Labour Party (EMEP) President Selma Gürkan talked about the Covid 19 pandemic, the situation in the factories and the ongoing discussions about the system.
Gürkan highlighted how capitalism has revealed its destructive character on nature and people during the pandemic, and said “we know the problems created by the system cannot be solved within the system. The solution is rule of workers”.
The world is struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic which began in China. It is observed that the transmission of Covid-19 is entirely class based. How do you evaluate this process?
The world is not faced with a pandemic for the first time in history. Plague, cholera, typhus, Sars, Mers, h5n1, bird flu, etc. have taken so many lives in the past. Since the early pandemics, humanity has produced so many tools, equipment and experience. Viruses do not know any borders or classes. However, the way different sections of society are affected by transmission is in fact based on class due to different working and living conditions. The immunity problems which increase the probability of transmission and death are mainly linked with the living and working conditions. Besides, not everybody can get treatment equally. There are also super rich capitalists who have fled onto their private islands with their personal servants and doctors. The quarantine measures of the high class and the labourers who cannot protect themselves are not same. The only measurement for capitalism is profit. That is why the manufacturing and the service sectors have not been stopped despite the call to ‘stay home’. Essentially, the priority is on how the pandemic is affecting the markets and the stock exchange rather than the people.
With this pandemic we see how the privatization and commercialization of the health service threaten people’s health. As we fought against neoliberal policies, explaining their high cost and consequences, political powers did anything they could to suppress this voice. Although they are still ignoring many warnings, the time has proven this struggle right.
What happened in Italy, Spain and France reveals that no lessons have been learnt. Turkey is doing the same. The measures were left to the citizens’ ability to create their own ‘state of emergency’ as the minister said, and the state did not create the economic conditions for social distancing. On the other hand, the personal consciousness and sensitivities can be elastic and changeable; and the rapid transmission of the virus is linked with this. Furthermore, as in the umrah situation, the government is responsible for the weaknesses in quarantine. (Over 20 thousand people from Turkey went to Saudi Arabia for the religious umrah visit and when they came back in March in the middle of the Covid 19 pandemic, many people were not quarantined properly - T.N.)
The situation of the health services became apparent, too. Authorities claim that Italy’s approach to the pandemic was too relaxed, but it is not different in Turkey.
We can say that not only the prevalence of profit but also conservative pragmatism, the logic that prevents the necessary precautions to be taken in time as well as the one-man regime which paves the way to simultaneous decisions rather than accumulating experience, all play a role in the rapid transmission of the pandemic. Therefore, we can say the devastation will be deeper in our country.
‘SOCIAL LIFE MUST BE REORGANIZED FOCUSING ON LABOUR’
The opposition, especially the organizations of healthcare professionals criticised the government for not being transparent. How do you evaluate the government’s coronavirus policies, and how the process should be handled?
To begin with, there is no trust in official reports, which is widely thought to be hiding the actual data about the pandemic. The number of tests done is inadequate, and according to the official data, the number of cases constitute about 7-8% of the tests. Therefore, there are some logical claims that if the test numbers go up, the number of Covid 19 cases will also increase.
A scientific committee has been formed but no healthcare organization such as the Turkish Doctors’ Union and the Health Workers Union, which expressed serious concerns about public health issues, are involved in the process. The times of worry makes the diffusion of fake news and hearsay easier, and creates panic. In order to prevent this and to provide a steady and reliable atmosphere, the coordination and cooperation with the healthcare organizations and trade unions is vital. However, instead of this, at a time of emergency because of the pandemic, if the government removes some mayors of the (pro-Kurdish, T.N.) Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and appoints trustees, brings on to the agenda a judicial decree designed to release the rapists, murderers, mafia leaders, drug dealers, thieves and swindlers, and adds a regulation to the pandemic act to raise the mortgage loan, then people naturally question its sincerity.
In this process the steps that need to be taken are clear: An effective health service, the rearrangement of hospitals and health institutions in line with the requirements of the pandemic, transparency in informing the public, and cooperation with professionals’ organisations and labour unions. Also, the social life must be reorganized with economic measures with a focus on labour.
THE RULE OF WORKERS AND LABOURERS IS NOT AN UTOPIA
In the countries where the pandemic is widespread, the healthcare policies are criticised and questioned more. The alternatives of capitalism or the current policies are also being discussed. What is your alternative suggestion to the workers and labourers instead of government policies?
We consider the individual and public health as an inviolable citizen right and a free public service. We argue for an end to the privatization of hospitals and for the expropriation of the private health institutions. All preventive and primary health services must be free and accessible at the point of need. Health institutions must be reorganized with adequate staff, medical equipment and material for a quality service.
At this time of pandemic, the health policies of the capitalist system are being questioned. In our country, the private hospitals will serve under Health Ministry’s order during the pandemic. However, we believe in a permanent expropriation of the private health institutions and hospitals. Besides, religion is being also used in this situation, as always. Superstitions are spreading and fatalism is encouraged, but these are running more and more into the scientific barrier; and the current situation itself enables criticism. Evolution is being discussed again, for example. What was solid before is evaporating now.
Due to the pandemic, the destruction caused by capitalism over the nature and human beings has become more clear, and this initiated the criticism of the current order in the world and in our country. The welfare state, a fair distribution, rearrangement of the health as a public service, etc. are now being presented as solutions to restore the order.
Of course, we do not deny the struggle for current demands, but we also know that the problems which the system has created cannot be solved within the system. The solution is the rule of workers and labourers, and the construction of a socialist society through the revolutionary democratic rule of the people. This is a discussion of a system which would enable a real democracy, protection of the environment, construction of a healthy society, the reorganisation of production and the social life through the overthrow of the capitalist system and the creation of a new society. At the present time when we live in a dystopia-like situation, this emerges as a real choice, not as an utopia.
‘PRODUCTION MUST BE CEASED EXCEPT FOR THE CRITICAL AREAS, THE WORKERS MUST HAVE PAID LEAVE’
What are your observations regarding the factories? Which points do you highlight in your work among the workers? What are your suggestions?
From the president and the ministers to media, everybody calls for ‘stay home’ but there is no measure as to how this will be ensured for those who have to work. Factories, workshops, service sector are still working. The call for ‘stay home’ aims to relieve the unprepared healthcare system by sending some segments of people to home. These people can work from home, or they are in the education institutions, or they can work flexible, or they are above a certain age. Yet, millions of workers are still working cheek by jowl, and the health of both those who stay home and who work are at risk. But they do not care about this, all they care is to expand the process.
Where the production is ceased, the workers have to get unpaid leave. There are many dismissals, and they are given the choice to die of the pandemic or of starvation. On the other hand, the active production units do not take the necessary precautions such as providing disinfectants, hygienic bathrooms and changing rooms, etc. The collective working areas are where people cannot be distanced and the workers are in the highest risk group.Our party demands that production and services must stop except for the essential areas such as health, food, energy, communication, etc. and the workers must have paid leave. We bring to the agenda unconditional unemployment pay, ban on dismissals, rearrangement and reduction of the working hours when necessary, health check-ups, cleaning and disinfection of the workplaces etc., and we are campaigning through this direction.
Workers do not only worry about their health, but also contaminating their families. Provision of hygienic work environment and frequent health check-ups come up as the most pressing demand. Though not with much hope, they also want to have paid leave, deferral of the rents and loan repayments, and they are angry at the treatment they get. The demands are clear but how to achieve them is the main problem. Of course, we fight for them and will continue to do so. Also, those trade unions which are trying to meet their responsibilities for the working class have a huge duty, especially when trade union bureaucrats who are pleading to the bosses not to dismiss the workers call the shots (reference to the leader of a big trade union confederation pleading to the employers in such words as “please, do not dismiss the workers”, T.N.)
‘CAPITAL IS TO BE RESCUED FIRST UNDER THE ONE-MAN REGIME’
President Erdoğan has explained the economic and medical measures to be taken against Covid-19. How do you evaluate this draft bill?
This draft is named as a shield and it indeed aims to protect the capital with a shield. This is a large relief package which includes the deferral of credit repayments and taxes, VAT discounts, financial aid and facilitation of the minimum wage. This is a package which caused joy to the bosses, the bourgeoisie, and their organisations… In other words, as always, capital is to be rescued first under the one-man regime…
Is there anything in the package for the people? Of course, there is. They are encouraged to take loans, pray, be patient and use eau de cologne (against the virus as a sanitizer as it contains high level of alcohol - T.N.). This is in fact a shield against the rage of the workers and labourers. However, the people see all this, and the discontent is growing. This is also apparent for the ones who are after their daily calculations and those who are trying to turn the crisis into an opportunity, but a leopard cannot change its spots. However, we know there will be a time when the labourers will defend themselves with a shield, and this does not seem to be far. These dark days also bear such struggles.
(Translated by: C. GÜNEŞ İSPİR)