Over ten days have passed since the 21-day lockdown announced by the Government of India, to contain the spread of Coronavirus. The experience of this first week of the lockdown has brought to light many problems that need to be tackled on a war footing. It is a common struggle which requires the participation of all the people. It requires effective leadership by the government.
Those who work can perform their duty only if their rights are fulfilled. It is the duty of the State to ensure that workers’ rights are protected in the course of fighting against the virus.
A heroic role in being played by doctors, nurses, additional nurse midwives (ANMs), Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers and other health workers, who are serving society at risk to their own lives. It is not enough to applaud their efforts. It is absolutely necessary to fulfil their rights, as a matter of the highest priority.
It is unacceptable that till today, doctors, nurses and paramedical staff in numerous public hospitals and other health facilities across the country have not been provided with the uniforms, gloves, masks and other safety gear recommended by the World Health Organisation. The State is duty bound to provide the best possible safety equipment to the frontline health sector workers and ensure that their families are looked after.
In addition to the health sector workers, there are crores of others who are working hard during the lockdown. There are those working in chemist shops and those employed in processing and supplying milk, bread, eggs, fresh vegetables and other food products. There are workers engaged in keeping public places clean. There are the police and other public and private security staff, who are out on the streets all the time. Workers in the railways, electricity generation and distribution, media, banking, telecom, drinking water supply and other essential services are all working hard to keep our society functioning even in times of such a crisis.
Shortly after the lockdown began, cleaning staff employed by Delhi’s municipal corporations threatened to go on strike if they are not immediately supplied with masks and other protective gear.
While one section of workers are keeping society running, even at risk to their own health, a grave situation has been created for crores of others, especially the daily-wage workers in industry and trade. Crores of daily-wage workers have lost their sources of income. Having no savings to depend on, many of them started walking back to their villages along with their family members. Some of them have died of starvation and exhaustion along the way to their far off villages. Tens of thousands of them are now stuck in various places, turned into refugees in their own country.
Why did so many daily wage workers in cities and towns decide to return to their villages? It is because they did not know how to survive for 21 days without earning any income. The State had no prior plan to take care of them. Nothing was communicated to them about how to survive without work in the cities.
The central and state governments must take responsibility for fulfilling the survival needs of all sections of the people during the lockdown. They must take responsibility for protecting working people from loss of employment or income. They must make capitalist employers pay full wages, failing which workers must be paid out of public funds. This is the meaning of the State taking responsibility to protect workers’ rights and fulfil their needs.
The present situation calls for the highest level of centralised planning and communication to mobilise everyone into action in the fight against coronavirus. The situation calls upon the State to take charge and put to use all available facilities, including private facilities to be requisitioned for social use.
The State must abandon the concept of letting every person fend for oneself, preached by the advocates of liberalisation and privatisation. Experience of all countries, taken together, has shown that leaving everything to the “market forces”, with the State confining its role to that of improving the capitalists’ “ease of doing business”, has not led to prosperity or secure livelihood for all. There is no truth in the claim that capitalist competition, with each one fending for oneself, will lead to the optimal social result, allegedly through the “hidden hand of the market”.
The present crisis points to the need for social planning to become the determining factor of the economy, replacing private profit maximisation and capitalist competition. If essential items of daily consumption are to be kept available, it is imperative to prevent private operators from hoarding such items to reap extraordinary profits. Far from allowing so-called free competition, the State must take charge of the procurement and distribution of all essential articles of mass consumption. It must enforce strict regulation over private interests and take prompt and severe action against anyone who acts against the social plan.
Centralised planning and systematic execution with people’s participation is required, not only to tackle the immediate problem posed by Coronavirus. It is the way forward for tackling all the problems of Indian society.
Communist Ghadar Party of India calls on all the people to strictly follow all the prescribed safety measures, while demanding that the State must fulfil its duty. The authorities must keep people informed and ensure that nobody is made to suffer loss of income or worse. From ensuring supply of essential goods and services, to ensuring free and safe shelter and food for all displaced, homeless and poor people, the State is duty bound to protect the human rights of all members of society.