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Concerns And Challenges Of Working Class In Post-Pandemic Era – OpEd

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A global economic recession and Covid-19 have shambled the world’s economic structure from top to bottom. Countries are trying their best to preserve their economies in this pandemic period by adapting some non-capitalist policies, which have exposed the flaws of neoliberal policies and corporate-friendly measures that largely emerged after the post-Cold War.

While governments and mainstream media are thinking about the stock markets and the oil industry, the issues of unorganized workers and other poor laborers in the informal economy is not gaining much attention with respect to the pandemic rehabilitation measures.  The global economic organizations are mainly considering the economic giants and huge corporate companies rather than formulating policies to accommodate the huge number of workers who are facing the threat of unemployment.  In United States of America (USA) around 30 million people have filed initial unemployment claims. It is expected that the unemployment rate will hit 14per cent in April [1]. Last week around 3.8 million people sought for unemployment benefits [2]. The situation in Europe is not different. Europe suffered a lot from pandemic and still suffering in the form of economic crisis.  In Europe around 60 million workers are facing the threat from pandemic. In this around 55 million workers are retailers, construction workers and other informal, as well as unorganized, workers who are in high risk categories [3]. This is not only going to affect the economic structure of Europe, but it is also going to affect the social structure. 

The so-called liberal democratic governments have failed to consider the worries of workers. If there was a planned economy in these nations, the rate of unemployment could be reduced. If there was a system where the government had more control of the economy rather than business oligarchs, the poverty and unemployment could be reduced. From history we can see the efficiency of a planned economy during a serious economic crisis or recession.  During the Great Depression of 1929 and the early 1930’s, the Soviet Union was able to maintain their economy by implementing policies such as five year plans and collectivization. The diversification of Soviet economy by introducing rapid industrialization made them possible to establish a strong base in global economy. If governments will not take necessary actions and policies to revive their economy without considering the thousands of millions of workers and their families, it will lead to mass poverty, which is the most dangerous ‘Virus’ spread by the capitalism since its origin.

Still in Chains

According to the latest report of International Labour Organization (ILO) around 1.6 billion workers in the informal sector are under the threat of immediate danger of losing their jobs and livelihoods. The lockdowns, quarantine measures and other strict actions to contain pandemic without efficient planning made the situation of workers very difficult. The economic crisis has affected around 3.3 billion global workforce and also their livelihood. The crisis has resulted in a drop of 81percent in the income of informal workers in Africa and Americas [4]. These figures are not a good sign, especially for the developing and underdeveloped nations.

 In Africa many nations are still facing the threat of ebola. Countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and other countries are still suffering from cholera, ebola and other health crisis. Even though there is a slight progress of the health sector in these nations, they are not still capable of facing a huge pandemic like covid-19. The present pandemic has exposed the inefficiency of the health sector, especially the public health sector in so-called developed nations. The public health sector is not efficient in poor nations. Not only that, Africa still continues to be the medical lab of Global North to test their vaccines and drugs [5]. The unemployment and destroyed economy will adversely affect African and other Tricontinental nations. This is because most of these nations are depending on developed nations for technology and financial assistance. 

The economic crisis will force the developed nations to reduce financial assistance and other aid to poor nations. Unemployment in USA and Europe will also affect the Tricontinental nations. There are millions of migrant workers in USA, Europe and in West Asia. The unemployment will not only affect the workers but also affect their country’s economies. Countries such as Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Pakistan, North African countries and many other developing and underdeveloped countries receive a major share to their economies from migrants who work abroad. If migrant workers return to their homeland, the governments should take necessary actions to rehabilitate them. But in the present context it will be a great challenge to accommodate millions of migrant workers.  

According to the United Nations there are 164 million migrant workers worldwide [6]. In these, many workers are not yet financially stabilized. The sudden lockdown in many countries and the prohibition of all kinds of transportation, has made the situation of these workers dangerous. Many workers cannot afford the health care system of these developed nations. Even the poor citizens of these nations are struggling to access this expensive health care. Without strengthening the public health sector it is not possible to ensure universal health care. In the future the lack of public health care will again affect the migrant workers, as well as poor citizens. It is the responsibility of companies and firms to ensure the welfare of their workers. Governments also have the responsibility to ensure the security and rights of workers.

Post-Pandemic Challenges

Recently, we observed May Day or International Labor Day, the day in which we commemorate the sacrifice and struggle of the working class to gain labor rights. ‘8 hours work’ and other rights are the result of global working class movements. These movements also developed the class consciousness and awareness about the rights among working class. The post-pandemic period is going to be a great challenge for laborers, especially those who are working in corporate sector.  There are millions of workers in multinational companies who are now suffering from unemployment and the lack of financial assistance. The future of these workers is going to be more miserable. Recently some CEOs and industrialists of various multinational companies and corporate firms have talked about extending working hours. Two years ago, Elon Musk (CEO of The Space X and Tesla) said that the weekly working hours must be increased to 80-90 hours in a week. Working for 80-90 hours a week could mean working 11 to 15 hours a day [7]. Recently the co-founder of Infosys NR Narayana Murthy said that Indians should work for 60 hours a week for next 2-3 years to revive the Indian economy [8].

 It is sure that the capitalist governments including the pro-USA governments will go along with these multi-billionaires, not only to revive the economies of their countries, but also to preserve the interests of the capitalist class. Even in this age of fourth industrial revolution, the working class is facing a lot of injustice and ignorance. Last year we saw hundreds of working class movements all over the world. Still now the workers of the Amazon are in protest against insecure working conditions and inadequate safety protections [9]. In India thousands of workers are protesting and demanding food and aid. The workers are also protesting against the continuing ignorance of the government towards laborers, including internal migrant workers [10]. 

It is not the pandemic that has caused this serious condition for workers. Even though the pandemic has accelerated the crisis of workers, these hardships have been in the system from the beginning of capitalism. According to Oxfam International, the world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the global population [11]. The gap between rich and poor is increasing. It is sure that the virus of inequality and poverty will spread more and more. The post-covid-19 will be a great challenge to global working force.

*Edwin Joy is pursuing post graduate degree in Political Science at Central University of Punjab.

References

[1] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/30/economy/unemployment-benefits-coronavirus/index.html

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/30/weekly-jobless-claims-unemployment/

[3]   https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/19/business/europe-jobs-coronavirus-mckinsey/index.html

[4] https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_743036/lang–en/index.htm

[5] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52151722

[6] https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/migration/index.html

[7] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/03/elon-musk-works-80-hour-weeks–heres-how-that-impacts–your-health.html

[8] https://www.theindianwire.com/business/indians-should-work-for-60-hours-a-week-for-next-2-3-year-to-fast-track-economic-revival-narayan-murthy-270631/

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/01/retail-workers-at-amazon-and-whole-foods-coordinate-sick-out-to-protest-covid-19-conditions

[10] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/coronavirus-lockdown-migrant-workers-demanding-to-return-to-home-states-clash-with-cops-in-gujarats-surat-stone-throwing-tear-gas-reported-2223013

[11] https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/worlds-billionaires-have-more-wealth-46-billion-people


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