Quebec communists: “Lockdown or not, we must continue to organize”

The Communist Party of Quebec (PCQ) is concerned about the alarming numbers of new cases of COVID-19 infection. With more than 2,500 cases daily for the past few days, there is a real danger of overloading our health care system to the point where inhumane choices will have to be made, especially since all specialists agree that any increase in the number of infections will have delayed repercussions on the number of hospitalizations. We can expect the worst. This is why we understand the decision of public health authorities to proceed with a new lockdown.

However, these numbers are far from inevitable. They are the result of decades of deliberate underfunding and privatization of the public health system in an effort to commodify it.

A new lockdown is nothing more or less than an admission of failure, a flagrant example of the collapse of our public health system. It is no coincidence that here, as everywhere else in the world, it is where budget cuts to healthcare have been deepest that the pandemic is spreading the fastest. In Italy, which was the epicenter of the pandemic last spring, 10 years of underfunding and privatization resulted in a 37 billion euro deficit and the loss of 150,000 hospital beds. In Britain, now in its third lockdown, successive austerity measures since the 1980s have left the health care system a shortfall of more than 10 billion pounds and the loss of 160,000 beds.

Quebec is not to be outdone. Between the zero deficit – which reduced health funding by $2 billion, cut 10 percent of its workforce and closed seven hospitals in the Montreal area alone – and attacks which included P3 development and competition between the public and private systems (through the Chaouilli decision, Charest’s “virage ambulatoire” and the “Barrette reform”), it is unsurprising, but distressing, to see that our health care system cannot adequately respond to a pandemic such as the one we are experiencing.

Neither Quebec nor the rest of Canada can pretend to be taken by surprise since, as early as 2006, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) had produced a 600-page report documenting the various possible scenarios of an influenza pandemic, which has everything to do with the reality we are living through. Unfortunately, neither the provincial health agencies nor the PHAC put their money where their mouth is, with the result we now see.

This second lockdown would undoubtedly have been avoidable if the health system had been prepared to face a pandemic (which is not illusory: countries such as Cuba, China and Vietnam have successfully contained COVID-19) and if the release from the lockdown last June had been planned according to public health interests and not those of François Legault’s companies or political capital. This is what Legault is trying to conceal, without much opposition from the opposition parties.

To be clear, we dissociate ourselves from and condemn “anti-maskers,” who support outrageous theories and call for irresponsible actions under the pretext that COVID-19 is nothing more than a conspiracy on the part of a global cabal. However, we also denounce the media portrayal of this pandemic, in which François Legault is presented as a good father doing his best and in which any questioning of his measures is equated with conspiracy theories that have attracted undeserved media attention.

This situation leaves no room for those who question certain aspects of this second lockdown, especially the guarantee of fundamental democratic rights like the rights to association and freedom of expression. These rights are guaranteed both by the Constitution and by the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government is responsible for guaranteeing them, even in times of pandemic. Many people are in danger of losing their homes and are seeing their incomes decline, while cases of domestic violence are likely to increase during the lockdown. While this trend will continue well beyond the lockdown, the role of associations, unions, political parties and other organizations is of the utmost importance.

Last March, a strict lockdown was necessary due to the lack of protocols. However, it is inconceivable that in the subsequent 10 months, health authorities have been unable to implement protocols allowing democratic institutions (those in power as well as those in the opposition) to meet under adequate conditions. It is equally inconceivable that a curfew has been imposed for the first time since the October Crisis. This is clear mimicry of France, where Macron imposed a curfew not so much to contain the pandemic, but to prevent demonstrations by all those who would attack his reactionary policies.

Either PHAC underestimated the duration and magnitude of this pandemic a year ago, or they don’t care about basic democratic rights. Whatever the reason, it deserves to be denounced, all the more so since there are many examples of demonstrations, rallies, public meetings, and political and union conferences which have safely enabled democratic debate during the pandemic.

Faced with coronavirus, we are not all in the same boat. According to an IMF report, living and working conditions influence the risk of contracting the virus. From 10 percent for the wealthy and the ruling class, the risk rises to 50 percent for those who cannot work from home, lack protective equipment or live in more densely populated areas.

It is precisely in this context that the role of labor unions, tenants’ associations, political parties and others is most important. It is also in this context that the right to gather and demonstrate is most important, especially considering that the pandemic also serves as a justification for the ruling class to increase its stranglehold on the economic life of Quebec.

We must ensure that, despite the lockdown, no one will be left behind. We must fight to ensure that even closed businesses continue to pay workers’ wages. We must mobilize against any form of layoff, even temporary. In terms of housing, we know that many find it difficult to pay their rent or mortgage in these times of uncertainty and unemployment, which is why we demand a suspension of rent and mortgage payments until the end of the lockdown and a freeze on interest rates. We also demand a halt to all evictions, not only until the end of the lockdown, but until the end of the winter period (the month of May).

We further demand the suspension of credit card payments and banking charges, as well as a freeze on interest rates.

We have no reason to doubt the forthcoming health measures. However, we need guarantees that include a long-term vision based on massive reinvestment in public services and the defense of fundamental democratic rights and social measures in order to ensure that no one is left behind during this second lockdown. Legault, despite his good-natured appearance, gives us none of these guarantees. We have no illusions: his long-term plan is to make sure that capitalists emerge from the crisis first.

Pandemic or not, we must not lower our guard. While we are confined, the ruling class will do everything it can to prepare its strategy. Lockdown or not, we must continue to organize by all possible means, both online and in the street.

[Photo of demonstration for COVID-19 hazard premiums: PCQ Facebook]

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