March 2020 Italian med worker (picturealliance:Photoshot)
An Italian medical worker in protective gear. (AP)

With the entire country of Italy now locked down due to rising concerns of the spread of COVID 19 (coronavirus), Socialist Resurgence is reprinting an article by the Italian Partito Comunista dei Lavoratori (PCL). This article, the text of a national leaflet, explores how the capitalist drive for profits creates the opening for the type of pandemics we are seeing today. The article also highlights demands that would place the burden of the pandemic on capitalists rather than on the working class. In the U.S. we must raise the demand: Free quality universal public health care now!

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The ongoing health crisis is a serious emergency. But it is not determined solely by the virus. It is brought about in a decisive way by an irrational organization of society.

For decades public health has been slaughtered everywhere, to pay off debt to banks, to finance large corporations, and to slash taxes on the capitalists’ profits. In Italy alone, from 2008 to today, 37 billion euros have been cut from the health system, while every year 70 billion of interest is paid on public debt and almost 30 billion on military expenses. The result is that 9 million people have to give up treatment, either because of the cost of services, or because a visit takes a year wait. And now with coronavirus, the beds and wards for intensive care, masks, swabs, doctors and nurses are missing. And those who are on duty are forced to work exhausting shifts of 12 hours a day.

Now everyone wonders when the vaccine will arrive. But public scientific research has also been cut for decades and entrusted to the pharmaceutical industry, which invests in immediate profits, certainly not in planning for the future. Scientific research on the viral family of coronavirus was closed in 2006 (when SARS disappeared) for the simple fact that pharmaceutical companies had no interest in promoting it. Research today is just a business cost: it is planned and done if the revenue exceeds the cost, otherwise it can wait. In time, sick people will die.

Now, to make matters worse, the same capitalist interests responsible for this disaster, panicked by the threat of recession, present the bill to the workers—new layoffs, expulsion of precarious workers. New cuts announced in social spending to “help businesses”, actually to protect the profit of capitalists at the expense of everyone else.

Where then is the real emergency? In the extraordinary nature of the virus or in the ordinary and irrational organization of this society?

The truth is that capitalism has failed, and is not reformable. A completely new economic organization is needed, in which workers, not large shareholders, are in charge. In which the economy responds to everyone’s need, not to the profit of a few. The joint press releases between union leaders and Confindustria are all the more unacceptable today. On the other hand, there is a need for an independent initiative of the workers’ movement around their own claims: remove the drive for profits from health care!

  • Total blocking of layoffs! No to forced holidays!
  • Payment at 100% of the wages of workers unable to carry out their normal activity or in the need to look after their children
  • Massive investment of resources in public health. Massive and immediate hiring of medical and paramedical staff. Concentrated investment in public, scientific, and health research, and immediate stabilization of all precarious researchers
  • Requisition and nationalization without compensation of private health care, with the full and immediate use of its structures to face the emergency
  • Nationalization of the pharmaceutical industry, without compensation for large shareholders and under workers’ control
  • New health facilities in the area to manage this extraordinary intervention, starting with intensive care
  • Extraordinary taxation (at least 10%) of large estates to finance these measures.

The coronavirus should be paid for by capitalists, not workers!