The national day of protest led by the Polo Obrero and the Frente Piquetero [the Front for the Struggle of the Unemployed], last Wednesday, May 6, had an enormous repercussion. The claims raised by organizations of the unemployed about the inefficiency, apathy and lack of interest in tackling integrally the challenge of a long quarantine, with no possibility of work, either formal or informal, are fully confirmed by the surge of protests, pickets, reduced marches, roadblocks, factory occupations and creative and innovative forms of protest. These new initiatives are beginning to spread among workers, even in the context of an exceptional situation, such as the obligatory confinement of quarantine, which we underline established repressive police and military deployment as a priority, before any health or social aid measures.
At first, the government, through the former head of the Anses, Alejandro Vanoli, maintained a deliberate policy of delaying 40 days the payment of the Emergency Family Income (IFE, by its initials in Spanish), precisely in quarantine, when this income was most needed. The unbearable nature of the situation led to the dismissal of Vanoli. However, 50 days after the IFE was announced, less than half of those registered and accepted have gotten paid. More than 4 million people have been excluded, and if we divide the AR$ 10,000 they will be paid only once by the almost 2 months of lack of income of the beneficiaries, we find that the distributed amount only goes as high as AR$ 200 per day, per family!
This resulted in a massive demand for food aid in the neighborhoods. In the Polo Obrero soup kitchens alone, in Buenos Aires’ metropolitan area, the waiting lists to receive a plate of food exceed 30,000 families. If we multiply this by the thousands of soup kitchens of social organizations throughout the country, the figure paints a socially catastrophic picture. But the worst thing is that the government has not delivered food for two months, because the state's business suppliers, who are cartelized, do not want to sell to the Welfare Ministry at the top prices that were established after the reports of corruption. Since that rotten pot of corruption was uncovered in early April, until today (May 8th), the government has suspended purchases of dry foodstuffs that supply the kitchens, which are more than 10,000 throughout the country according to some estimates.
The government has not denounced this extortion, which makes it an accomplice to it at the cost of hunger, showing its prostration to the interests of bosses.
Is it possible to comply with quarantine, the social distancing necessary to prevent coronavirus without money and food?
The "welfare" system is clearly a policy of assistance and containment of the impoverished masses. The mass unemployment, the enormous unresolved social and material problems are the product of capitalist form of exploitation and social organization. This "aid" is a mechanism of control and reliance on the state that aims to prevent the rebellion of the masses in the face of the worsening of their living conditions. The central government relies on the mayors who are "owners" of the working class neighborhoods. There, party operatives [called punteros in Argentina], who are usually from the Justicialist Party [the traditional Peronist party] and now with the collaboration of social organizations, are a fundamental instrument of containment and social control. Ultimately, if became necessary, there is also the repressive forces. That and no other is the purpose of the presence of the Army, the Gendarmerie and the police in the working class neighborhoods.
In the meetings with Minister of Welfare, Daniel Arroyo, the front of organizations of the unemployed presented him with an integral program that included the workers’ control of purchases in the social area and the creation of an independent commission for the investigation of the overpricing scandal, as a transitional measure, to speed up the emergency policies. We are still waiting for his response.
Clearly, the crisis with the soup kitchens is the tip of the iceberg for a government collapse in the handling of the crisis that involves health, services and the economy, and is ultimately what drives the masses to despair and the bourgeoisie to take advantage of it to unload an all-out attack on the workers. Several business economists have pointed out, while drooling over it, that a labor reform is being applied de facto.
Social programs vs. a universal insurance for the unemployed
With a system of dozens of social aid programs with huge budgets, the government set up a containment network that went into crisis when it had to face a full-fledged battle against the coronavirus.
The Food Card Plan [Tarjeta Alimentar], the universal child allowance, the IFE, the purchase and delivery of food in bulk, the kitchens system, etc. intermingle and overlap to increase the anarchy of state functioning and make the situation worse. They are not efficient, they are expensive and do not reach everyone, even less so in this context.
Such efforts contrast with a system that does not serve popular needs, but reveals on one hand, the objective of control and social containment, and on the other, its refusal to provide a universal insurance to the unemployed.
A universal monthly unemployment insurance of AR$ 30,000 would make it easier for unemployed workers to face the quarantine, would avoid the punteros, could save resources of the state bureaucracy and would save the workers from being the cannon fodder of the operations to break the sanitary quarantine "at any cost".
This insurance for the unemployed could be financed by applying a tax on great fortunes and on banking and financial capital as proposed by the FIT-U [Workers' Left Front-Unity].
But of course, it would set an unacceptable precedent for the capitalists because paying insurance to the unemployed means accepting their responsibility for the crisis (which will continue to worsen), posing the crucial dilemma to the working class of who will pay for this crisis : us with our health and our lives or them with their profits.
On the other hand, this Insurance would establish a minimum wage that would prevent the exploiters from taking advantage of the crisis to lower the salaries even more. This is an objective employers pursue and counts with the collaboration of the union bureaucracy traitors and the government of Alberto Fernández, who have already signed off on the 25 % salary reduction for registered workers on furlough.
The employers are even demanding the disappearance of the social programs. The lemon and tobacco plantations in the North make this demand, because even with very low amounts, the plans are an obstacle to employ workers for even lower salaries.
The quarantine in crisis and the lives of workers at risk
While the unemployed workers who mobilize on the streets (with all the precautions imposed by the pandemic) are accused of breaking regulations, in the last few days a "Bolsonaro style" campaign has been unleashed to lift the quarantine at any cost. This cost, of course, we the workers will pay as it is happening in Brazil and in the U.S. The capitalists who want to break the quarantine to begin working again even if it costs the lives of thousands or hundreds of thousands of workers are "understood". In turn, more and more sectors of workers are coming out to complain about wage cuts, layoffs, lack of food, assistance to soup kitchens and lack of supplies in health centers. The mass media take these claims as demonstrations against the quarantine when in fact they are against the government and the bosses.
First profits, then health, seems to be the rule in this campaign. It is not a surprise; after all, it is what they have always done. That explains why health systems are being cut back and privatized worldwide.
Journalists, employers' associations and media businesspersons are leading this campaign, which, however, does not take into account any scientific criteria. The government abides by that line of action, and takes steps in this direction week after week. It is known that if work is resumed, there are possibilities of the well-known contagion curve becoming uncontrollable. Epidemiological experts have pointed this out and the government knows it.
There have already been very important struggles even under the quarantine and the response was the coercion of the repressive forces that acted against the workers of the meat plant Penta, of the delivery apps workers, the municipal workers of Jesus Maria in Córdoba, among others.
In short, the government did not guarantee the measures to quarantine and does not plan to do so. It took them 40 days to implement the IFE and it excluded more than 4 million workers. For a period of 2 months, the AR$ 10,000 are totally insufficient. In 30 days, since the corruption scandal, the government did not reestablish the delivery of food and hygiene elements to the soup kitchens. The Food Card was not extended to families with children over 6 years old. Layoffs and salary reductions are taking place. Overall, the government did not guarantee the material means for the workers to defend themselves from the pandemic.
A new stage is opening in which the working class must intervene decisively in defense of its demands and its health. In the May 6th protest of the Polo Obrero and the Frente Piquetero, marchers claimed “there is no quarantine with hunger”: this slogan is, without a doubt, correct.