As late as 22nd July 2020, the US government insisted that all schools across the US must open and resume full in-person instruction. The Press Secretary of the US government Ms Kayleigh McEnany even said that “science must not stand in the way of this”. The drive to reopen schools is a crucial component of the broader “return to work” campaign of the capitalist class of the US, which is trying to make workers and working people accept unsafe conditions at the schools and workplaces. It comes at a time when the working people all over the USA are protesting against unsafe working conditions.
School teachers have been vigorously emphasising that schools must not be reopened for person-to-person instruction unless the conditions are indeed safe to do so. Tens of thousands of teachers, parents and students across the country have participated in rallies, protests at school board meetings and car caravans in opposition to the ultimatum for the reopening of the schools.
As a direct consequence, on 23rd July 2020, US President Donald Trump announced at a White House news conference that some schools “may delay” their reopening in “virus hot spots.”
Protests have taken place throughout the first three weeks of July in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Colorado, Utah and Kentucky, among others.
Over 700 nurses have been on strike at the AMITA St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois for over three weeks in July 2020. The nurses, who began their strike on July 4 are demanding improvements that are necessary for all health care workers, particularly during the pandemic: safer patient-to-nurse ratios, improved wages and job security.
In 2018, AMITA was taken over by St. Louis-based Ascension Health. This is USA’s largest so-called non-profit health system and the largest Catholic health system in the world with 160,000 employees. Ascension Health, which operates 150 hospitals in the US, has received at least $211 million from the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This supposed “non-profit” has $15.5 billion in cash reserves and operates a venture capital fund and an investment advisory firm that helps other companies manage their money. In other words, they are making even more profits by investing their profits. When he retired last year, Ascension CEO Anthony Tersigni was given at least $90 million as compensation since 2014.
The management of Ascension is savagely exploiting its workers, including nurses. It is demanding a wage freeze in the first year of a three-year contract, and a below inflation two percent raise in each of the last two years. Nurses are supposed to get two raises per year based on increasing years of experience and Cost of Living Allowance (COLA). But the management has proposed zero COLA and just giving raises based on years of experience in the second and third years.
Airbus workers in France and Germany held coordinated protests on July 8, 2020 against the plans of the aircraft manufacturer to cut 15,000 jobs.
Around 8,000 French Airbus workers staged a 90-minute strike and lined a runway at Toulouse airport to protest the planned job cuts. They held up banners opposing the job cuts, saying “No compulsory redundancies”.
German Airbus workers in Hamburg set out 2,000 empty chairs symbolising the 2,000 proposed job cuts. Their colleagues in the Bavarian city of Augsburg released balloons bearing slogans.
Of the 15,000 job cuts, 1,600 are to be made in Spain. A protest was organised in the third week of July in Getafe in the outskirts of Madrid, while protests are being planned in the plants located in the Spanish cities of Seville, Cadiz and Albacete too.
Around 1,500 local government employees at the east London borough (ward) of Tower Hamlets began a three-day strike on 15th July 2020. The strikers included social workers, housing staff, teaching assistants and refuse collectors.
The workers are opposing the city council’s imposition of a new contract known as “Tower Rewards.” Under the contract, newly employed council staff would be on lower pay rates, receive lower night-working payments and incremental payments. Also, severance pay if a workers is laid off would be 80 percent lower than currently. The Tower Hamlets council imposed the new contract on July 6, 2020, sacking two-thirds of its workforce of around 4,000 and reemploying them on the inferior “Tower Rewards” contract.
In recent years, miners at state-owned coal mines have taken multiple actions across Ukraine to draw attention to the problems facing them.
In the latest actions, protests by Ukrainian miners and their families in Kiev, began on June 30 and ended after 11 days, with the workers winning their demands. The miners were from both state owned as well private mines across the country. The workers were demanding payment of wage arrears and for mining to be restarted in closed coal mines.
The strike was called off after the Ukrainian government guaranteed that the idle coal mines will resume operations, wage arrears will be paid, and purchase of coal extracted in Ukrainian coal mines will be resumed.
Israeli social workers are on indefinite strike since July 6. As the strike entered its second week, social workers held demonstrations at road junctions across the country, holding up signs reading, “Dying Welfare, Crushed Society,” and “Children at Risk.” Earlier, striking social workers protested outside the home of the Finance Minister, Yisrael Katz.
The strike began after talks between the Israel Union of Social Workers and the Israeli Finance Ministry broke down on July 5, 2020. The workers are protesting low pay and heavy workloads along with threats of violence against them. According to the union, there are around 1,000 social work post vacancies as employers struggle to fill them because of poor conditions and pay.
Meanwhile, nurses across Israel are preparing to go on strike against staff shortages and low pay, which are worsening the pressure of dealing with increasing workload due to the pandemic. There is a shortage of nurses, with around 1,500 vacancies and some 800 nurses in quarantine because of exposure to COVID-19 patients.
Thousands of nurses in Zimbabwe are continuing their strike for a living wage. They are doing so in the face of savage state repression. Nurses are being indiscriminately arrested and kept in dirty, overcrowded police cells to break their spirit. Nurses have to spend nights in lockup, and forced to pay heavy fines or bail amounts.
The government is treating the strike as a state security issue without addressing the reasons for the nurses’ anger. The strikers face fines between Z$200 and Z$500 under laws banning rallies and demonstrations, as well as other public gatherings. The laws were passed using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext. Despite this, the nurses have remained on strike.
Health workers in Western Cape Province, South Africa, went on strike Monday, 13 July 2020, protesting against unsafe working conditions. The workers demonstrated over the lack of running water, personal protective equipment (PPE) and ineffective social distancing at the clinic.
In the neighbouring province of Kwazulu-Natal, health workers are raising concerns over rising infections amongst workers, the shortage of PPE and the failure to decontaminate workspaces. Earlier, staff at a hospital in Pietermaritzburg went on strike over poor working conditions after the recent deaths of two nurses from the virus.
Doctors from the government-run Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad organised a protest on 13 July 2020, demanding the immediate payment of a risk allowance and salary increments announced in September 2019. The Young Doctors Association (YDA) spearheading the protest ignored threats by hospital administrators that “strict action” would be taken against protesting doctors.
The doctors’ protest is the latest in a series by PIMS medical staff and includes action by the nursing students over the non-payment of stipends and for the provision of personal protective equipment. It has been reported in the media that 200 workers at the hospital have been infected with COVID-19 and three have succumbed to the disease. The doctors later called off the protest after the officials from the Ministry of Health Services agreed to address their concerns.
Around 300 nurses from the 2,300-bed Kandy General Hospital in Central Sri Lanka, demonstrated outside the facility on Monday, 13 July 2020, to demand overtime payments according to previously agreed pay scales for the pandemic period. The nurses say they have been working four to eight additional hours but have not been paid promised salary rates. The Kandy nurses’ protest is the latest in the series of struggles launched by nurses in many parts of Sri Lanka against the cancellation of overtime pay and paid leave during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over 2,000 garment workers from the Dipta Apparels factory in the Shampur area of Savar, Bangladesh, protested outside their factory on Sunday, 12 July 2020. They were demanding unpaid salaries for June and reopening of the factory. They blocked a local road for several hours.
Workers also demanded payment of outstanding bonuses and the July Eid festival holiday allowance. The workers are members of the Bangladesh Garments and Shilpa Sramik Federation and National Garment Workers’ Federation.
The factory management had earlier announced a three-day plant shutdown on July 1, 2020 blaming a drop in orders. However, it later announced that the closure was indefinite.