On the surface, it may appear as if all classes of society are united at this time, both in the fight against the novel Coronavirus and in their desire to resume economic activities as soon as possible. However, beneath the surface, there is an acute conflict between the interests of the working class and the interests of the capitalist class.
Ever since the lockdown began, workers have been concerned about saving their lives and their sources of livelihood. Crores of workers have been struggling for survival, without any income or savings, and many of them without even a place to stay. Such displaced workers want to go to their native places at this juncture. Looking ahead, all workers want to get back to work and earn their livelihood. However, they do not want to be made to work under conditions which are dangerous or even more exploitative than before.
The capitalist class, headed by the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and other monopoly houses, was initially worried about the risk of getting infected. By now the capitalists have taken adequate steps to protect themselves and their own families. And having done so, they are concerned mainly about resuming their businesses. They want to start pocketing profits once again. They are looking for ways to pocket an even higher rate of profit than before, by cutting costs, laying off some of the workers, etc. How to use the current abnormal situation to their own advantage? This has become a major preoccupation of the capitalist class.
The working class cannot accept working in conditions which place them at unnecessary risk to their lives. It is the duty of the State to ensure safe working conditions for workers in all sectors.
One of the controversial issues is that of the accountability of the owners of an enterprise when any worker it employs gets infected with Coronavirus. At the insistence of the associations of capitalist monopoly houses, the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a clarification that the owners will not be held responsible. In the absence of this accountability, all other rules laid down in the Standard Operating Procedure lose their practical significance. Rules about minimum physical distancing at the workplace, keeping one hour gap between two shifts, regular sanitization of the workplace, etc. will remain only on paper.
One of the proposals which capitalist associations have made to the Central Government is to permit a 12-hour shift instead of 8-hour shifts, allegedly in the interest of limiting the spread of Coronavirus! Several state governments have already issued notifications to this effect, including those of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab. This is a major assault on one of the most fundamental rights won by the international working class in the 20th century.
One of the demands put forward by the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry is to suspend the right of workers to form a union, which is provided under the Industrial Disputes Act, for at least the financial year 2020-21. This reflects the concern of capitalists that the present situation may lead to many more workers wanting to form unions and fight to defend their rights.
While the capitalist class will make all possible attempts to use the Coronavirus epidemic as an opportunity to further intensify the exploitation of labour, the working class must take all necessary steps to defend its hard won rights and foil the evil designs of the capitalist class. The situation calls on all parties and organisations of the working class to unite and escalate the struggle in defence of the rights of labour, with the perspective of preparing to usher in workers’ and peasants’ rule in place of the present system of capitalist rule.