people. They won their rights as the result of collective struggle against capitalist system and capitalist ruling class.

May Day 2020 will be different from previous years because of the Covid-19 pandemic. There might not be mass rallies, demonstrations and other public activities but workers and their organisations will express themselves through online activities and statements.

They will pay tribute to their brave brothers and sisters fighting the coronavirus epidemic at the frontlines. Healthcare workers are fighting against the Covid-19 pandemic to save lives. They are even working in dangerous conditions without any proper protective gear and equipment.

Workers in Pakistan in different sectors are facing a similar situation. The lockdown in the country has severely impacted their livelihood. Many top textile brands in the country continue to lay off their labour force without paying wages and compensation. Thousands of industrial workers have so far been laid off. The burden of the economic crisis has simply been transferred to the shoulders of the working class.

In 2020, the working class might be forced to organise struggles for safe and better workplaces. Workers will face safety and health issues when businesses reopen in the coming months. Trade unions and workers movements around the world will need to prepare to face the worst economic crisis of our time.

For instance, workers at some of the biggest corporations in the US are planning an unprecedented wave of strikes for today – May 1, International Workers’ Day. Employees of Amazon, Whole Foods, Walmart, FedEx, Target and Instacart will walk off their jobs, demanding compensation for unpaid leave, hazard pay, sick leave, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies at workplaces.

Many of the workers are part of a growing coalition that will join a May 1 People’s Strike launched by worker cooperatives in Mississippi. This movement has the potential to grow in the US and in other countries once economies reopen.

The American media has reported that President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to order meatpacking plants around the US to remain open. Trump’s executive order comes as US beef, pork and poultry processing plants are linked to areas with the highest rates of coronavirus transmission in the country.

According to Democracy Now, unions say President Trump’s order fails to require on-the-job safety measures that will prevent further illness and death. At least 20 meatpacking workers have died from Covid-19, and thousands have fallen ill from the disease.

More and more workers will be forced to work in dangerous and life-threatening conditions around the world. The labour movement needs a collective plan of action and strategy to resist such moves by the governments.

This May Day comes at a time when the world is facing the biggest health and economic crisis since World War II. The economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have surpassed all the earlier expectations and predictions so far. Even though this pandemic is not over, the economic consequences of lockdowns and mitigation measures have become clear. Major economies in Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia are facing contractions in their economic growth. These contractions can only be compared with the Great Depression of 1929.

There will be negative growth in the major economies and world growth will be -3 percent in 2020. The North America and Euro Zone will be hardest hit by this epidemic. The world economy is going to experience a deep recession not seen since the Great Depression. There will be high unemployment as businesses will shed jobs and there will be massive layoffs in major sectors of the economy.

Deep recession in the American economy will have serious consequences not only for working people in America but also for the world economy. Unemployment rate in the US has already crossed the 20 percent mark. Estimates are showing that it could rise up to 32 percent. This will be the highest ever unemployment rate in the history of the US – more than the days of the Great Depression.

The unprecedented collapse of oil prices, which in the US turned negative for the first time, is a measure of the fall in production that has taken place. It is an extreme case of over-production at a time when there is none or little demand. This will have catastrophic consequences for oil-producing countries in the Middle East, Venezuela and others.

The wages and working conditions of the labour force will be severely impacted in the oil exporting countries. Unemployment will increase and wages further squeeze.

This negative growth and contraction in the economies will have devastating consequences for employment, incomes and livelihood of millions of working people around the world.

According to the ILO, almost half of the entire global workforce could lose their livelihoods because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are around two billion informal workers in the world, out of a total workforce 3.3 billion.

ILO Director General Guy Ryder has said that “For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future. Millions of businesses around the world are barely breathing”. “They have no savings or access to credit”.

The writer is a freelance journalist.