In this article, our section in Peru denounces the ravages of the pandemic, but above all the cynicism and negligence of the democratic state, which has no other concern than profit and the accumulation of capital, abandoning and sacrificing both health workers and the sick. Health workers in Lima and other cities tried to organise sit-ins and demonstrations, demanding protection and resources. The state has responded with police repression and arrests!
More than 20 days of quarantine and confinement have already passed, the maximum measure applied by most States in the world to isolate the Covid-19 virus also known as the Coronavirus. In Peru, the state of emergency is accompanied by a curfew imposed by the democratic state, a situation that has reinforced social atomisation. This global pandemic has already claimed tens of thousands of lives, according to official figures. The rapid and brutal spread of the virus has paralysed all the economies of the world. The world bourgeoisies of the different countries are still not coordinating their efforts to contain the epidemic, which is sharply aggravating the world economic crisis.
Covid-19 and its economic effects on the working class
The IMF already points out that the international economy is in a recession equal to or worse than the one of 2008-2009. Covid-19 has generated terrible economic consequences at the international level, where the working class will once again suffer most from this situation. For example, in Peru, the Coronavirus crisis has demonstrated the vulnerability of a large part of the population, even apart from children and the elderly people in general: the workers. Large sectors of the workers in the country are economically vulnerable because of the forced unemployment imposed by the pandemic.
In Lima and other cities in the country, the unemployment rate has tripled in the first 15 days of the quarantine. Thirty percent of the population has been left directly in ruins, without work or savings, since 70% of the population lives in the informal economy, earning a living from day to day in support of their families. Millions of workers in Peru live on less than $5 US a day. There is also a growing concern in the private sector because 3.7 million formal jobs will be affected by this crisis as well.
Payment of wages has completely broken down, and many families are struggling to pay rent, buy food, medicine and other necessities. This whole situation has begun to multiply at all levels, directly affecting the workers and feeding the panic of the whole population. This situation has put the government on alert and forced it to act.
In view of this situation, the government led by Vizcarra has developed an economic plan to try to mitigate the consequences of the lock-down, which in its first stage has meant releasing funds from the CTS. The second measure was the bonus of 380 soles ($115 US) that was delivered in the first fortnight of the quarantine, with a second bonus after these first two weeks. The third measure along the same lines was to release up to 25% of the funds of the Private Pension System (AFPs). But these measures are not, nor will they be, sufficient to face the economic crisis that the pandemic has already unleashed in the country, if only because 70% of the population are self-employed informal workers who do not benefit from CTS, or AFPs, or any other reserve funds.
On the other hand, Cepal points out that the crisis could leave 22 million more people in extreme poverty in Latin America, and speaks of the beginning of a profound recession. “We are facing the strongest drop in growth ever experienced in the region,” said Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Many local companies are already taking advantage of this situation, advancing unpaid holidays, “pending” payment, laying off workers, cutting payroll costs. These are “maneuvers” executed by companies so as not to see their profits affected in the midst of the tragedy. According to Ricardo Herrera, a lawyer specialising in labour law, companies can opt for these alternatives because the Labor Productivity and Competitiveness Law allows it. This leads to workers having work suspended for up to 90 days without being paid. The law of value and profit always condemns the working class to exploitation and misery.
The coronavirus has revealed the precariousness of health care on a world level
The arrival of the coronavirus exposed the criminal lack of prevention and the cuts in health budgets on the part of bourgeois states: saturated hospitals, doctors and nurses working without equipment, without “health security”, etc. The week-to-week increase in the number of infected people has made it clear that all the years of economic prosperity enjoyed by the Peruvian bourgeoisie, as a result of the high prices of raw materials, privatisations, mining concessions, tax revenues and other operations, only served to fill their pockets and that to-day the workers will pay the price for the damage caused by the bourgeois state and the employers. Moreover, the bourgeoisie and employer’s state cynically appeal to the individual responsibility of citizens by imposing confinement by decree in order to prevent the collapse of the already overwhelmed public health system.
The virus has caused a real health crisis at the national and planetary level. In Peru, ESSALUD and MINSA have been hiding the terrible conditions in which hundreds of doctors and nurses have to work. This whole situation of precariousness in social security was denounced by a group of workers from the National Medical Union of Social Security of Peru (Sinamssop), who were later arrested in the room of the union by the national police on the orders of the president of ESSALUD, Fiorella Molinelli.
Hospitals at the point of collapse trying to deal with extra hundreds of sick people, with zero medical material, zero medical protection equipment, that is what the health system shows today, in France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and the whole planet. For decades the bourgeoisie did not care about public health, there was never a yearly sustainable investment; on the contrary, there were only cuts in health budgets. Peru, with 33 million inhabitants, has no more than 350 beds in Intensive Care Units.
Today, as this global health emergency explodes, we see authorities rushing to buy equipment and other supplies in the midst of the crisis. For it is the aim of the bourgeoisie to stop the pandemic without sacrificing exploitation and profit. The first thing to denounce is that we are facing the chronicle of an announced collapse of the public health system. And it is not because of the “irresponsibility” of the citizens, but because of decades of cuts in health care spending, in health care workers, in hospital maintenance and medical research budgets.
The media are making a big effort to put out reports and images about the quarantine: images of empty streets or people who do not respect the curfew, the police and army in the streets doing their job of controlling order and repressing any sign of working class discontent. However, there are no reports, images or news items showing the medical centers or public hospitals that are directly treating cases of the coronavirus. Because they don’t want to show the collapse of their health care system and facilities. Every day more and more doctors and nurses go on social networks denouncing the terrible conditions in which they have to work every day.
It is not only medical care that has suffered a collapse. For instance, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, the largest cemetery in the world is being prepared, as the number of deaths is on the rise, with morgues and other cemeteries in the city already filled to capacity. In Guayaquil, Ecuador, where misery has advanced brutally in the last 10 years, gang violence connected to the drug trade, overcrowding, lack of public infrastructure and of basic services are some of the problems that have already been highlighted more clearly in this pandemic. Dead people burned in the streets because of the saturation of the morgues and cemeteries. Many families keep their dead outside their homes, some authorities start filling containers with the bodies, a situation that resembles a war scenario with bodies everywhere.
On the control of the population and the repression of the workers
The bourgeois state, with Vizcarra at the head, has passed a law allowing the security forces to shoot in “self-defense” in the face of possible demonstrations and reactions by the working class. Law No. 31012, the Police Protection Act, states that the Peruvian National Police, in the performance of its duty, may use its weapons or other means of defense. This law is a new weapon against the proletariat, and shows the fear of the bourgeoisie and the government of workers’ demonstrations that are already beginning to take place in different parts of the country, due to the unsustainable poverty resulting from the economic crisis, now being sharply exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis. The bourgeoisie shows its claws once again with this law, which even for some law specialists is unconstitutional.
But the ideological attack of the bourgeoisie is also present with a message that today governments are doing “everything necessary” to save - not “the banks”, as during the “financial crisis” of 2008 - but the population. In Peru we hear it with phrases like “Peru first”, “everyone against the coronavirus” “together we can” phrases that are repeated daily in the midst of the crisis. We must denounce here nationalism and that false community of interests between exploiters and exploited, an ideological poison used to call for sacrifices and dilute the proletariat in inter-class revolts. We have already seen this in the popular revolts of last autumn in Chile and Ecuador, where the proletariat was pulled along behind the banners of indigenous rights, democracy, gender issues, leftism, the new constituent assembly and other ideological traps of the bourgeoisie.
This global pandemic, that comes on top of appalling cases of malnutrition, tuberculosis or dengue fever which already result in countless numbers of deaths every year, adding to the contamination and death from mining activity, is one more proof that global capitalism has entered a terminal stage, that of social decomposition that visibly threatens the survival of humanity.
In the midst of this situation, we can only affirm that, whatever happens with the Covid-19 virus, this new disease warns us that capitalism has become a danger to humanity, and to life on this planet. The enormous capacities of the productive forces, including medical science, to protect us from diseases clash with this criminal pursuit of profit, with the overcrowding of a large proportion of the human population in unlivable cities (Lima alone has almost 9 million inhabitants) and with the risks of new epidemics that this entails.
Doctors and nurses protest and demonstrate
Doctors and nurses from several hospitals in Lima and some provinces demonstrated and protested against the lack of medical security, the lack of materials and the government’s health policy. Many doctors and nurses have held sit-ins, using banners and loudspeakers denouncing and protesting the poor working conditions they have to face every day, putting their health and that of their families at risk.
In Peru, the government knew since January what was coming and yet it ignored the warnings and underestimated the pandemic. And when the damage was done, ESSALUD and MINSA sent in the health workers, doctors, nurses, technicians, even medical students, without any protection, like soldiers conscripted for war, a situation that brought further contagion and death
However, the workers have not remained silent. For example, last April 7 at the Ate-Vitarte Hospital, pompously presented by Vizcarra as a “model of the fight against Covid-19”, doctors and nurses refused to work and stood at the doorway to protest against the government about the lack of masks, gloves, ventilators and safety protocols. Many of them were threatened with dismissal, others were arrested.
Many doctors and nurses have also taken action through social networks, making videos with their cell phones of hospital facilities and denouncing the precariousness in which they work. This is now multiplying on a national scale; but by order of the bourgeoisie and the government the mass media hide all this news so that the terrible misery in the hospitals does not come to light.
In other parts of the world we have also seen health workers protesting against the pandemic crisis, such as in France, Spain and Italy, where there have been demonstrations against the lack of protection at work, against the lack of safety protocols, stretchers, ventilators, gloves and masks. The same pattern is to be seen everywhere: the precarious state of public health systems, due to health budget cuts.
The economic crisis lays the ground for a proletarian response
The world economic crisis is intensifying more and more, making its effects felt on the working class and expressed above all in the precarious conditions of labor and the increase in unemployment, A SITUATION NOW AGGRAVATED BY THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC AND THE DROP IN ECONOMIC GROWTH. This perspective of new and more brutal attacks on the working class throughout the world raises the possibility of a development of struggles of the proletariat on its class terrain. This terrain is not one of interclass rage in the style of what happened, for example, in France in the “yellow vest” movement, but on the contrary in the struggles that have taken place since the end of last year, as we have seen in France with the workers’ movements against the pension “reforms” and where we are seeing a tendency to reflect on how the working class should fight and organise itself against its historical enemy. Even if many weaknesses have been seen in this movement, lessons can be drawn from it for the world proletariat, in preparation for a new period of struggles informed by a process of political maturation.
Internacionalismo, section of the ICC in Peru (April 11, 2020)
. Comments by Oscar Dancourt, former President of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru, April 3, 2020.
. CTS, Compensation for Time of Service is a benefit granted to workers covered by the private employment scheme. An accumulative bonus for the worker in his working life.
. ECLAC, Comisión Economica para America Latina, the Economic Commission for Latin America, is one of the five regional commissions of the United Nations, and was founded to contribute to the economic development of Latin America.
. Newspaper Diario Perú (4 April 2020).
. Peruvian Social Health Insurance (Seguro Social de Salud del Perú).
. Ministry of Health of Peru (Ministerio de Salud del Perú).
. See our leaflets and articles about Chile and Ecuador: https://en.internationalism.org/content/16762/dictatorshipdemocracy-alternative-dead-end and https://en.internationalism.org/content/16840/guayaquil-ecuador-face-hea...
. LID, Perú 8 April 2020.