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Workers, class consciousness and the ruling class response to COVID

Zain ul Haq

April 23, 2020

In Canada, during a time when we now have millions not working - 4.5 million already having applied for emergency unemployment and a potential unemployment rate of around 25% in the near future - it is causing workers to ask: Why is it that the concept of unemployment exists in the first place? Why do we have a situation where we need to work to avoid economic catastrophe? The answer is complex but we have to recognize one factor that is staring at us in the face, which is the following: We live in a country and indeed in a world, where society is divided into the categories of workers and bosses. This is regardless of the fact that we have now seen quite clearly, as we do during every economic downturn, that bosses and CEO”s are dispensable and in fact a burden, while workers are necessary and are the back bone of the economy.

Jobs that bourgeois society is supposed to view with scorn and pity: grocery store workers, technicians, hospital workers, cleaners, janitors and essential drivers are now being recognized as “essential”, without whom our economy will fall into chaos and poverty. Workers serve as an essential pillar of bourgeois comfort and workers are now seeing it. This pillar developing its own class consciousness could lead to a real challenge to the ruling class.

Cutting corners

Jolson Lim, with IPolitics reports that an analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, authored by Economist David Macdonald, reveals that one third of the 2.7 million unemployed work force will get nothing in the form of EI (Employment Insurance) support. That’s 862,000 Canadian workers. The layoff has resulted in job losses for more than 1.5 million workers, who will surely be followed by many more in coming weeks and months. The report also reveals that workers who haven’t shown that they earned $5000 a year before they were laid off, will also not receive a dime from CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit). That’s 257,000 Canadians. According to Macdonald as reported by Huffington Post “If you were unemployed before Covid-19 hit, you get nothing from CERB…”  This needs to be seen as a sign of the government’s extreme incompetence and failure to provide support to Canadian workers, especially when there is a Prime Minister who comes out of his man cave, looks straight into the camera and say “we have your back, we’re going to be there for you”. This is either deception or incompetence.

Trudeau considers it to be his responsibility to constantly repeat anecdotes of this company here and that company there doing something minor in order to deal with the crisis, like saying “Autoliv is looking to make medical gowns out of material they’d normally use to make airbags”. This however, is an example of how Trudeau thinks that it is somehow these anecdotal examples that balance the millions who are to be laid off by businesses all over Canada. In a more honest mood, someday, perhaps we will see him come out and make the aforementioned statement, followed by the latest unemployment statistics and then followed by a facial expression that may reveal the recognition of the absurdity of the entire mess.

Killing the environment

Jason Kenney has announced that Alberta’s unemployment rate is very likely to go up to 25%, much worse than the great recession. Over a week ago, Kenney announced a $6 billion loan guarantee in the Key Stone XL pipeline project. The premier is also pressuring the government to have a “credit backstop” that will make it easier for banks to extend credit to corporations. "Our estimate is that the quantum required in terms of liquidity for the sector now is in the range of $20-30 billion," said Kenney, as reported by CBC.  Needless to say, these pipeline projects are going to be disastrous for the future of this country and indeed the world. Once again, projects that impact the lives of millions outside of the project are conducted and function through the decisions made by a small group of a few dozen people at the top of these corporations and government officials and technocrats doing their bidding. We all have to live with the consequences of these decisions but don’t have a say in it at all; an insult to democracy.

Workers’ control of production

Now, why is it that we are so often expecting and celebrating the charity of a few businesses to produce medical supplies, respirators and other medical equipment? The answer is simple: It is because the decision of what to do with the profits of a company is determined by a board of directors and not workers. If it were workers who were to make these decisions, there wouldn’t be the occasional headline of a few companies producing medical equipment, but all enterprises, if run by workers, would likely be doing so, since it would be in the interest of the workers. We also know that if productive enterprises were owned and being run by workers, there would be no such thing as “unemployment”. In such a scenario workers would be recipients of the entirety of the profits of the enterprise, instead of much of it going to shareholders, CEOs and boards of directors who do not do any productive work. However, a democratic workplace would be the end of capitalism and that’s why we don’t have it right now. In worker run enterprises like the Mondragon conglomerate in Spain, workers learn many different aspects of production and division of labor, so, during a pandemic and crises, a shift in labor is easy to coordinate amongst the workers.

As the crisis of capitalism deepens under the pandemic, the line between the ruling class and the working class is as clear as ever. Workers are now seeing how the economy can come to a halt if people stop working for weeks. We are in the midst of an involuntary general strike and any future labor organizing will naturally have to involve this recognition. During crises like the one we are in the middle of right now, we must not forget that this can be seen as an opportunity for workers to resolve the problems faced under capitalism, which is to organize in order to seize control over production and extend democracy into the workplace, if we want to avoid the many side effects of pandemics, for this is not the last one to hit us.

     Alini, E. (2020, March 30). Canadians who didn’t have a job even before coronavirus: what help can they get? Retrieved from Global News:
Lim, J. (2020, April 2). A third of unemployed Canadians left out of EI and the CERB, analysis says. Retrieved from iPolitics:
     Pappas, M. (2020, March 20). Capitalism is an Incubator for Pandemics. Socialism is the Solution. Retrieved from Counter Punch:
     Seskus, T. (2020, April 7). Kenney warns Alberta headed for 25% unemployment. Retrieved from CBC:
     Tencer, D. (2020, April 4). Canada's New Benefit System Leaves A Third Of The Jobless Out In The Cold: Report. Retrieved from Huffington Post:


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