Curfews, deaths, unemployment, school closings … the „Corona Virus“ (1) determines the lives of millions of people. The stories that it is just a „tougher flu“ crumble to dust. That so many believed in the belittlements and distractions, has as well to do with the fact that public awareness of the “new” virus has not been tackled seriously for a long time and the population has been left in the dark. For a long time, the ruling class deliberately trivialized and played down, in order not to disturb „public life“, in particular the movement of goods, production and profit maximization, and to continue to allow the capitalists to undisturbed let others work for their profits.
Is „Corona“ just a „hard flu“? What are we actually talking about?
A prominent trivializer was, for example, Dr. Klaus-Dieter Zastrow, director of the Institute for Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the Vivantes Clinic in Berlin, who still said at the beginning of February: „For us humans, one cannot say that the virus is dangerous“. It was often heard that „much more people would die from the flu“, so what?! Both Dr. Zastrow, as well as those media and propaganda machines of the ruling class, who for a long time tried the flu-comparison, were thereby in contradiction to the numbers that were already known at the beginning of January.
Despite the really dramatic situation in some places (such as in Italy or Spain), it is still the case that the EU, Great Britain, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein together have up to (according to the highest calculations) up to 75,000 flu deaths (of which around 1,500 in Austria), and on average there are more flu deaths in the above-mentioned countries than there have been “corona” deaths worldwide. But the simple reason is that the infection with the seasonal flu viruses (influenza) is far higher than currently with the „Corona-virus“. So it is anything but difficult, that with this wrong comparison the normal flu appears „more dangerous“ than „Corona“. In order to be able to seriously compare the general mortality rates („lethality“) of the two viruses, not the concrete “result” can be used as a comparison, but an equal degree of infection must be the assumed calculation basis, for example how many out of 10,000 infected people die. If you do that, things look very different, because then you can see that influenza has a lethality of 0.2%, whereas the corona virus has between 2.3% and 3.8% (2). Expressed in real numbers, this means that 20 people die from an international average of 10,000 infected with influenza, while 230 die from “Corona” (if the minimum value is assumed to be 2.3%). The flu-corona comparison is not only trivializing and therefore misleading, but also extremely negligent and simply wrong! In addition, trivialization is particularly dangerous, because as our brief example assumes a number of only 10,000 infected people as a basic assumption, it is in fact highly unlikely that with viral diseases there are „only“ tens of thousands of infected people, rather hundreds of thousands have to be assumed. That brings us to another point: the spread of the virus. Again, the trivializing comparison that leads to the attitude that it would only be a „hard flu“ is simply wrong! Because the known influenza is transmitted at 1: 1,28 / 2. This means that an infected person infects an average of 1.28 to 2 other people. With “Corona” this ratio is significantly higher, namely at 1: 2,5 / 3,8. An infected person infects on previous average 2.5 to 3.8 other people. This means that the „corona-virus“ has at least twice the spread of „normal“ flu. It is therefore a fact, that „Corona“ represents a much greater risk potential than the flu, despite all the alleged „comparisons“ of the people who appease and trivialize. It is of course true that children, young people and ordinary healthy adults are relatively little affected by serious consequences. The lethality of the corona-virus is primarily distributed among the elderly and the pre-diseased people, but they are affected even harder.
It is the „natural“ cynicism of capital, that a disease that is particularly dangerous for the elderly and the burdened sick is at first played down and not taken seriously. Because these groups mostly produce little profit socially, so they are in a sense „problem cases“ for capital. Therefore, the matter is only taken more seriously if epidemics go so far that they endanger the operation of „the economy“, that is, the epidemics progress so far that the average workforce is also increasingly absent. The example of Volkswagen (VW) shows this in an excellent way: Only now, in Italy and Spain, where hundreds of people die every day from the consequences of a corona infection, is VW ready to temporarily shut down plants there. In China, where the virus spread was successfully contained and only dropped to 19 cases per day, VW was one of the first companies to reopen and started operating again in 31 of 33 plants! The pressure to keep profit high, coupled with the cynicism of capital and the public downplaying and downplaying of the situation, meant that for a very long time no measures were taken to safeguard and protect public health. The revenge is now bitter.
The current situation should be a lesson to all those who have believed the trivialization and appeasement too long. It should always be kept in mind that in a class society everything is also a class question, including health care and people’s health, and there is no reason why you should suddenly have trust in the capitalists and their governments, especially concerning health matters.
The situation in Europe.
Just as the story of „Corona is like the flu“ evaporates, so does the supposedly class-neutral „European solidarity“, of which the ruling classes in the EU like to talk about. In this political crisis, the EU turns out to be more and more obiously what it has always been: an alliance of imperialists under the leadership of France and Germany. For example, while the EU member Italy (where funerals have to take place every half hour in the worst affected regions) urgently needs protective masks, the ruling classes of Germany and France stopped their protective mask exports. This export freeze is also causing problems for Serbia, because there are major problems (even if the „corona virus“ in this country still has a comparatively low confirmed spread): Serbia, too, can no longer buy protective masks in Europe and has now ordered five million units from China, but also doctors were requested from China, because in Serbia there was a drastic shortage of medical personnel long before „Corona“, because young people with appropriate education often leave the country, because semi-colonial exploitation and oppression makes every perspective impossible . In many cases, these labour forces are pressured to leave their home country and earn money abroad, so that the family can be supported. This “blessing” is also conferred by the imperialists of the EU, for example Austria, Germany and France, because the majority of the medical staff who are lacking in Serbia then work there. This example shows that on an international scale, the population of the (semi)colonial countries is particularly at risk from the current epidemic.
This forced emigration of young labour forces is an important factor, that the society in Serbia itself is above average. More than 20% are pensioners, so they belong to an age group that is particularly affected by the „corona-virus“. If there the infection with the virus increases quickly, the already rotten health-care system is on the brink of collapse, especially if additional staff and medical equipment are missing. Such a collapse can also be imminent in Italy, where medical personnel in many parts of the country are already working 14 days in a row and only have one day off afterwards, which is justified by „special measures“. In fact, this not only means a massive increase in the intensity of work, but because overworked and drained, medical personnel themselves are also more susceptible to infectious diseases. This is not only a disaster for the infected, but can also increase the spread of the virus in health-care facilities, so that the virus can be transmitted more easily by hospital staff to people who are actually in the hospital because of other complaints. The severe lack of personnel and equipment in the hospitals can therefore have disastrous consequences for both the sick parts of the population and the medical staff.
The fact that the virus was able to spread so quickly within Europe, but especially within the EU, has of course also to do with the internal opened borders, a sacred cow of economic cartels and capital. It was not without reason, that on 16th of March the German Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned massively about border closures and also French President Macron criticized the „unilateral, uncoordinated decisions on the borders“. Both emphasized that the uninhibited and free movement of goods must be preserved and thereby they express one of the greatest interests of the imperialists: profit must not be disturbed, with or without virus. That is why a storm of chauvinism and imperialist outrage spread in the German media when Poland closed its border. That is not surprising, how else should German capital quickly receive the daily commuting labour forces from Poland (field workers, nursing staff, etc.) from Poland?! The EU’s Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton, put it even more precisely. He stressed in a statement on the 16th of March that the „war with the virus“ was an „economic war“. They are not concerned with the recently unemployed or the bankruptcy of small businesses, but with maintaining their internal market, which is of course not the reason, but an important part of the problem of the extremely rapid spread of the virus. The spread is progressing so rapidly that the World Health Organization has described Europe as the „epicenter of the pandemic“. The fact that the EU finally closed its external borders is a completely senseless measure, that above all corresponds to a chauvinistic policy, to the fairy tale of the “enemy standing before our borders”, but does not change anything at all about the virus spread within the EU.
The semi-colonial oppression and exploitation of entire nations, the austerity measures that have led to a desolate public health care system and the internal market and free movement of goods enforced by the EU alliance are problems that were brought to us by the imperialists and are now defended by the ruling classes, at the expense of the peoples. The „Solidarity of the EU“ is nothing more than the solidarity among the cartels of the ruling classes within the EU, the solidarity of the imperialists, for which they also walk over dead bodies. This has now become obvious once again. The peoples and the workers movement must oppose this with international solidarity, with the struggle against the imperialists and their unscrupulous plans for the increasing exploitation of the masses.
The general crisis in Austria is deepening by the „Corona-virus“
The extent to which the interests of capital are the first consideration in the measures taken by the ruling class in Austria, to deal with the current political crisis can be seen in a large number of examples. One of the infection “hotspots” was the Tyrolean municipality of Ischgl, known as a skiing paradise and tourist attraction. After ski tourists from Iceland returned to Iceland with a “Corona” infection already in early March, the government there declared Ischgl as a risk area on 5th of March and advised against going there. However, the Austrian government did not quarantine the place until 14th of March, because the tourism industry downplayed the problem or wanted to delay the quarantine as long as possible. These criminals accept entire regions to be infected only to continue making profit. Now that the quarantine has been enforced, they dismiss the workers without scruple and at the same time have the nerve to claim for a billion of Euros for support money (“tourism billion”). Wages and working conditions in this sector are miserable, everyone knows that. Nevertheless, the tourism employees generate many millions per season, which only end up in the pockets of hoteliers, landowners (ski slopes!), Ski lift operators and other tourism capitalists. And those who take such huge profits, now want to use the favor of the hour to tap the taxpayers‘ money in the form of a „tourism billion“.
The hotline 1450, which was set up by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and is intended to help clarify suspected “corona” cases and to register a necessary test, was hardly or at least very difficult to reach for several days. This was due to the fact that the ministries had commissioned a private company for this work, but they reached their limits because of the many calls and could no longer carry out their tasks! Every telephone vote in television shows works more unproblematic, for the Christmas “light-into-the-dark-fundraising shows”, for example, the telephone operation is carried out by hundreds of army soldiers. (Addendum from the editors: Far too late, the training of army soldiers for hotline services only began on the 17th of March). There is no need to argue with health-related expertise, because those who now provide advice via this hotline are normal call center employees, who have been briefed just shortly before starting their work. At the same time, of course, there would be people who would have certain knowledge and skills, such as employees from the social and health sectors. But they currently work (as in care professions) with up to 80 scheduled(!) hours per week, because otherwise the facilities could no longer maintain the care of clients and patients. This already shows what is necessary: a massive increase in personnel in the public social-, education- and health system, instead of cuts, privatizations and savings! For decades, however, exactly the opposite has happened and the various cuts in these areas have been decided by all bourgeois parties over time. The masses must pay now for this facts.
Emergency supply centers are currently being set up at least in the larger cities, and are to be used when the hospital capacity is exhausted. The emergency beds are provided by the cities themselves and are thus far below the number originally planned. Here as well we can see where the money was spent in the past and where cut-backs where made: the army could not provide emergency beds for disasters, because they had to sell them a few years ago under pressure by the Court of Auditors (because „they would not need it“). At the same time, there is money for army operations in the Balkans, or for a joint exercise by the Austrian army in cooperation with NATO troops in Tyrol, as well as for expensive armament specialization in the service of integration into the EU-army. Here as well, the workers and the people have to settle the bill by being less well supplied in an emergency case, but being allowed to call themselves „citizens“ of a country whose army is part of the EU-army and has the dubious „honor“ to hold joint exercises with NATO.
The fact that the workers are affected the most by the current political crisis is shown by the fact that, especially in small and medium-sized towns, many, and in some cases almost all, employees in the catering industry have been laid off and thus have lost their livelihood (until the 16th of March the AMS1 received 16,000 redundancies). Mass redundancies can also be seen at large catering and culinary companies: 800 workers were dismissed from Do&Co, even though Do&Co was able to distribute eight million of Euros to its shareholders last year and, according to its accounts, has retained earnings of over 100 million. Whereas the industry is a bit slower and production continues, even if it is not „existentially important“, such as the car industry. The factories in Vienna Aspern (Opel) or Steyr (BMW) continue to produce without restrictions, which means that hundreds of workers who come together in shift buses, production halls and warehouses are at high risk of infection. The bosses of the industry will only accept a reduction or blocking of production if there is no other way due to an exorbitant risk of infection, which means: if it is actually too late! Although these capitalists have pocketed billions of profits in recent years, short-time working is being implemented. For the workers this means in the first place less wages, but for the capitalists it means also that part of the wages is taken over by the bourgeois state. The latter pays this from the tax money that he draws from the incomes of the masses, which means that the working class indirectly pays a large part of the wages themselves. Short-time work is particularly popular in the industrial sector, because it is often a question of a highly qualified workforce that cannot be fired as quickly and can be hired again after a certain period of time. They are meant to be „kept warm“ for the capitalist, and short-time work is an excellent and extremely cheap way of doing this. At the same time, the same industrial bosses that have been taking billions of profits for decades and are now resorting to public-funded short-time work, are now even screaming for tax relief, as the industrialists’ association has recently requested.
According to the Epidemic Act, employees of companies up to 25 people, as well as one-person businesses, are entitled to compensation for loss of earnings caused by epidemics and pandemics. But law is always the law of the fittest, as everyone knows. Therefore, it is often not worth the paper it is written on. It is the right of the fittest, because the fittest has the political power to twist and apply as it suits him. And that’s the way it is currently with the Epidemic Act, because the government declined by decision on March 15 to apply it in full, precisely because of compensation for loss of earnings! So while the government is preparing aid packages worth billions for the big capitalists and unabashedly financing part of their wages from taxpayers‘ money by means of “short-time work”, all that remains for the employees of small businesses and one-person businesses is hoping that the situation passes as quickly as possible and the damage is not too great, otherwise it will be difficult or impossible to make the cost of living. Many workers and small employees already have loans, simply because everyday life would otherwise be too expensive. “Generously”, the “Erste Bank” man Treichl announced that the banks would of course defer the loan repayments in order to “relieve the lower income brackets in this situation”. But there is also a snag for the working class: Although individual loan repayments are deferred during the „corona crisis“, the loan terms are not extended as a result. This means that the rates that are now suspended are simply distributed to the upcoming rates as soon as the situation “relaxes” again. This will lead to a situation where many can no longer service the loans, with all the bitter consequences …
Quite different, of course, regarding the interests of the capitalists, there it is shown that for the bourgeois politics as a whole (not just the government!) it can not go fast enough to demonstrate their submissiveness. Large trade groups such as REWE or SPAR, for example, are provided – of course free of charge – over 800 soldiers in order to have additional workers for finishing work. The Austrian food market is firmly in the hands of three monopoly groups: REWE (these include Billa, Merkur, BIPA, etc.), HOFER and SPAR. Of course, all three monopoly groups are privately owned by capitalists. These owners have been living forever and a day, from the hard working trade workers for bad wages. The owners became rich through the exploitation of their labor. And now the bourgeois state is providing them free army soldiers, so that they can sell more, faster and more smoothly in their businesses! Of course, as it is usual with soldiers, these soldiers are financed by the state, that is, from our tax money, also from those of the workers in the trade. Hence, the fact that the bourgeois state also places the army at the service of German monopoly groups is not the main side, but therefore not insignificant. The submissive behavior of bourgeois politics not only towards the Austrian, but also towards German monopolies apparently no longer stops in this crisis, look at the example of the airline AUA [Austrian Airlines]. It was sold to the German Lufthansa group as a former state airline, only to find out now that it would survive “the crisis” if it received a government aid program. From the means that are squeezed out by the Austrian state every day and every month from the working class and the people, it not only pays huge sums of money to its own capitalists, but also pays millions, if not billions, to German monopoly companies. There we have it again, the „European solidarity“ of the capitalists.
What is the perspective of the struggle of the working class and the people?
The current political crisis, which is increasingly exacerbating the economical crisis, shows that bourgeois politics can only respond to a pandemic epidemic with measures against the workers and people. Because while that production which is not necessary is still going on in many places and, for example, public transport for everyday commute, which would not necessarily maintain, there are bans on strikes, demonstrations and rallies. It is particularly piquant that, due to the current labor disputes, many such measures (strikes, demonstrations) would have been planned, particularly in the social and health sectors. Employees in these industries demanded nothing more than what they obviously need since a long time: more staff, better equipment, higher wages, shorter working hours.
Of course, the pandemic spread of the corona virus has become more dangerous, and the threat to general people’s health has grown. From the initial trivialization and downplaying of the potential of the virus, bourgeois politics and the media turned to an unprecedented scaremongering. For example, Chancellor Kurz speaks of the fact that we are currently experiencing “Austria’s worst crisis since the Second World War”. Together with the media, bourgeois politics is therefore promoting a “Team Austria”. You don’t know any classes anymore, you only know “virus victims”. This obscures and blurs the fact that it is the workers and the people who bear the cost of fighting the pandemic, that it is them who have to shoulder the burden of the crisis, while the ruling class, even if they are also at risk of infection, does not lose their jobs and, as a result, their apartments, they will not have to fear, not being able to pay the rent or no longer know who should look after their children. Also, it will currently probably not be the same in the expensive private clinics as in the public hospitals and at the panel doctors. A „Team Austria“ is an illusion! In truth there is a „team ruling class“ and a „team working class and people’s masses“. These two „teams“ are in completely different situations and have completely different interests and needs with regard to measures to fight pandemics! Pretending that these differences do not exist is an old trick of the ruling classes, to better control the oppressed and to pretend that they are pulling together and sitting in „one boat“. This is intended to distract the workers‘ movement from pursuing its interests and concerns even in times of the „corona-crisis“. That would have to step back now, because the virus would affect everyone equally. We should not fall for this, but it must be clear: a health system and thus epidemic control in the service of the people are things that must be struggled for, that we will not be given for free, and that ultimately require the overthrow of capital.
It is good to see that spontaneous solidarity among the population is developing in many places across the country, in large cities as well as in small rural communities. Even if the ruling class call these solidarity actions part of the „Team Austria“ for political propaganda reasons, the truth is that there is no „Team Austria“. Because while companies receive billions and even army soldiers for support, for example the single old woman in Vienna-Floridsdorf, who has worked hard all her life, relies on the luck that there is a student apartment in her apartment block, who does the shopping for her. It simply can not be like that! And from the Chancellor down to the journalist, the ruling class and their propagandists have the nerve to speak of a „Team Austria“, despite this obvious inequality?! Millions are fooled! The spontaneous solidarity among the people is extremely good and exemplary, but we should not let us fool, why that is necessary at all: because the bourgeois state prefers to give its resources to those who already have everything, instead of properly supporting and caring for those, who are most at risk from Corona-virus: the old and pre-ill. We expressly support the actions of spontaneous solidarity, but we get never tired of pointing out that these activities are necessary, because those who need them the most are miserably abandoned by the bourgeois state and its institutions. If the forces of the working class and the people do not organize their solidarity themselves, then they are abandoned!
The measures taken by the political parties of the ruling class intervene, at the same time as the legend of the „Team Austria“, especially in the leisure and private life of the workers and the people, as if it would be the „private responsibility“ of everyone to see how the pandemic continues. At the same time, however, people are still waiting in vain for measures such as widespread disinfection in public spaces or the massive free supply of hygiene and disinfectants to be taken. And while disinfectants, hygiene products and protective clothing are sold out in many places and are scarce in hospitals, there are private usurers and speculators, who hoard such products and sell them on the Internet at enormous amounts. Bourgeois politics does not move against these creatures, who want to capitalize on the threatening situation of the masses and the overload of the public health system. The stocks of these usurers and speculators remain untouched and thus withheld from the masses, whose situation deteriorates as a result. At the same time, the entire parliament decides tough measures against, for example, small sports clubs that want to hold a football training session (taking various precautionary measures), despite there are often still a lot more people gathering in tight spaces at workplaces or in public transport. This is completely absurd and shows that it is not primarily the masses that are protected, but that, besides the capitalists, above all criminal rags benefit from the situation! The workers‘ and people’s movement must therefore prepare and equip itself not only to defend itself against increased exploitation by the capitalists and against mass unemployment, but also to prepare to successfully assert against such criminals.
After bourgeois politics and the media, in the face of the spreading of the corona virus, passed over from trivializing and downplaying and started to spread panic and disaster mood, massive interventions in assembly, demonstration and other fundamental rights are justified with reference to „Corona“. The ruling class will try everything possible to maintain these measures beyond what is scientifically necessary to fight epidemic and to integrate them step by step into everyday life. Of course they will try to „take“ as much as possible out of these measures, simply because that are restrictions of political and fundamental rights, which would otherwise not be enforceable. At the end of the „corona-crisis“ there will be a long-term expansion of surveillance and political control by the bourgeois state, which which has to be stroke back and prevented. This means that the workers‘ movement and the people’s masses must be extremely vigilant, that these measures will soon come to an end and we must not be in any way impressed by „exceptions“ and „special laws“. The collective democratic fundamental rights must under no circumstances be further restricted! The struggle against their further restriction must also aim to expand and deepen them. This also means that the struggle to ensure that all those who already have to pay the burdens for the crisis are no longer subjected to any further burdens and the previous deteriorations are reversed!
No passing on of the costs of the „corona crisis“ to the working class and the masses!
No to dismissals, layoffs and short-time work!
The right to continued payment of wages in the case of disease-related leave!
Any time off with continued wages for childcare purposes!
Suspension of rental payments upon dismissal, termination and short-time work!
No loss of income in the case of disease-related layoff, dismissal and short-time work!
Immediate mass distribution of disinfectants and hygiene articles by public bodies free of charge!
For large-scale disinfection measures in public spaces!
No to the EU-army! No to EU-billions for banks and corporations!
No missions abroad by the Austrian Armed Forces!
Zero-interest subsidies for fake self-employed and one-person businesses!
No to the tourism billion!
Recognition of additional tolerance semesters and postponement of exams for students whose universities and schools have been closed!
Deferral of loan repayments and simultaneous extension of loan terms for private individuals!
Immediate increase in medical and educational staff in the institutions of the public health and social system! Simultaneous reduction of working time to 35 hours with full wage and staff compensation!
No further restriction of basic democratic rights! Cancellation of the previous restrictions as soon as possible and without replacement!
For a health service in the service of the people!
Editors of the “Antifascist Action – Information newspaper” (16.3.2020)
(1) The exact name of the virus is SARS-CoV-2, the disease that can be caused by the virus is called Covid-19. Since this does not matter for general language use, we simply stick to the colloquial “Corona” in the article.
(2) The numbers fluctuate so strongly with “Corona” on the one hand, because it has not been observed long enough and various strains, certain (previously continental) mutations of the virus have developed. At the same time, the requirements of people’s health and the public health system in the different countries are so different that it has hardly been possible to make general, internationally average calculations. On the other hand, there is often the problem with these numbers that mortality and lethality are not differentiated in a journalism, unrelated to the subject and in the age of Google research, which also leads to the fact that different numbers circulate on apparently same questions, even though they say very different things.